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Phil Jackson compares how Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant treated teammates

May 16, 2013, 11:15 AM EDT

File photo of Lakers' Bryant yells out in the 4th quarter of their NBA basketball game against the Nuggets

One thing that made Michael Jordan so great was his ability to make his teammates better. Like all superstars, Jordan attracted attention on the court, and that gave the Bulls’ other players room to operate. But unlike, say, Magic Johnson, Jordan didn’t necessarily excel at setting up those open teammates, at least relative to his other elite skills.

Rather, Jordan required his teammates to match his incredibly intense drive.

But demanding so much from his teammates – even punching them in the face when necessary – can be pretty alienating. In his new book, “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success,” Phil Jackson explains how Jordan got away with it while comparing MJ to Kobe Bryant. Via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

“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,” Jackson said in the book, which was obtained in advance by The Times.

“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.”

Not to harp on a relatively minor flaw – keep in mind, compared to the greatest player of all time – Kobe didn’t bring his teammates to his level with the same success. A fun-loving Shaquille O’Neal never matched Kobe’s seriousness, and we still talk about how Smush Parker brought down Kobe rather than how Kobe elevated Parker.

But that’s part of the reason Jordan is the best and Kobe is merely one of the best.

  1. rodge1 - May 16, 2013 at 11:27 AM

    Plus, Jordan never criticized his coach/teammates or drove coaches/players out of town like Tweet-master-Kobe.

    • Kurt Helin - May 20, 2013 at 12:40 AM

      Jordan never criticized his teammates? Really?

  2. money2long - May 16, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    i didn’t know we could use the word ‘merely’ when saying ‘one of the best’. but i get it, nonetheless. just sounded weird.

    • Mr. Wright 212 - May 16, 2013 at 1:07 PM

      It’s called taking shots, which this blog is keen to do when it comes to Kobe.

      • Mr. Wright 212 - May 16, 2013 at 1:10 PM

        Hard for an 18 year old (or even a 21 year old who was still the youngest player on the team in 2000 during their first title run) to command the kind of leadership that Jordan, who was the oldest player on the team other than Paxson and the man who would have killed him if he yelled at him again. Big difference. By the time Kobe had that kind of “pull” on the team, he was surrounded by D-Leaguers, and NO ONE was winning with those teams. Measure Kobe by the 2008-2010 stretch.

        Can’t motivate a big oaf who hates playing the game (Bynum) and a softie who only goes hard when matched up against 6’8″ guys (Gasol), and quit in back to back playoffs.

  3. lakerluver - May 16, 2013 at 11:52 AM

    “Merely one of the best”? How about the 2nd best.

  4. starship7 - May 16, 2013 at 12:12 PM

    Point well made Dan Feldman.

  5. sackofrice - May 16, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    I think your final comparison of jordan and kobe is misguided. you are comparing young kobe to career jordan. there are bound to be times when jordan did the same when he was young. look at kobe now – people still hate him but he makes his teammates better. its jsut so much easier to show hatred now that you cant hide from the internet.

  6. ProBasketballPundit - May 16, 2013 at 12:28 PM

    Right on, Dan. The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith is an exposé of Jordan & the Bulls as they transitioned from annual washouts to champions. MJ made every mistake you could make as a young superstar, but Phil Jackson shone a light on his strengths while tempering his dysfunctional traits. I love that book for showing MJ’s personality and competitive spirit for what it is… good, bad, and the ugly. Anyway, I’m definitely picking up Eleven Rings later this month.

  7. dsmaxsucks - May 16, 2013 at 12:33 PM

    Its also why everyone thinks Michael Jordan is an ass#$#$, and he’s got another 30 years to deal with that. Probably worth it, but at least acknowledge it.

  8. logisticalvoices - May 16, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    If MJ had played his career in this age of insane media scrutiny (social media, blogosphere, multiple 24-hour sports networks, etc.), he wouldn’t have the sterling image he enjoys today. Sure, he was a cigar-chomping, fun-loving guy, but there was definitely another side to him. Can you imagine First Take endlessly dissecting Michael Jordan punching Steve Kerr?

  9. ss3walkman - May 16, 2013 at 12:58 PM

    I think it’s Kobe’s need to be better than Jordan that hurts him. Things come when you don’t let things consume you. I really hate to say this, but this is why Vegeta will never be better than Goku. Jordan did it for the love of it. Kobe for the accolades.

  10. paulhargis53 - May 16, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    If by one of the best for Kobe, you mean top 15, ok. Jordan isn’t even the best guard of all time let alone the best player.

    Kobe doesn’t even belong in the same sentence with greatest of all time.

  11. derrickobodai - May 16, 2013 at 1:13 PM


  12. bucrightoff - May 16, 2013 at 1:14 PM

    To be fair, Mike was probably gambling with a lot of the guys he was friends with too.

  13. Matteo X - May 16, 2013 at 1:14 PM

    Really? Jordan and Kobe are simply two different players. The Bulls had a very talented core and a great coach.

    The Lakers under Jackson were just as good. Kobe was at the core and earned his greatness. Two incredibly talented individuals.

    Ever since Jerry West left the quality of the players has been an issue. Salary caps, deal making, etc. have all influenced team chemistry and capabilities.

  14. mdnwa - May 16, 2013 at 1:17 PM

    Sergio Garcia agrees both of them were not very nice people.

    Not sure why this was written or thought important. Everyone who grew up watching Jordan knows the league catered to him BIG TIME. While he had skills no doubt once the NBA woke up and realized he was their meal ticket he got phantom call after phantom call. Before that and Pippen he was just a scorer (hence why he couldn’t get past the Pistons) however once Stern realized that Jordan was THE brand you couldn’t stop Jordan because not only was he athletic but he also had refs in his back pocket. Hard to win a game when refs are company men.

  15. heartofmaui - May 16, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    Strange that this article seems to be intended to cast a negative light on Kobe. Michael Jackson, certainly would have never done that, so Feldman, please grow up a little in stature and be ‘a part of the solution, rather than a part of the problem’ as you see it.

    • Kurt Helin - May 19, 2013 at 11:31 PM

      Michael Jackson?

  16. torontofalcon - May 16, 2013 at 1:48 PM

    I know you guys hate Kobe but no one was bringing Smush Parker up, stop this foolishness

    • ccshocktalk - May 16, 2013 at 3:35 PM

      lets be real, Jordan had those teammates too…we simply didn’t have the same mass media coverage back then that we have now. When your stories took you all day to type up, get sources for, and PROOF READ before going to print. Ya know, when you wrote pieces that were actually important/relevant/interesting instead of every writer quoting someone else and writing a paragraph about what someone else found out.

  17. slystone111 - May 16, 2013 at 2:24 PM

    Uh, Michael Jordan is NOT the best basketball player of all time. Top 5, yes, but no way is he #1. If you were drafting a team, and you had all players who had ever played available to you, you’d be insane to pick Jordan over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Wilt Chamberlain. Probably better off drafting Bill Russell and Magic Johnson before Jordan as well.

  18. azarkhan - May 16, 2013 at 2:57 PM

    I remember reading a Sports Illustrated article in which Jordan came across as an aloof a-hole. And then there is his Hall of Fame induction speech….

  19. dedalus13 - May 16, 2013 at 3:01 PM

    Really, I can’t take this article seriously. Sounds so far-stretched and pointless. So Kobe as a young guy did not hang out with teamates (breaking news). As such these latters did not develop the same drive (who has the same as Kobe or Jordan anyway?). Of course that was when goofy Shaq was the alpha dog (and so had to assume leadership).

    To me this is an odd interpretation of PJ words. And of course the context of the quote is lacking. Also, not really about how both guys treated teamates (as assumed from the title). Sorry, but poor job indeed.

  20. aboogy123456 - May 16, 2013 at 3:11 PM

    This article is a disgrace, there is no logical connection that because Jordan gambled and hung out with his team he was a better player than kobe. Jordan was better because he got along better with his teammates and gambled with them? Kobe doesn’t demand the best out of his team? Also, this talks about when kobe first came into the league, not where he’s going to leave the league. What phil said is true, yes, kobe kept to himself most of his career, but in recent years kobe has become more friendly with his team outside or work and he’s become one of the best leaders to ever play the game. Kobe was not at the height of his game in his early career, so to use that as evidence is idiotic.

  21. aboogy123456 - May 16, 2013 at 3:14 PM

    This article is a disgrace to reporting.

  22. aboogy123456 - May 16, 2013 at 3:19 PM

    Jordan was greater because he gambled with his teammates???? By that same idiotic logic, I’ll say kobe was better because he didn’t quit basketball to play baseball, and instead of gambling or drinking he was working on improving his game.

  23. limonadamas - May 16, 2013 at 3:26 PM

    “Even punching them in the face when necessary” <– Really???

    Under what circumstances is it ever "necessary" to punch a teammate in the face? Jordan apologists can be extremely myopic, but what's stunning is how unware they are of their myopia.

  24. andrewproughcfe - May 16, 2013 at 3:29 PM

    Jordan was just another guy when Bird, Magic, and the Detroit Bad Boys were in their prime. Once all the highest quality players bowed out, only then did Jordan excel.

    You can’t really call him the greatest when he proved time and time again that he couldn’t hang with the greatest. Winning championships against Gary Payton and Karl Malone shares no resemblance with having to beat the Showtime Lakers in their prime, or the loaded Celtics with Bird, McHale, Parrish, Walton, DJ and crew.

    Anointing him the “greatest” when he lorded over the league during a time it was devoid of competing superstars is a bit disingenuous by the sports media in general.

  25. aboogy123456 - May 16, 2013 at 4:01 PM

    This article shows the bias of Jordan over Kobe and it illustrates why we can’t have a good conversation as to who is actually the better player. This article says that Jordan was better partly becuase he was a gambler that went out and partied with his teammates and friends more. Someone in favor of kobe could say that kobe was better because he DIDN’T gamble and drink, and instead he spent his time in the gym. Neither of those facts really prove anything, but you can’t have a fair debate when people think these facts support that Jordan was better.

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