Thursday 24th May 2018,
The Hoop Doctors

Phil Jackson Says He’d Pick Bill Russell Over Michael Jordan

Well this is awkward.

Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan are tight. Really tight. Jackson has already sang his praises over that of Kobe Bryant.

And why wouldn’t he? Jordan and Jackson won six championships together. His Airness is the greatest of all-time. Jackson wouldn’t trade him for anyone. Or so we thought.

Speaking with Time (via Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated), Jackson conceded that if he had the opportunity to start an NBA franchise, he wouldn’t build around Jordan; he’d assemble a roster around Bill Russell.

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

If Jackson were to use crowning achievements as his sole barometer, then Russell has a strong case. Not only did he win 11 championships—the same amount Jackson has won as a coach—but he was named to 12 All-Star teams and is a five-time MVP. That said, Jordan was a five-time MVP as well and earned 14 All-Star Selections.

Those championships appear to make all the difference to Jackson, who also won two as a player. He’s addicted to them. Russell has more, so he would go will Russell. It’s simple logic. But it’s a methodology Jackson wouldn’t stand behind every time.

Phil was also asked who he would choose between Jordan and Kobe. His answer wasn’t as definitive.

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

Kudos to Kobe, for being put in the same class as Jordan by the man that coached both of them to multiple titles. That’s quite an accomplishment. Jackson’s somewhat cavalier approach when it comes to Jordan is a bit vexing, though.

Photo credit: Jeff Haynes AFP/Getty.

Assuming that championships are Jackson’s be-all, end-all of franchise pillars—like he himself says, why choose Kobe over Jordan? Because Kobe almost has six rings? Because he could eventually finish with six rings?

I have my doubt about the latter. So does Jackson. He’s doesn’t exactly have high hopes for Kobe moving forward, as he looks to procure a sixth ring.

“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.”

Fair enough. But a coin toss? Between Jordan and Kobe? Really?

Actually, yes. I kind of see where Jackson is coming from.

Jordan was far more efficient than Kobe will ever be, but they’re both such fierce competitors that it would be impossible to go wrong with either of them. If I had to pick, I’d probably go with Jordan. Not only was he more efficient, but he was the better defender and it didn’t take him as long to develop as a leader.

Still, I can see Jackson’s dilemma when it comes to these two. His decision with regard to Russell is what’s truly troubling..

Centers aren’t the most sound of building blocks in today’s NBA. Teams are increasingly going small and spacing the floor. Guards and Forwards have become more important.

Also, Russell played in the ’50s and ’60s, when the game was drastically different. Someone who was 6’9″, like he was, could play the 5. Today, though? Elite towers are bigger. I’m not so sure he would then represent a championship-caliber pillar. Not as effective a one as Jordan. Or even Kobe.

Then again, for Jackson, it was all about championships. About rings. And 11 beats six, every time.

Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at in addition to Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.

Like this Article? Share it!