Eleven championships and coaching two of the greatest players in league history have given Phil Jackson one of the most unique vantage points in all of sports.
The 67-year-old coach has penned a new book titled “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success,” and the juiciest details NBA fans want to know concern Jackson’s comparison of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
Fans and the media have hotly debated who is greater, with Jordan winning out most of the time with his six titles compared to Bryant’s five, but up until now Jackson shied away from such questions.
While Jackson doesn't outright name either the “greatest,” he reportedly does discuss how taxing it was to get through to Bryant, and how Jordan was a far better leader.
"One of the biggest differences between the two stars from my perspective was Michael's superior skills as a leader," Jackson writes according to the Los Angeles Times. "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 in his bones."
According to Jackson, Bryant has been obsessed with surpassing Jordan. But Jackson said helping Bryant achieve his goal proved difficult.
"In his mind he had it all figured out,” Jackson said. “His goal was to become the greatest basketball player of all time. And he was certain he knew what he had to do to get there. Why should he listen to anybody else? If he followed my advice and cut back his scoring, he'd fall short of his ultimate goal.”
In another passage, Jackson hoped to humble Bryant, and teach him to curb his shooting and rely more on his teammates. He even brought the two megastars together.
"Kobe was hell-bent on surpassing Jordan as the greatest player in the game,” Jackson said. “His obsession with Michael was striking. When we played in Chicago that season, I orchestrated a meeting between the two stars, thinking that Michael might help shift Kobe's attitude toward selfless teamwork. After they shook hands, the first words out of Kobe's mouth were, 'You know I can kick your ass one on one.'"
The book also highlights many of Jackson’s teaching methods, and how Bryant started to turn the corner later in his career, specifically the 2008-09 season when the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic in the Finals. It was the fourth ring of Bryant’s career.
"But then Kobe started to shift," he writes. "He embraced the team and his teammates, calling them up when we were on the road and inviting them out to dinner. It was as if the other players were now his partners, not his personal spear-carriers."
Whether Bryant can equal Jordan’s six championships depends largely on how he comes back from a torn Achilles tendon suffered at the end of the regular season.
Both Jordan and Bryant coupled their considerable talents with a fiery, and often dominating, competitive streak. Jordan famously punched a teammate in practice, while Bryant feuded with Shaquille O’Neal for years before the big man was traded.
Based on their career stats, Jordan may have edged out Bryant. Over 15 seasons, Jordan won five MVPs, 10 scoring titles, and six Finals MVP awards. Bryant rose to the fourth leading scorer in league history this past season, and has five titles, one MVP, and 15 All-Star selections.