Has Phil Jackson Settled the Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan Debate?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IMay 20, 2013

Former Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson didn't exactly come out and say that former Bulls' legend Michael Jordan is a better player than Kobe Bryant in excerpts from his book according to ESPN.com

But it's difficult to draw any other conclusion based on Jackson's pointed, and earnest words.

"One of the biggest differences between the two stars from my perspective was Michael's superior skills as a leader," Jackson writes. "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."

That's not too bad considering Jackson's analysis in this instance because it describes the emotional growth and maturation of a player, which is something that is learned and often exists parallel to a player's impact on the floor.

However, Jackson goes on to explain why he does feel like Jordan is a better overall player than Bryant, and by the time he's done you get the overall impression that the competition was never even close.

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

Jackson doesn't mince words when describing Jordan as a superior defender, and even though he issued a caveat by saying that Bryant did eventually learn some of Jordan's defensive tricks, Bryant was still the lesser player on defense.

And offense as well.

On offense, Jackson said: "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."

I thought this was perhaps the sentiment that most defined the arguments of Bryant's critics, who claimed his sometimes tunnel-vision focus on scoring prevented other parts of his game from blossoming.

Jackson also delved a little deeper than the game by comparing Jordan and Bryant's personalities, but he went further to reveal an inherent bias by mentioning Bryant's sexual assault charges in 2003.

Bryant's fans will say that Jackson's words can't be trusted because of his rush to judgement against Bryant before due process, but does that take anything away from Jackson's basketball critique?

In all honesty I prefer Bryant over Jordan, but it has much more to do with the uniform he wears than comparisons on the court.

I've always felt that people never give Bryant the credit he deserves for the right to even be compared to Jordan, but saying that Bryant is better is giving too much.

Of course you can point to areas of Bryant's game such as his footwork, perimeter shooting and even skill level, and say they are comparable or maybe even better than Jordan's.

The only problem is you can look at Jordan's legacy and say he was much better, and that opinion is backed by numbers.

Statistics may not tell the whole story in most instances, but in this case the book is closed.

Jordan has bested Bryant in almost every meaningful legacy category that can be defined by numbers, and while there is a good chance that Bryant could catch Jordan on the all-time scoring list, look how long it will take him to do it.

This is no knock on Bryant because he will finish his career as a top 10 all-time player regardless of how his recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon turns out.

But Bryant will never be Jordan, and that statement has nothing to do with style, personality and sneaker sales, and everything to do with on-court production.

And that opinion comes from the coach who has led each player at the pinnacle of their respective games.

Jackson won 11 NBA championships with both players, but he lost two with Kobe.

You can hate Phil Jackson for inserting his personal feelings into a basketball conversation, but you can't hate him for telling the truth.