Eleven-time NBA champion head coach Phil Jackson has a new book coming out on May 20, and in it he tackles one of the league's most spirited debates from a first-person view.
That debate surrounds who is the better player: six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan and five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant.
In his new book, entitled Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success, Jackson tackles the question that he largely avoided after he moved from Chicago to Los Angeles and won five more titles with one of the best players in Laker and league history.
Jackson advertised the book on Twitter, and in it he will shed some light on two different player-coach relationships that helped Jackson ultimately form an opinion about the fundamental games of both players:
Before giving you a bit of that answer below (Spoiler Alert!), it's important to understand a fundamental truth about the comparisons between Jordan and Bryant that have surfaced over the years.
Not even an answer from Jackson, who coached both men during their peak, can end this debate for good.
The Los Angeles Times got an advanced copy of Jackson's new book this week, and excerpts from the bit about Jordan vs. Bryant made their way to press. Here's a few tidbits that Jackson has never before publicly acknowledged when it comes to the current and future Hall of Famers, courtesy of Mike Bresnahan:
*Note: If you do not want to read any quotes from Jackson's upcoming book, now would be the time to avert your eyes by leaving the page.
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...Kobe has learned a lot from studying Michael's tricks, and we often used him as our secret weapon on defense when we needed to turn the direction of a game. In general, Kobe tends to rely more heavily on his flexibility and craftiness, but he takes a lot of gambles on defense and sometimes pays the price.
Jackson went deeper in discussing the on-court nature of the two players:
Michael was more likely to break through his attackers with power and strength, while Kobe often tries to finesse his way through mass pileups...Jordan was also more naturally inclined to let the game come to him and not overplay his hand, whereas Kobe tends to force the action, especially when the game isn't going his way.
When his shot is off, Kobe will pound away relentlessly until his luck turns. Michael, on the other hand, would shift his attention to defense or passing or setting screens to help the team win the game.
He even addressed the leadership abilities of Jordan, Bryant:
One of the biggest differences between the two stars from my perspective was Michael's superior skills as a leader...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.
If Bryant talked to teammates in his earlier Lakers years, it was usually, "Give me the damn ball"...But then Kobe started to shift. 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.
It's not exactly a person-to-person comparison of the two superstar NBA athletes, but it's likely the closest thing we'll ever get to solving the debate from the standpoint of the only man on this earth who had the privilege of studying both on a daily basis.
That being said, it's hardly the final say on the debate between the two.
Jackson gives the edge to Jordan here, and the rest of the world has largely done the same. Counting by rings, Jordan has the edge by one, he's regarded as the best player of all time by most, and his Charlotte Bobcats players claimed he could still play in the NBA this season back in December.
By comparison, Bryant is currently fourth on the all-time scoring list (right behind Jordan at No. 3), and will pass the Bulls legend if he plays another full season in the NBA one day following the results of his Achilles tear at the end of the 2012-13 campaign.
When it boils right down to it, isn't the debate the best part?
Sure, the prevailing answer here is Jordan, and if pressed against the wall with one question standing between life and death, my answer is Jordan 10 times out of 10. But it's the debate that makes this "rivalry" one that means so much to NBA fans everywhere who take the time to engage in a friendly banter.
For what it's worth, Jordan does come out ahead in Jackson's comments (of what we've seen so far). But he refuses to really give one the edge over the other in a one-on-one game or with one shot to win a Game 7 or whom he would want to lead any given roster.
The debate is what Jordan vs. Bryant is about. Jackson's comments are worth listening to, even for the casual fan, because they provide insight to the mind of the one who coached both to multiple titles, and give bullets to any argument favoring one player or another.
But it's hardly the end to the Jordan-Bryant debate. Heck, the debate that's all the rage right now is Jordan vs. LeBron James.
And that's a conversation to start up on another day.
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