Michael Jordan and Tex Winter Discuss the MJ-Kobe Comparisons
Lindy's Pro Basketball 2008-09 is on the market now. If it is not sold in a bookstore near you, you can order a copy online--choosing from among nine different regional covers--at the Lindy's website.
For this year's edition, I wrote the Sacramento Kings preview for the third year in a row, the Phoenix Suns preview for the second year in a row and I wrote the Cleveland Cavaliers preview for the first time, ending my run of writing three straight previews about the Denver Nuggets. For the sidebar stories that accompany each preview, I wrote about Ron Artest, Shaquille O'Neal and the Cavaliers' underrated defense respectively.
Editor Roland Lazenby contributed a very interesting story about Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant titled, "In Michael's Image." Lazenby has long had a very close working relationship with Tex Winter, the inventor of the Triangle Offense who coached both Jordan (with the Chicago Bulls) and Bryant (with the Lakers, for whom Winter is still a consultant). Lazenby's excellent article is well worth reading. Here are a few bullet points:
1) Jerry West, the man who originally drafted Bryant, believes that Bryant's greatness is not appreciated or understood by the general public: "The people who write and say things, they know nothing about him," West said during the 2008 NBA Finals, according to Lazenby.
2) Lazenby indicated that the Jordan-Bryant comparisons do not bother Jordan as much as they bother others: "Frankly, Jordan doesn't see what all the big fuss is about. After all, human behavior is mimetic. That's what humans do. They copy and ape another." Jordan acknowledged that Bryant has patterned aspects of his game after Jordan's but does not see this as a bad thing at all: "But how many people lighted the path for me? That's the evoluation of basketball. There's no way I could have played the way I played if I didn't watch David Thompson and guys prior to me. There's no way Kobe could have played the way he's played without watching me play. So, you know, that's the evolution of basketball. You cannot change that."
3) Lazenby added, "In conversation, it becomes quickly obvious that Jordan respects Bryant, without even a hint of condescension. After all, Jordan respects anyone who does the work, who has the mental toughness, to climb the heights. Bryant's done the work and displayed the toughness, he says."
4) Winter has repeatedly emphasized that Scottie Pippen's role in the success of the Bulls cannot be overestimated; on the flip side, Winter and West both criticized the lack of mental toughness of Bryant's current supporting cast, a weakness that became glaringly apparent during the 2008 NBA Finals. "The Lakers just are not mentally tough," West said point blank, while Winter agreed and added, "We had some tough guys in Chicago, guys like John Paxson and Steve Kerr who could hit those open shots."
In a sidebar piece, Lazenby pointed out that several years ago the Lakers coaching staff--which of course contained several people who also coached Jordan in Chicago--"concluded Bryant and Jordan were much alike, almost eerie, in fact, when it came to the alpha male qualities of their competitive natures. Kobe and Michael were ruthless when it came to winning, everyone agreed. And their skills were similar. Except Michael's hands were larger. The major difference between the two came with college experience. Jordan had played in a basketball system for Dean Smith at North Carolina, thus he was better prepared to play within a team concept."
In a statement that may surprise a lot of people, Winter told Lazenby that he doubted that Jordan would have been a good fit playing alongside Shaquille O'Neal. It will probably surprise Bryant's critics even more to learn that Winter said that his critical examination of game tape shows that Bryant's shot selection is quite good: "Actually, for the most part, he's not forcing up a lot of bad shots. When he gets hot, he does take shots that would be questionable for other players. But a lot of the shots he's taken go in." After all, while some aspects of shot selection are universal--running the shot clock down at the end of the quarter to get the last shot and deny the other team a scoring opportunity--other aspects of shot selection depend on the skill set of the player who is taking the shot (and the skill sets of the players who he would be passing to if he did not shoot).
Winter concluded, "I tend to think how very much they're alike. They both display tremendous reaction, quickness and jumping ability. Both have a good shooting touch. Some people say Kobe is a better shooter but Michael really developed as a shooter as he went along. I don't know if Kobe is a better shooter than Michael was at his best."