Kobe Bryant is the best finisher in the NBA. Ever.

Monday, January 18, 2010; D02

Let's cut to the chase (because I know a lot of you have the attention span of a tsetse fly and the rest of you already have wandered out of this sentence to go do a Sudoku puzzle):

Kobe Bryant might be better than Michael Jordan.

(That thump you just heard was Michael Wilbon's head falling off of his body after his assistant read him the previous passage.)

Even if Kobe is not superior to MJ, he is the best finisher the NBA has ever known.

In a recent four-week period, the Lakers star beat Miami with a preposterous 27-foot, three-point, off-balance, fadeaway bank shot at the buzzer, he beat Milwaukee with a 15-foot turnaround at the buzzer and he beat Sacramento with a three-point, back-of-his-heel- just-inches-inside-the-sideline shot at the buzzer.

In NBA history, the greatest clutch shooters -- we'll just list them chronologically -- are Jerry West, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

(Note: This is somewhat unrelated, but the three greatest clutch architects of all time are Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson and I.M. Pei.)

Just last week, against the Mavericks, Kobe was playing with a fractured right index finger, a strained right elbow and newfound back spasms. He had no points, rebounds or assists in the first quarter. He sat out the second quarter, sprawled on his back in front of the team's bench. He then came back in the second half -- playing like a quasi-Kobe -- and somehow managed to make a 19-footer with 29 seconds left to give the Lakers a 97-95 lead en route to a 100-95 victory.

He could be scoreless at the half and finish with 81 for the game.

Amazing happens with Kobe almost nightly -- when you go to Benihana, you expect the chef to slice the beef with precision; when you go to Staples Center, you expect Kobe to perform some act of death-defying derring-do.

(I exaggerate, but for the price of a Lakers ticket, you do hope for an out-of-body experience, an Elvis sighting or maybe a Laker Girl mishap.)

Kobe and I both came to Los Angeles in the 1990s -- by most standards, he has had more success -- and his basketball brilliance has largely defined my time here. When I first moved to L.A., I watched the O.J. Simpson trial every day for nearly a year. Since then, I've watched Kobe every night for nearly 14 years -- I find it more satisfying, plus nobody gets away with murder (except the Celtics, when they get every call in the playoffs).

But for all his second-half heroics, can Kobe really be Michael Jordan's equal?

Granted, all the numbers favor MJ: six NBA titles, five MVP awards and 10 scoring titles to Kobe's four NBA titles, one MVP and one scoring title. MJ averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists a game; for Kobe, it's 25.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists.

(Note: This is somewhat unrelated, but although Plato had better numbers than Socrates, most serious thinkers consider Socrates the better philosopher.)

I tried to contact Wilbon to get his take. His generation is more MJ, my generation is more Kobe -- actually, Wilbon and I are the same age, but my peeps skew younger -- and Wilbon's an NBA expert on ABC. But have you tried to get a hold of Wilbon lately? Ever since he became a rock star on "PTI" -- along with his partner, the sweet, older gentleman whose name escapes me -- he's unreachable. President Obama can't get to him. The queen of England can't get to him. Maybe Barkley can.

(True story: When Wilbon had a heart attack two years ago, I sent him a get-well card. You know how sometimes you'll get a piece of mail back and it will say on the envelope, "Return to Sender: Address Unknown"? Well, this one came back and it said, "Return: Sender Unknown.")

Anyway, let me close with this thought: Sources tell me that Kobe has a soccer itch. I'm told he might retire from the NBA, try his hand at minor league soccer and see if he can make it to MLS. If, after that dream fails, he returns to the NBA, joins the Wizards and leads them to the NBA Finals, well, good people, he definitely will have eclipsed Michael Jordan.

Ask The Slouch

Q. Have the Klitschko brothers ever thrown a punch in anger or do they simply wait for their opponents to quit due to boredom? (Lou Rossano; New Castle, Pa.)

A. It's safe to say Wladimir and Vitali tend toward nonviolence in the ring.

Q. Why don't they eject that guy with the noisy bullhorn that keeps blasting during all the basketball games? (Carl A. Smaida; Whitefish Bay, Wis.)

A. Nobody wants to toss Dick Vitale out of the arena.

Q. Do you agree that you make more sense than anyone in sports journalism? (Monty McIntyre; Ravenswood, W. Va.)

A. Sir, I will hand-deliver your buck-and-a-quarter ASAP.

Q. Did your best man skip your first two weddings so that he avoided injury and was fresh for your third? (J. Peters; Pittsburgh)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

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