Jackson: Bill Russell over Jordan
If Phil Jackson was picking his own dream team, his squad would start with someone other than Michael Jordan.
"In my estimation, the guy that has to be there would be Bill Russell. He has won 11 championships as a player," Jackson said in an interview with Time. "That's really the idea of what excellence is, when you win championships."
Russell, the centerpiece of the Boston Celtics dynasty in the 1950s and 1960s, won 11 titles and was a five-time Most Valuable Player and 12-time All-Star during his iconic 13-year career. He also won two NCAA championships with San Francisco and was the captain of the United States' gold-medal-winning team at the 1956 Olympics.
Jordan became a legendary player under Jackson with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, winning six titles and five MVP awards and becoming a 14-time All-Star. He also won a college title in addition to two Olympic gold medals, including one at the 1992 Barcelona Games on a star-studded squad that was dubbed the "Dream Team."
Jackson tended to side with Jordan over Bryant, giving him advantages in leadership, defensive skills and shooting accuracy. However, in the interview with Time, Jackson was a bit more reserved on which player he would choose.
"I would flip a coin," Jackson said. "Whichever one came up heads or tails, I'd take that person. They were that good."
Jordan, who turned 50 years old in February, also has been compared to LeBron James. The Miami Heat superstar, who recently won his fourth MVP, has said he has the drive to be considered the greatest player of all time.
Longtime NBA trainer Tim Grover, who has worked extensively with Jordan and Bryant, told SI.com in April that measuring Jordan against anyone besides Russell would be a mistake.
"Michael Jordan was six-for-six in Finals, never lost a Finals, never needed a Game 7 to do that," Grover said. "Just by saying that alone, that puts him in a category I don't think anybody else is in, except maybe a Bill Russell. Other than that, I don't know if you can really put [Jordan] in the same category [with anybody].
"I think what [James] should do, instead of worrying about where Mike was at, he should be trying to get to the accolades, get to the Finals, as many times as Kobe had. … I think the comparison [for James] should be more toward a current player he's playing against now because of what Michael already did, and LeBron, in the early part of his career, faltered two times in the Finals. I think that [the Jordan/James] comparison can't be made, just from that alone."