Phil Jackson has coached four players whose places among the NBA’s all-time greats are undisputed. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal all had sizable roles in bringing Jackson his 11 championship rings, and most of the “Who was better?” debates Jackson is asked to weigh in on revolve around Jordan and Bryant (or Jud Buechler versus Jason Caffey, obviously).
In an interview with Time, Jackson touched on a new angle to the debate that was a little surprising.
With Jackson possibly angling to get back into the NBA in a personnel position, he was asked which player from history he would take first if he was starting a team. The answer was not Jordan, the superstar who helped Jackson win six titles, but another guy with an ample collection of championship jewelry.
“In my estimation, the guy that has to be there would be Bill Russell,” Jackson told Time, according to SI.com. “He has won 11 championships as a player. That’s really the idea of what excellence is, when you win championships.”
So there you have it. Jackson would take Russell first, counting on that pick working out a lot more like Hakeem Olajuwon did for the Rockets and less like Sam Bowie did for the Trail Blazers. We’re guessing Jackson’s hypothetical team would be in “win now” mode, since the 79-year-old Russell probably doesn’t have the patience for a long, drawn-out rebuilding process.
Check out Jackson’s conversation in the video below.