Phil Jackson Finally Compares Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2013

Phil Jackson finally caved.

The Zen Master spent the better part of his 11 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers dodging Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan comparisons. Now, he is indulging in them.

In his new memoir, co-written with Hugh Delehanty and entitled Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success, Jackson breaks down what separated the Black Mamba from His Airness. 

Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times received an early release of the book and detailed some of the more notable excerpts.

"Michael was more charismatic and gregarious than Kobe," Jackson says in the book. "He loved hanging out with his teammates and security guards, playing cards, smoking cigars, and joking around."

That just wasn't Kobe. According to Jackson, he kept to himself—a self-imposed isolation that he attributed to the absence of the collegiate experience.

Kobe entered the NBA as a teenager. At only 18, he wasn't as socially developed as his peers. Seclusion was a coping mechanism he employed upon entering an environment and culture he wasn't familiar with and didn't fully understand.

He got better at it, though, Jackson admits. As time went on, and Kobe began to better grasp the concept of being a teammate, he became a more affable influence.

"But his inclination to keep to himself shifted as he grew older," Jackson explains. "Increasingly, Kobe put more energy into getting to know the other players, especially when the team was on the road."

Still, he was no MJ.

Jordan was more convivial and alluring as a person. While Bryant was often considered an emotional recluse, Jordan was a social butterfly. Jackson believed he was better on defense, too.

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

Which isn't to say Kobe was a poor defender. Jackson acknowledges the contrary, but also concedes that Kobe took unnecessary risks and relied too heavily on his athleticism.

"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," Jackson said. "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 painted a similar picture on the offensive end. He cited Jordan's superior efficiency and discussed at length how MJ's "sturdier frame" and broader shoulders allowed him to do more on the offensive end.

Mostly, though, he praised Jordan for his patience, for allowing the game to come to him—something Kobe rarely does.

"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," he explains.  "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."

The biggest difference between the two, though? Leadership.

Jordan's congenial persona made for a better leader. Again, he benefited from three years at North Carolina that helped expand his value, both tactically and emotionally. But he had an inherent knack for elevating the play of his teammates, no matter how tough he was on them.

Kobe, meanwhile, has found himself at the center of many internal controversies. His mindset has never been the same as Jordan's, and he's therefore been unable to have as profound an impact on his teammates.

"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," Jackson confesses. "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."

Over time, Bryant has improved as a leader. Jackson points to the 2008-09 season as the culmination of his evolution. It was then that the Mamba's dialogue with his supporting cast went from "Give me the damn ball" to something more.

He became more sociable, more amicable. He would invite teammates out to dinner while on the road. He would play with them, not be detached from them.

"It was as if the other players were now his partners, not his personal spear-carriers," Jackson said.

That same season, the Lakers won an NBA championship. Bryant opened the dynamic of the team to a relatively passive Pau Gasol.

Afterward, Jackson divulges that he had developed new-found appreciation for the player and man that was Kobe Bryant.

That title was, as Jackson describes it, their "moment of triumph" and a "total reconciliation." No longer was his perception of Bryant tainted by his callous demeanor and off-court troubles. What they had accomplished, they had done together. 

"The look of pride and joy in Kobe's eyes made all the pain we'd endured in our journey together worth it."

It was all worth it—but it still didn't make him as good as Jordan.