Posted May 21, 2013

Phil Jackson: Michael Jordan was better leader, shooter and defender than Kobe Bryant

Ben Golliver, Chicago Bulls, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson
Michael Jordan (left) and Kobe Bryant faced off in the 2003 All-Star Game. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Michael Jordan (left) and Kobe Bryant faced off in the 2003 All-Star Game. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

In his upcoming book Eleven Rings, legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson offers a comparative analysis of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, and it turns out there’s really no comparison.

Laying out the players’ relative strengths side-by-side, Jordan, who is responsible for six of Jackson’s 11 rings with the Bulls, consistently prevails over Bryant, who played a leading role with the Lakers in the other five.

The Los Angeles Times has printed excerpts of the book, which is set for release on May 21, and Jackson paints Jordan as the better leader, shooter and defender.

“One of the biggest differences between the two stars from my perspective was Michael’s superior skills as a leader,” Jackson said. “Though at times he could be hard on his teammates, Michael was masterful at controlling the emotional climate of the team with the power of his presence. Kobe had a long way to go before he could make that claim. He talked a good game, but he’d yet to experience the cold truth of leadership in his bones, as Michael had.”

Jackson noted the “pronounced” difference in their accuracy, Jordan shooting almost 50% — an “extraordinary figure” — while Bryant had been at 45%.

“No question, Michael was a tougher, more intimidating defender. He could break through virtually any screen and shut down almost any player with his intense, laser-focused style of defense.”

Jackson’s takes, they don’t stray too far — if at all — from the general consensus. Jordan’s better shooting numbers can’t be disputed, his defense is widely regarded as meaningfully better and Bryant has been knocked for years for a go-it-alone personality that requires teammates to bend to his will. Jackson’s assessment is in no ways a slam on Bryant — there’s no shame whatsoever in finishing second to Jordan in any basketball assessment — but it does provide an expert eyewitness verification to some of the criticisms that have dogged Bryant over the years.

We shouldn’t understate the historical importance of Jackson’s words, even if they aren’t particularly shocking. Bryant will have the opportunity to pass Jordan for third on the All-Time scoring list, pending a speedy recovery from an Achilles injury, and the two will be linked for decades in conversations about the greatest NBA players of all time. Jackson might very well be the most-qualified person in the world to compare the two players, considering his own professional playing career, his decades of experience on the bench, and his years of first-hand experience with both players during their primes.

RELATED: The Point Forward’s 50 Reasons why we’ll never forget Michael Jordan

Comparisons to Jordan have been a particularly hot topic recently as the Hall of Fame guard turned 50 years old in February.

Just before All-Star Weekend, Jordan offered his thoughts on Bryant and Heat forward LeBron James, expressing a preference for Bryant because of his advantage in championships.

“If you had to pick between the two, that would be a tough choice, but five beats one every time I look at it, and not that he [LeBron James] won’t get five, he may get more than that, but five is bigger than one.”

James at first brushed off that talk — tweeting “I’m not MJ, I’m LJ” — but later made it clear in Houston during All-Star Weekend that he very much seeks the Greatest Of All Time title.

“I want to be the greatest of all time,” James declared, adding later: “As my talent continued to grow, as I continued to know about the game, appreciate the game, continued to get better, I felt like I had the drive, first of all, the passion, the commitment to the game to place myself as the greatest of all time, the best of all time, however you want to categorize it. I don’t do it to say I’m better than this guy or that guy. I do it for my own inspiration. I inspire myself. When I go out on the floor, I want to be the best of all time. That’s how I help myself each and every night.”

Back in April, longtime NBA trainer Tim Grover, who has worked for years with both Jordan and Bryant, told SI.com that comparing Jordan to anyone besides legendary Celtics center Bill Russell would be a mistake.

“Michael Jordan was six-for-six in Finals, never lost a Finals, never needed a Game 7 to do that,” Grover said. “Just by saying that alone, that puts him in a category I don’t think anybody else is in, except maybe a Bill Russell. Other than that, I don’t know if you can really put [Jordan] in the same category [with anybody].

“I think what [James] should do, instead of worrying about where Mike was at, he should be trying to get to the accolades, get to the Finals, as many times as Kobe had. … I think the comparison [for James] should be more toward a current player he’s playing against now because of what Michael already did, and LeBron, in the early part of his career, faltered two times in the Finals. I think that [the Jordan/James] comparison can’t be made, just from that alone.”

Last summer, Bryant made headlines when he suggested that his 2012 USA Basketball team could defeat Jordan’s 1992 Dream Team.

“It’d be a tough one, but I think we’d pull it out,” he said.

Jordan responded by telling the Associated Press that he “absolutely laughed” at Bryant’s statement and that there was “no comparison” between the two teams.

Bryant, of course, was asked for a response to that response.

“So what? He knows I’m a bad mother[expletive],” Bryant told reporters after an exhibition game in Las Vegas. “I’m not really tripping.”

Jackson has been in the news a lot recently, launching a Twitter account in March to promote his book, uncorking a great one-liner about Jordan’s famous push-off on Jazz guard Bryon Russell during the 1998 Finals, and serving as a consultant to the Pistons during their ongoing coaching search.

Jackson, 67, was linked in rumors to a return to the Lakers’ bench after former coach Mike Brown was fired following a 1-4 start back in November. Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss and GM Mitch Kupchak reportedly met with Jackson before hiring Mike D’Antoni.

Since retiring in 2011, Jackson has said the possibilities of a return to coaching are “slim and none.” Of course, that hasn’t stopped his name from popping up in rumors. Back in April, Jackson acknowledged that he had spoken with multiple NBA teams about taking on a possible front-office role.

RELATED: Michael Jordan marries Yvette Prieto in Florida wedding

15 comments
cjhenry411
cjhenry411

This is truly shocking news.  Jordan better than Bryant?  I feel dizzy.....

DSM
DSM

MJ was a fabulous player, but focusing on rings is silly--think how many rings either Bird/ Magic or Kobe/ Duncan would have had if the other was not a contemporary. MJ's rivals--the Ewing Knicks, Stockton/Malone Jazz, well past their time Lakers, etc were very good, but not great teams.

DirtyPantiesLover1
DirtyPantiesLover1

here's hoping vanessa will give kobe a few baby boys to be his heir, same with jordan. here's hopin' that the milkman won't impregnate that white trophy wife and instead will produce a few boys who can actually play basketball rather than get arrested and show up with a big smile on their mugshot and ask "do you know who i am?"

OK
OK

Jordan was a prick but a winner.

Da Alleged Rapist is simply a prick and a whiner.

daddynate77
daddynate77

Kobe is all time great, Jordan is all time best.  Not a knock on Kobe, but if you've seen both play enough, you understand Kobe is 90% Jordan, it's the extra 10% that sets Jordan apart.  Lebron on the other hand has a serious chance to match the greatness, in my estimation LJ's first 8 seasons compare very favorably to Jordan's.  Lebron now has to match the meat of Jordan's career and dominate until at least 2020 winning at least 5 titles.  Even though they'll probably have to revamp the roster after next year, he's still gotta dominate and win.  I'd like to see it, after enjoying Jordan's dominance as a kid, would be nice to see how the next generation matches it so I can compare like my uncles did (they always told me Elgin and Doc J were the originals and Jordan copied).

papacoolrice42
papacoolrice42

Scottie Pippin was named as one of the 50 greatest players of all time,thanks to Michael Jordan.Michael specialized in making every player on the Bulls get the most out of their abilities.Look at some of the players Luc Longley,BJ Armstrong,Bill Wennington,Bill Cartwright,Steve Kerr,Jim Paxon,Horace Grant etc.Once those guys retired from basketball never heard from or saw them again,with the exception of analyst Steve Kerr.Kobe sometimes would stray away from the team concept and try to outscore the other team all by himself.There was one and only one Michael.

Cherrie
Cherrie

This is obvious; MJ made his teammates look a lot better than they really were  while Kobe makes his teammates all look stupid, and he alone is the best. Kobe's selfishness  sucks!

SukeMadiq
SukeMadiq

Kobe is a great scorer, but a terrible team mate and not a leader at all.

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@DSM Are you kidding?  MJ's ring-winning era was UTTERLY STACKED with opposing superstar talent.  Malone and Stockton's Jazz? Payton and Kemp's Sonics?  Ewing, Starks, Oakley's Knicks?  Thomas, Dumars, and Rodman's Pistons?  Barkley's Suns?  Olajuwan's Rockets?  Drexler's Blazers?  Miller's Pacers?  Wilkin's Hawks?

You really don't have any clue at all what you're talking about.  Kobe's Lakers never had to deal with an opposing field of superstar Hall of Famers *even remotely resembling* the likes of which MJ's Bulls had to deal with.  

Your post is absurd to the point of comic.  You must be a kid that's too young to have watched the NBA in the 90s.  There's a reason why the 90s era Dream Teams were so ridiculously loaded, and there's an inverse reason why the (misnamed) Dream Teams of Kobe's early to mid 00s era were so disappointing.  Shaq and Kobe had a cake-walk to their three-peat compared to MJ's Bulls.  They really only had Duncan's Spurs and Nash's Mavs to deal with in the West.  The East had Iverson for a few years (Sixers) and pretty much nothing else during that period.

ronnierose
ronnierose

@daddynate77 good point.  What Jordan accomplished with his "15 year" career (more like less than13 years in games played due to injury his second yr and retirement) cannot compare to anyone in the history of the game.  By the numbers, Kobe isn't on the same map.  MJ with 10 scoring titles (7 consecutive) to Kobe's 2? In 17 seasons Kobe has yet to surpass MJ numbers in points, steals, block or rebounds.  He finally passed MJ's assist total this past year. Not to mention a defensive player of the year award. It's not fair to compare MJ to anyone but when you stick your tongue out like 23 then you have to face the music.

imst0ncld
imst0ncld

@SukeMadiq Kobe not a team leader, PLEASE. I don't know what you are watching but KOBE is all about what a leader should be. Michael was great but Kobe is and always will be the better player. That's the bottom line!!!!!


DSM
DSM

@leehwgoc@DSMI actually have watched the NBA since the 1960's and even worked for a team. Leaving out the insults you enjoy, I note that you do not mention my starting point of rings being an overrated measuring stick.

You then ignore my comment about what if either Bird or Magic did not have to face the other's team. There were battles between those teams with 8 Hall of Famers on the floor simultaneously.

The closer call is the Lakers/Spurs vs. MJ opponents. Stockton/Malone was a great combo and the others you mention were very good, but not comparable to Robinson/Duncan or Shaq/Kobe and their third best players were not good enough to change the equation. After Robinson, the Spurs added 2 other future Hall of Famers. For example, how good were the second best players behind Barkley, Miller, Wilkins, etc, compared to Pippin, or the second best Laker? 

Unfortunately, for those of us who loved seeing titanic conflicts, the Lakers and Pistons teams that the Bulls defeated were past their primes.

It is also worth speculating how the Bulls would have fared if they had faced a top power center who had an all-star teammate (Oakley and Starks were nowhere near the level of Pippin or the second best Laker).   I do not know why you mention Olajuwon, who never faced MJ in the playoffs.


 I am not sure why you bother to mention Iverson, who only made it to the finals once, but agree the West was much stronger then. 

Above all, MJ ws an incredible player and Pippin a sadly underrated rated superstar--especially when you consider how he and mJ avoided the poisonous chemistry that split Shaq and Kobe.