To be Considered an All-Time NBA Great, do you have to Win at Least a Few NBA Championships?


A few months ago, Michael Jordan was asked who was a better NBA basketball player, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. Perhaps the question should have been qualified but Michael did not give it much thought and said, “Kobe.” After very little probing, MJ concluded his choice of Kobe involved NBA championships, 5 to be exact to LeBron’s 1. Interesting logic and analysis by one of our all-time NBA greats and currently a majority owner and chairman of the Charlotte Bobcats.

Moving on his former coach, Phil Jackson. As some may have seen, Phil has recently written a book titled “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success” and he’s currently on tour promoting this book. A former coach of the Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe Bryant) and Chicago Bulls (Michael Jordan) was asked if he could pick one player to start his Dream Team, who would it be? Surprisingly, he said Bill Russell formerly of the Boston Celtics. He simply thought anyone who’s a legendary player and coach and directly involved in 11 NBA titles, how could you go wrong.

Phil Jackson


No stranger to controversy, is Phil being truthful or is he being coy? Does he really think the former collegiate at USF is the absolute first person to build his team around? Because Phil has earned 11 rings coaching in the NBA, did he choose Russell to help strengthen his brand in the process? In other words, in the end, it’s all about those rings, and rings and rings.

I never got to see Russell play on TV in Beantown during the regular season or playoffs but from what I’ve read, he had an incredible competitive spirit and an ultimate team player. I never had the opportunity to see how well he fared against NBA centers, in particular, Wilt Chamberlain and Walt Bellamy. I also never had the opportunity to watch more than a few clips during that time to determine how competitive the players were in that era. I heard Russell gave Wilt fits in the paint but again, that’s a conclusion unfortunately I’m unable to make. Perhaps some of Russell’s success had to do with the team or scheme? Regardless, it would be useful to view more than a few games to really get a picture of the true value of some of the stars during the 60’s.

From what I’ve read and heard, Bill Russell was fortunate to play for an successful organization that built a tremendous dynasty throughout the 60’s. A team that did not rest on its laurels but continued to add pieces to their team and improve as the decade went on. From 1956 – 1969, the Celtics won 11 championships in 13 years – a dynasty that will never be repeated in round ball. Because he played for a strong team with a strong bench, there were many role players within this organization, including Bill. So, he was not typically asked to play more than 1 or 2 positions. He didn’t have to focus on free throw shooting or his actual offensive game – his career stats of 56% from the free throw stripe and 44% from the field indeed indicates his main focus was not to score. So it was not unusual for Bill to collect more rebounds than actual points – averaging about 14 points a game for his career. So instead of putting the ball in the basket, his focus was to prevent his opponents from putting the ball in the basket.

I will be the last NBA fan to say Bill wasn’t a tremendous player and coach for the Celtics but at the same time, what was he asked to do? He was surrounded by many great players who adopted Red’s team oriented approach. Regardless of your stardom, you had a role to do and your focus was to do it well. Again, he was asked to play excellent defense, block shots, make it difficult for your opponent to move the ball or score points. Perhaps Bill being a perfect fit with the Celtics organization was a match made in heaven and helped his all-time legacy.


So the most successful athlete ever to perform professionally in Chicago thinks Kobe is a better player than LeBron based on the fact Kobe has won more NBA titles. I understand Michael sometimes saying unfiltered comments but let’s look deeper into the facts. Does Michael’s conclusion incorporate the fact that Kobe played for arguably the second strongest franchise in the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers? Did Mike incorporate the fact that LeBron essentially tried to carry his first team without any other superstars, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to an NBA championship for his first 8 years in the NBA? Did Mike incorporate the fact that LeBron is only 28 years old and has already earned 4 MVP awards and Kobe has touched that award just once? Did Mike incorporate the fact that LeBron has a career 4 point field goal percentage advantage to Kobe?

Michael and his 6 Rings

If you seriously consider Michael and Phil’s response, then it’s all about championships. If we take that championship logic to another level, there are 8 former Boston Celtic players who have won at least 7 NBA championships and the other player, non-Celtic legend with 7 championships, Robert Horry. Besides Bill Russell, should Phil’s Dream Team also include these Celtic players such as Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn, K. C. Jones, Tom Sanders, Frank Ramsey, Jim Loscutoff, John Havlicek and Robert Horry as all-time greats – players you would build your team around? Michael’s friend, Charles Barkley, never won an NBA championship so applying Mike’s logic here, would not Frank Ramsey or Jim Loscutoff be considered a better NBA player than Charles based on their 7 championships?

Many NBA historians would consider a few NBA championships as a significant achievement in one’s career. In addition to the championships, if that player can achieve All-Star status, perhaps that’s icing on the basketball cake. If a great player hasn’t won a championship or has only tasted victory once, does that preclude him from being in the Dream Team photo? As I mention earlier, there are some many variables and factors involved in being an NBA champion. Therefore, it might behoove Mr. Jordan and Mr. Jackson to also consider the variants and luck in one’s career before creating intention or unintentional controversy.


If some former players and coaches are obsessed with championship rings, what about great players who never earned rings? Charles Barkley is one of the all-time greats without a ring. One could also bring up Dominique Wilkins, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Allen Iverson and Reggie Miller and there are certainly many more. Most of these players played on the Dream Team for the Olympics (at least once) but for one reason or another, did not win a championship. Were they not good enough? Were they the type of player who never saw a shot they didn’t like? Was their focus on offense and not defense? Or were they not good for team chemistry? Indeed, most of these players participated in NBA round ball for 12 or 14 years – it’s not like they didn’t give it a chance.

Did Michael Jordan perpetuate this argument when someone asked him who was better, Kobe or LeBron? Was Mike merely being an instigator here? I wonder what MJ thinks when he watches LeBron and the Miami Heat compete? Indeed, Michael was an incredible basketball player and competitor but perhaps when he made the comparison, did he provide an honest, unbiased and complete evaluation of both players? Knowing Michael’s sometimes snarky and mischievous personality, does he really consider Kobe a better player than LeBron or is he “sticking it to LeBron” because perhaps in the long run, LeBron is more of a threat to Michael’s basketball legacy?