I finally finished reading Phil Jackson’s book that dropped in May, “Eleven Rings”. It’s infinitely better than the garbage (no apologies for that one) that was his first book from 2004, “The Final Season” which was released soon after the Detroit Pistons upset the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals and he walked away from the game.
First and foremost, I have the utmost respect in the world for Phil Jackson, former head coach of the Chicago Bulls during the Michael Jordan era (six rings) and former head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers once during the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal championship 3-peat and of the back-to-back championship winning teams of 2009 and 2010. He took the triangle offense and mastered it with his teams. He took the magnified egos of MJ, Kobe and Shaq, and curtailed said egos from getting in the way of the illustrious goal of winning championships. While I do not recognize him as the greatest coach ever (Red Auerbach, please), I recognize his accomplishments as nothing short of tremendous in the realm of simply getting the job done.
I detest the Lakers. Anybody that knows me, knows that. I also have a hard time discussing the 2010 NBA Finals with an objective perspective. I’ll never get over that Finals series for as long as live, given how my beloved Boston Celtics choked away the final two games of that series (especially game 7, when they held a 17 point lead and wilted in the Staples Center). I won’t even begin to write an impartial take on that seven game championship spectacle. Even though the Celtics destroyed the Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals (hands down my favorite Finals ever and the reason is obvious and seen in these words), that 2010 loss haunts me and recurs in my mind more than anything Celtics related because of the sheer disappointment of it all. But I digress. I’m getting far too off-topic here.
The biggest sell of this book that got me to go out and buy it was the hype over how coach Jackson conclusively answered the question over who’s better, all-time, between MJ and Kobe. Jackson, not surprisingly, said Jordan. And I’ve been saying that for years, even though my words mean absolutely jack shit given how I grew up idolizing (in the basketball sense of of admiration) Michael Jordan just like most kids in that time. I’ve never liked Kobe (my disdain for Kobe actually began in May 2006 against the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs when he and the Lakers wielded a 3-1 series lead and in game 7, among critics saying Kobe didn’t pass enough and shot more than his fair share, Kobe answered those critics by hardly shooting and constantly deferring; the Lakers were destroyed and the Suns moved on. That was an example of “spiteful Kobe”). But Phil confirmed my bias and most (let’s be honest: most) people’s takes that Michael Jordan is greater than Kobe Bryant.
Jackson said of Jordan — when speaking of Kobe in the same breath:
“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 in his bones.”
Phil Jackson also gave Jordan the nod when it came to the two respective players’ defensive skills:
“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. 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.”
On the two players’ offense:
“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.”
Jackson also touched on the difference in personalities.
“Michael was more charismatic and gregarious than Kobe. He loved hanging out with his teammates and security guards, playing cards, smoking cigars, and joking around.
Kobe is different. He was reserved as a teenager, in part because he was younger than the other players and hadn’t developed strong social skills in college. When Kobe first joined the Lakers, he avoided fraternizing with his teammates. But his inclination to keep to himself shifted as he grew older. Increasingly, Kobe put more energy into getting to know the other players, especially when the team was on the road.”
It’s a solid read. I recommend it to any basketball fanatics out there.
Then again, Phil also wrote that the 2010 NBA Finals win over my Boston Celtics was the most satisfying of the 11 title wins in his career, and reading that was like accepting a dagger to the chest.