Kobe Bryant has been getting the Michael Jordan comparisons for close to 20 years. He never enjoyed them, even doing what he could to silence them. With Phil Jackson releasing his memoir next Tuesday, co-written with Hugh Delehanty and titled “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success,” the Zen Master will also be doing something he always hated: comparing the qualities of two of the best players he ever coached.
The Los Angeles Times received an advanced copy of the book, and while content centered on Andrew Bynum should be interesting, let’s face it, that’s not who we really want to read about. Here are some notable observations from Jackson regarding Bryant and Jordan:
“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.”
“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.”
“No question, Michael was a tougher, more intimidating defender. He could break through virtually any screen and shut down almost any player with his intense, laser-focused style of defense,” said Jackson, who coached Jordan to six championships and Bryant to five.
“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. 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.”
“Michael was more likely to break through his attackers with power and strength, while Kobe often tries to finesse his way through mass pileups,” Jackson wrote. “Michael was stronger, with bigger shoulders and a sturdier frame. He also had large hands that allowed him to control the ball better and make subtle fakes.
“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. 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.”
“One of the biggest differences between the two stars from my perspective was Michael’s superior skills as a leader,” Jackson said. “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. 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.”
At first, I wasn’t sold on this book. Over the years, I read every major basketball book I could get my hands on, including Jackson’s numerous “tell-alls” (“The Last Season” is definitely my favorite). After a while, you feel like you’re hearing the same stories over and over again. (Like the one from this latest book where Jackson recalls a meeting between Jordan and Bryant during the 1999-2000 season. The first words out of Kobe’s mouth were “You know I can kick your ass one on one.”) Yet after seeing what’s in store for us, “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success” seems like a must-read.
Finally, now that he’s retired, the Zen Master can step back and tackle the MJ/Kobe comparisons as only he can, as perhaps the only coach either player truly respected. He clamors over Jordan’s ruthlessness, and, for perhaps the first time, dives into how satisfying it was to watch Bryant mature as a leader.
What do you think?
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