Since Kobe Bryant surpassed Michael Jordan in “career points” scored this past Sunday, much has been written about who is better, etc. If a) you’ve heard enough already, or b) you don’t care about sports at all, then you may stop reading now. There is a finer point about “data definitions”, but I’ll leave that for later. First, back to basketball player egos:

There is one thing about this debate that puzzles me: why regular season stats alone are used in the “career” totals. I can understand leaving out the All-Star game stats, as the All-Star game is largely a meaningless pick-up game (and crazy points-fest). But playoffs? NBA basketball is all about the playoffs. That’s where the games really matter, the real drama unfolds, and Hall-of-Fame “careers” are made.

Bryant and Jordan have both had considerable success in the playoffs, but somehow the points they scored during these crucial games don’t count to their career totals? I don’t get it. If there’s a compelling reason to leave out playoff stats from “career totals”, I’m unaware of it.

And if you take into consideration playoff point totals when tallying career stats, Bryant hasn’t passed Jordan quite yet:

Of course you can make the argument that this just postpones the inevitable by a few weeks, as Bryant will soon surpass Jordan in total points scored including the playoffs. So who cares?

To me, it just shows how we can get wrapped up in debates about numbers without stopping to consider the “data definitions” – exactly what are we comparing? How is this data collected, what is included and what is not included? Does it even make sense?

Did you know all those dramatic game-winning shots these two players made in crunch time aren’t even included in their career totals?

Like this one:

And these ones:

I bet you didn’t. If you did, can you defend it? I can’t.

At some point in the next month or so, Kobe will pass Jordan in the amount of total points he has scored in both the regular season and the playoffs combined. There will be no hugging at center court, no interviews, no headlines or blog posts about the stats. That’s not such a bad thing, though, I guess.

As for who is the better scorer? Jordan scored at a higher rate, but took two extended breaks during his career. Bryant took no such breaks, and only had one considerable setback to injury, so he racked up points at a slower, albeit unabated pace. And for all the flak Bryant has taken for being a ball hog, try comparing his career Assists with Jordan’s. He passed Jordan in assists two years ago.

Details, details…

Thanks for indulging me,