Michael Jordan is the NBA GOAT, but Phil Jackson Supposedly Told Another Bulls Star That They Were the Best Player He Ever Coached

Everyone seems to know that Michael Jordan was the best player on the Chicago Bulls during their two separate three-peats in the 1990s. Well, maybe everyone except for Dennis Rodman.

OK, Rodman likely knows that Jordan is arguably the NBA GOAT and was, in fact, the best player on those Chicago teams. But he recently said that it was him, not MJ, who former Bulls coach Phil Jackson called the best basketball player he ever coached.

Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson had a tight bond on the Bulls

Dennis Rodman didn’t make his way over to the Bulls until 1995 when they acquired his services for Will Perdue.

And his Chicago tenure didn’t get off to the best of starts.

As they discussed in The Last Dance, Rodman and Phil Jackson had a rough first encounter.

“He’s got the rings in his nose and his mouth, and he doesn’t stand up to greet me,” Jackson said in the docuseries, per NBC Sports. “I said, ‘Stand up Dennis, take your hat off, shake hands. Let’s go outside and talk.’”

Rodman, however, became an integral part of the Bulls’ second three-peat from 1995-96 through 1997-98. And he and the coach formed a cool bond.

“Dennis and I had this Native American bond between us,” Jackson said, per NBC Sports. “In the team room I had a bear claw necklace, a turtle shell that came from another reservation, and various other Indian artifacts.”

He continued: “Dennis is like, ‘Wow, I have this necklace from the Ponca Indians in Oklahoma. I’m hip to that.’ I say, ‘Well Dennis, in their tradition, and the tradition that I knew, you would be a heyoka — a backward-walking person. They were people that were different and they were a heyoka. So you’re the heyoka in this tribe.’”

Rodman then even discussed what the 11-time NBA champion head coach meant to him.

“Phil realized that I was different, man,” Rodman said, per NBC Sports. “Phil knew me so well because he knew I needed to get my head right. That’s what was so cool about playing with that team.”

That respect Jackson had for Rodman, though, was maybe even greater than any of us realized.

Phil Jackson supposedly called Dennis Rodman the ‘best player he’s ever coached’

Rodman recently appeared on the Full Send Podcast and, as noted by ESPN’s First Take, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year made an interesting comment about Jackson.

“Phil called me the best player he’s ever coached,” he said on the Sept. 1 episode.

It’s unclear when Jackson said that to Rodman. Did he say it when he was on the Bulls and still coaching Jordan, but before he coached Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal? Did he say this during his Lakers tenure? Or did Jackson say it sometime afterward?

That’s unclear, but what we can say without a doubt is that — although Rodman played his heart out and was arguably the greatest defensive player ever — he wasn’t the best player Jackson ever coached.

Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, or Scottie Pippen were the best players Phil ever coached

Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Ron Harper and Phil Jackson after winning the Bulls' fifth NBA title.
Dennis Rodman (from left), Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Ron Harper, and Phil Jackson of the Chicago Bulls holding five Larry O’Brien trophies in 1997. | Jeff Haynes/AFP via Getty Images

Dennis Rodman certainly deserves his respect. The former Bulls star is in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame after winning five championships, leading the league in rebounding seven times, and earning All-Defensive team honors eight times. As mentioned earlier, he also won Defensive Player of the Year award twice and earned spots on two All-Star teams.

However, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and even Scottie Pippen, who all had Jackson as their coach, were better players.

Jordan and Bryant were two of the most lethal scorers in the game and would dominate any player in the league at a moment’s notice. They are both in the top five in league history in total points and combined for 32 All-Star selections.

O’Neal, on the other hand, was one of the most dominant forces to ever play in the league. He would bully defenders in the paint and use his imposing presence to not only get easy buckets but to put fear in every offensive player who wanted to take the ball to the rim. He was also a 15-time All-Star and finished in the top 10 in total points.

Pippen, lastly, could score whenever he needed to, as he averaged 20.0 points per game between 1990-91 and 1997-98 for the Bulls. But he was also a great defender, earning 10 All-Defensive team selections and leading the league in steals once. He may have been one of the best two-way players in NBA history.

Sure, Rodman could defend and rebound with the best of them, but his 7.3 career-points-per-game average keeps him from being in the discussion as the best player Jackson ever coached.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference

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