Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports  |  Last updated 5/24/13
Phil Jackson has coached two of the greatest basketball players ever, yet he wouldn’t choose either one of them first if he were starting a team. During an interview with Time, the former Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls coach said he would take Bill Russell first if he were starting a team, not Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. “In my estimation, the guy that has to be there would be Bill Russell,” Jackson answered when asked, via SI’s The Point Forward. “He’s won 11 championships as a player. That’s really the idea of what excellence is, when you win championships.” Time’s Belinda Luscombe followed up that question by asking Jackson whom he would choose between MJ and Kobe. Though excerpts from his new book “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success” make it seem like he leans towards Jordan, Jackson mostly avoided answering the question. “I would flip a coin,” Jackson said. “Whichever one came up heads or tails, I’d take that person. They were that good.” Jackson caused a stir when the book excerpts made it seem like he was picking MJ over Kobe in the historical debate. Bryant seemed to take issue with Jackson’s commentary and tweeted out a response: The comparisons are #apples2oranges Wonder what the perception would be if M played wit @shaq instead #differentroles #differentcareerpaths — Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) May 17, 2013 Even Jackson tried to back away from the notion that he was picking Jordan over Bryant. He tweeted out this message on May 17: Listen friends of bball; don’t get hung up on words. I was most fortunate to have the chance to coach two of the greatest gds. EVER MJ/Kobe — Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) May 17, 2013 So is Jackson really choosing Russell over Jordan and Bryant, or was that his way of staying neutral in the debate? Russell won more championships than any other player in history. His 11 rings top any other player. The former Boston Celtics legend was also a five-time NBA MVP and 12-time All-Star. Jordan won six championships, five NBA MVP awards, and was a 14-time All-Star. He is often mentioned as the greatest player in the history of the game, while Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are also generally mentioned in the conversation. Though nobody denies Russell’s greatness, winning more titles than everyone does not necessarily mean he is viewed as a greater player than everyone else. But in Jackson’s opinion, he is the most important player when building a team. If you’re wondering about Kobe’s thoughts on the debate, well, he doesn’t even seem to have Russell in his top three. Chest bump to Ball Don’t Lie

This article first appeared on Larry Brown Sports and was syndicated with permission.

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