Posted May 23, 2013

Phil Jackson would take Bill Russell, not Michael Jordan, as first player to start team

Ben Golliver, Bill Russell, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson
Phil Jackson would take Bill Russell (left) over Michael Jordan if given the choice. (Jeff Haynes AFP/Getty)

Phil Jackson would take Bill Russell (left) over Michael Jordan if given the choice. (Jeff Haynes AFP/Getty)

If given the choice of any player in NBA history to start a franchise, legendary coach Phil Jackson says Celtics center Bill Russell would win out over his former player Michael Jordan.

“In my estimation, the guy that has to be there would be Bill Russell. He has won 11 championships as a player,” Jackson said in an interview with Time. “That’s really the idea of what excellence is, when you win championships.”

In addition to his 11 titles with the Celtics in the 1950s and 1960s, Russell was a five-time MVP and 12-time All-Star. Jordan won six championships playing for the Bulls in the 1990s under Jackson, earning five MVP awards and 14 All-Star Game selections.

Jackson dodged when asked to select between Jordan and Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, whom he coached to five titles between 2000 and 2010.

“I would flip a coin,” he said. “Whichever one came up heads or tails, I’d take that person. They were that good.”

Jackson is promoting his new book, Eleven Rings, in which he compares Jordan and Bryant extensively. The Zen Master told Time that he believes the 34-year-old Bryant’s quest for a sixth ring, to match Jordan, will prove difficult after a season-ending Achilles injury.

“He’s going to be hard-pressed,” Jackson said. “He’s at an age where I think Michael Jordan won a couple more, but he hadn’t suffered the type of injury that Kobe went through at the end of the year this year. Devastating. Achilles tendon is a very difficult injury to survive and come back at the same level. Not too many people do it. If anybody can, Kobe will.”

In the book, which was released this week, Jackson paints Jordan as a better leader, shooter and defender than Bryant, prompting the Lakers guard to say that the comparisons are “apples to oranges”.

Jordan comparisons have been a particularly hot topic recently as the Hall of Fame guard turned 50 in February. 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.

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

“If you had to pick between the two,” Jordan said, “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 that he very much seeks the Greatest Of All Time title.

“I want to be the greatest of all time,” James declared in February. He added: “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.”

In April, longtime NBA trainer Tim Grover, who has worked for years with Jordan and Bryant, told SI.com that comparing Jordan to anyone besides 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 to a return to the Lakers’ bench after coach Mike Brown was fired following a 1-4 start in November. Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak reportedly met with Jackson before hiring Mike D’Antoni.

“I was kind of offered that by the Lakers this year, but it didn’t work out, and that’s fine,” Jackson told Time. “That was the only situation in which I could ever think of coaching again.”

RELATED: Michael Jordan marries Yvette Prieto in Florida wedding

97 comments
SharadhPadayachi
SharadhPadayachi

If two of the greatest coaches of all time, and Phil being one of them, had a pool of 10 players to chose from to play for their lives.  Would Phil still choose Bill Russel if the other coach would get Jordan? I doubt it.  

s_valmont
s_valmont

Preposterous. Russell was a force but until now I hadn't heard him mentioned in the same sentence as Jordan when it comes to basketball IQ, dominance, ferocity in the clutch, and the ability to take over a fourth quarter or a game at will - attributes you'd figure would describe "The Best Player of All Time". Let's not even talk about eras. And to rationalize it as excellence being defined by sheer number of championship rings? Maybe Phil's reflecting on himself just a little bit?

- rate this broadcast I wrote at puffsky.com

Steve Moore
Steve Moore

Russel the greatest ever, not even close - too bad ignorant tv generation has such a narrow view of the world - what I saw on tv.

GooGulsux
GooGulsux

I know Phil is trying to sell books, but really?

Russell was a great player ... but he's not even the best center. 

Kareem was the greatest center. 

jlip
jlip

Phil speaks the truth.  The ignorance I see about Russell's game on this blog is ridiculous.  Russell cared about only one thing, and that was winning.  He didn't care about stats.  If it required him leading the team in scoring as he did in the 1962 and 1966 Finals he would do that.  If it required him leading the team in rebounds as he did practically every game he would do that.  If it required him leading the team in assists as he did in the '65, '66, and '67 playoffs he would do that also.  If he had to coach the team himself to championships as he did in '68 and '69 he would do that... as long as it translated into a win.  Phil Jackson knows first hand how good Russell was.  As a player for the Knicks in 1969 Phil saw an ancient, 35 year old Russell on arthritic knees and on the way to retirement outplay his prime 26 year old hall of fame teammate, Willis Reed, in the playoffs.

randy33
randy33

MJ all day he would of put his crotch in Russells face! Let Bill Russell win with the full NBA teams playing! You know the likes of Julius Erving, Connie Hawkins, etc.... Sorry MJ ALL DAY!

AJ11
AJ11

Actually Russell played with the following Hall of Famers: Cousy, Sharman, Heinsohn, Havlicek, Sam Jones, Frank Ramsey. I believe you have to give priority to championships and MVP's and that leaves us with Russell 5 MVP's 11 championships, , Jordan 5 MVP's and 6 championships, and Abdul Jabbar 6 MVP's and 6 championships. No one else combines the individual domination with the team success.. Kobe isn't really seriously in the conversation. An argument can be made that he is the most dominant of his era vs Tim Duncan but to fit into the all time argument he needs another 4 MVP's. Lebron may get there with another 4-5 championships. Objectively that's pretty much it.

WalterDelashmit
WalterDelashmit

Of course. it all starts with defense, rebounding and blocking shots. Most of Bill Russell's blocks were kept in play rather than be swatted out of bounds where guys just try to be impressive. Keeping the ball in play gives your team a chance to get the ball.


leehwgoc
leehwgoc

You guys need to resist getting so worked up over this.

Can't you see what Phil is doing here?

HE'S JUST REFUSING TO TAKE A SIDE.  

Picking Bill Russell is essentially an evasion, simply so he doesn't have to publicly admit favor for either MJ, LBJ, or Kobe over the other two.  Russell is well loved by everyone, and he has very little active interaction with today's media (i.e. he doesn't throw his voice around on twitter and to reporters, etc).  

He's the perfect choice for Phil's true agenda here; no one has the gall to actually 'hate on' Bill Russell, and Bill can be relied upon to remain relatively quiet about it to the media.  This uncomfortable and potentially volatile topic for Jackson will now die off without any snowballing controversy, and that's exactly what Phil wants.


P.S.  Like hell he'd just flip a coin between Kobe and MJ.  We know damn well who he'd take first.

Charlie P
Charlie P

Comments cited for this article belong to: Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Tim Grover.  One of them is not like the others...

RussellCantShoot
RussellCantShoot

The "Russell has 11 championships" therefore he's the greatest argument is beyond weak. Russell played with about 5 other hall of famers. How come this weak argument doesn't apply to any other of those Celtics? Bob Cousy won 6 titles; I guess he's better than Magic, Thomas and way better than Stockton. I would take Jordan, LeBron, Kobe, Bird, Magic, Shaq, Olajuwon, Robinson, Duncan, Wilt and Kareem ALL over Bill Russell.

RussellCantShoot
RussellCantShoot

Bill Russell's career shooting percentage is 44%. There was a season where he shot 41%!! Russell isn't even a top 5 center, let alone the greatest player ever. He was a mediocre offensive player. Russell better than Jordan? That's laughable.

DavidHarte
DavidHarte

You have to laugh when people try to argue that Michael Jordan had a better career than Bill Russell.

11 (ELEVEN!) NBA titles, in only 13 years.  And against Wilt, for god's sake.  Can you imagine what Chamberlain would have done to Jordan the first time His Airness flew in for a dunk?  Wilt was 7'2" and weighed between 275 and 300 pounds during his career; he was a high jumper and a triple jumper in college at Kansas--in other words, if Jordan were lucky his shot would just get blocked, though if he pissed Wilt off young Michael might have made the sixth row behind the basket on the fly, then bounced.  He would never have challenged Wilt Chamberlain again.

And yet Bill Russell beat Wilt every year but one.  So how would Michael Jordan have done with that sort of challenge?

One other point: in 1956 Russell was told he might not be allowed to play on the Olympic basketball team because he was turning pro.  Not a problem--he qualified as a high jumper.  At 6'10" (with very very long arms) he high jumped 6'10" in competition, and this was not the Fosbury flop technique but the full on old school one leg over and then straddle the bar jump!  So picture the athleticism: 6'10",  huge reach, and capable of jumping almost 7' straight up.  

Think that sort of talent might intimidate a 6'6" shooting guard driving the lane?  Now add the secret ingredient of the most ferocious intensity in American sports history.  You want Butkus, Jim Brown, Ali, Bob Gibson?  Fine, I'll take Bill Russell and at least 11 out of 13 times, any team with this man on it wins.

Jordan is a legend, but Russell is the greatest champion in the history of team sports.  No one will ever touch that record of greatness; frankly, it's starting to look like a misprint.

Kingfaruq
Kingfaruq

I think Jordan is better, but i don't think the finals argument is logical

Kingfaruq
Kingfaruq

Can i ask a question why is it that getting to the finals and losing is worst than not getting to the finals at all? at 28 lebron has one ring and 3 finals appearances, jordan had one ring one appearance, i just don't understand how that doesnt make lebron better but somehow makes him worst. So is melo the greatest cause he hardly makes it out of the first round? Say lebron wins 7 championships are we gonna say ohhh no he lost a couple of finals jordan lost CF and CSF but thats okay? My analogy and way of thinking about it is, If two people play one on one, first to ten, and the first guy shoots a perfect 9/9 but the other guy shoot 10/36 who wins? Rather lose in the finals if i gotta lose. And they both lost

rjl8125
rjl8125

Don't forget that Russell won back to back NCAA titles his junior and senior years at University of San Fransisco, winning 55 straight games at one point. He then won an Olympic gold medal, then 11 rings in 13 seasons as a pro (one of the years he did not win he was injured for the finals). 

He was the ultimate winner.

meta
meta

@jlip So true.  If you include the Olympics and two at USF, it was not 11 out of 13 championships but 14 out of 16. 

Omaar47
Omaar47

@randy33

Celtic Coach, Red Auerbach To Russell's Boston Celtics Team Mates..

'There's 2 Sets Of Rules, One's For Him [Bill Russell] The Other One Is For The Rest Of Ya"

Bill Russell Played Against The Greatest & Most Dominant Center [Wilt Chamberlain]

 Russell On Wilt Chamberlain..

"I Had To Play Him [Chamberlain] Tough, Because If I Didn't, He Would've Killed Me"

Bill Russell Played Against Kareem Abdul Jabar 

Bill Russell, One On Every Level Life & Especially Basketball.

 Bill Russell won 11 championship rings. With that being said I am counting the 2 he won as a player-coach. These 11 NBA championships were won in 13 NBA seasons. Which means that around 85% of the time that Bill Russell was in the NBA, he won an NBA championship.

meta
meta

@randy33 Randy, Randy. Bill Russell once high jumped 6'9" when the world record was under 7'. So unless Jordon's crotch was hanging from the rafters with Bill Russell's eleven banners, you got it backwards. 

meta
meta

@AJ11 It is important to add to this fine post that unlike Wilt, Bill Russell created Hall of Famers.

pcwhite2
pcwhite2

@AJ11 

The media - who vote on MVPs - doesn't like Kobe, so that shouldn't be held against him.

However, you are correct: Kobe is Top Ten all-time, but not in the conversation of greatest ever, UNLESS he catches Abdul-Jabbar for greatest scorer of all time.  Five rings and greatest scorer - that's saying something.

meta
meta

@RussellCantShoot Bill Russell created Hall of Famers. You can't remove him from the equation. If those guys had played with Wilt, very few would have made the grade. You have it damn close to backwards. 

meta
meta

@RussellCantShoot Ask all of them, they'll tell you it was Russell. Also, he won two championships at the University of San Francisco-not much of a tradition there other than when he was there (they won 50 in a row at one point) and an Olympic gold, too. Every team he played for dominated. I only wish you could have seen him. 

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@RussellCantShoot Look at the rosters Magic and Bird played with, dude.  You gonna remove them from consideration as franchise pillars too?

pcwhite2
pcwhite2

@RussellCantShoot 

His job was not to score.  He is the greatest defense player of all time.  His legacy is that defense is just as important as offense in the game of basketball.  This is precisely why Dennis Rodman was elected first ballot, no question, because he is arguably the second best defense player of all time, after Russell.

pcwhite2
pcwhite2

@DavidHarte 

They don't, David.  These cats just don't understand about Russell.

pcwhite2
pcwhite2

@Kingfaruq 

Please sit down, King Faruq.  It sounds like you know little about basketball.

The_Sports_Dude
The_Sports_Dude

@rjl8125 Bill Russell's two championships as player-coach is the ultimate wild card in the GOAT discussion.  It's similar to baseball and Babe Ruth also being a dominant pitcher prior to revolutionizing the game as a hitter.

jlip
jlip

@meta@jlip 

YEP! 

In 2010, two US Olympic teams were inducted into the Hall of Fame,1960 and 1992 teams.The 1960 team which featured future NBA hall of famers Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas, and Walt Bellamy is considered the greatest amateur team ever assembled, and defeated their opponents by a whopping 42.4ppg.The 1992 Dream Team which featured 10 Hall of Famers, most of whom were professionals playing in the league at the time, defeated their opponents by a margin of 43.8ppg.  
 

Bill Russell led the1956 squad with only one future Hall of Famer, K.C. Jones, to gold defeating their opponents by an Olympic record of 53.5ppg. Russell led the team in scoring, and the defense anchored by him held their opponents to 13.9 points below their averages.

The average fan who only knows Russell by some abstract stats on a profile from an internet site really don't know how dominating he was.  I have articles where NBA coaches said they changed their starting lineups when they played the Celtics because they feared Russell.

RussellCantShoot
RussellCantShoot

No because Bird and Magic didn't play with as many HOFers. My point wasn't really about supporting casts: all players need other great players. My point was more - why is Russell the only one that gets credit for multiple titles? Like I posted, Cousy has 6 rings. But I've never heard 1 person say he's better than Magic or Thomas. Which he's not, because his career shooting percentage is worse than Russell's. But I love how players, media types, and in this case, Phil, just throw 11 rings out there and think that settles the argument. Look at Russell's stats. He was a mediocre offense player. A center, playing in that era, with a career FG% of 44. Lol. And people used to bash Allen Iverson for shooting percentage. Both Bird and Magic have much better shooting percentages than Russell.

meta
meta

@pcwhite2 @DavidHarte I know it's difficult. I lived in Boston, as I said on another post today (I'm an old fart) when Russell played and lived in Chicago when MJ was dominant. Who was "better," hard to say. Who would I pick first. There's no question, Bill Russell. 

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@pcwhite2 @Kingfaruq Uh, I think you should sit down, dude.  His point is entirely sensible.

People forget LeBron's Cavs that year should have never even made it to those Finals.  It was a miracle they got that far (a miracle essentially named 'LeBron James', incidentally).  And then on top of that, they had to face Duncan and Parker's Spurs at the very peak of their powers.  Of course that Cavs team was swept.  They had one superstar youngster ahead of his time and a remaining roster full of scrubs.

DavidosaurusCawston
DavidosaurusCawston

@pcwhite2 @Kingfaruq No it doesn't. It sounds like he has a very valid point. When Lebron took the cavs to the finals and didn't win that is still a huge accomplishment. Six finals - six rings is also a huge accomplishment. A bigger one obviously, but it doesn't take into account the earlier round loses of Jordan. In my books a finals appearance is better than a first round loss.  

People often forget that Lebron is only 28 because he's been around and in the spotlight for such a long time. He is currently ahead of the Jordan curve. Does that make him the GOAT? Who knows as he still has years to play. Jordan has maxed out his career already. He is not getting more accolades. Lebron is. You can't compare the final stats of a retired player with those of an active player. 

I'm not sure about the second part of KF's argument, but he certainly has a very valid point to start with and I don't think the second point suggests a lack of basketball knowledge

meta
meta

@RussellCantShoot Russell didn't just win 11 or 13. He won with the Olympic team and won twice at USF...that 14 titles in 16 years. Think about it before you say anything. Really, big deep breaths.

pcwhite2
pcwhite2

@RussellCantShoot 

As Sports Illustrated said in a cover story in 2000 (I believe): Russell is the greatest winner in team sports history.  He has back to back NCAA rings.  he played on 9 championship teams in the NBA.  He coached two more teams to rings, while playing at the same time.  

As I say below, his job was to play defense, not score.  And he is the greatest defensive player of all time.

To be clear, I believe Magic is the best player of all time, with Russell second.  Magic literally could play, and did play at times - crucial times - all FIVE positions on the floor.

Marc3
Marc3

@pcwhite2 @Marc3 @DavidHarte 

Even Magic acknowledges Michael was better than him. Although I have much love for both MJs so I can at least see where you're coming from with Magic.

pcwhite2
pcwhite2

@Marc3 @pcwhite2 @DavidHarte 

I did not say he was the GOAT - Magic is.  However, I would take Russell over Jordan to start a team - just like Phil said.  And yes, no question I would take Magic over Jordan AND Russell to start a team.

I read the bleachreport some time ago.  I agree with many comments there that the writer was wrong in his analysis of Russell.