Phil Jackson Says Michael Jordan Wouldn’t Be the First Pick On His All-Time Dream Team

Phil Jackson, who won 11 NBA titles as a head coach (and two as a player), was lucky enough to coach some of the greatest players in history, most notably Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen with the Chicago Bulls and then Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Now, in a fantasy world in which Jackson could construct his all-time dream team, one would think that he’d take Jordan with his first pick, right? After all, many consider MJ to be the greatest basketball player in history and he and the Zen Master had a great relationship during their time together in the Windy City. Surprisingly, however, Jackson actually went in another direction when discussing his fantasy squad and didn’t choose any player that he coached, instead opting for someone he played against back in the day.

Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan won six titles together with the Chicago Bulls

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While Michael Jordan was already a great NBA player before Phil Jackson took over as head coach of the Chicago Bulls ahead of the 1989-1990 season, it was under Jackson’s leadership where he became a true legend in the sport.

With Jackson at the helm, Jordan and the Bulls won six NBA titles in eight years in the ’90s with MJ taking NBA Finals MVP in each of Chicago’s championship victories. The two had such a great relationship that when Bulls management said they wouldn’t be bringing Phil Jackson back after the famed “Last Dance” season of 1997-1998, Michael Jordan refused to play for another coach and opted to retire for a second time.

The Zen Master went on to win five more titles with the LA Lakers

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After the Chicago Bulls let him walk, Phil Jackson took a year off from coaching before returning to the NBA ahead of the 1999-2000 season, a campaign in which he led Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant’s LA Lakers to a 67-15 record and the first of three consecutive NBA titles. Jackson and Co. made another appearance in the Finals in 2004 but lost to the Detroit Pistons in five games, at which point Phil took another brief hiatus from the league.

Jackson returned to the Shaq-less Lakers ahead of the 2005-2006 season and helped rebuild the team around Kobe. The two would make three more NBA Finals appearances together and won titles in 2009 and 2010.

But just like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant wouldn’t have been Phil Jackson’s first choice for his fantasy dream team either.

Phil Jackson would choose Bill Russell over Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant on a fantasy dream team

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If Phil Jackson had the choice to choose anyone in NBA history as the first pick of his fantasy dream team, he’d go with 11-time champion Bill Russell over Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. At least that’s what he told Time (via ESPN) a few years back.

“In my estimation, the guy that has to be there would be Bill Russell. He has won 11 championships as a player. That’s really the idea of what excellence is, when you win championships.”

Phil Jackson

Bill Russell certainly does have quite the resume. In addition to the 11 NBA titles he won with the Boston Celtics, he was a five-time NBA MVP (as was Michael Jordan), a 12-time All-Star, an 11-time All-NBA selection, and a four-time rebounding champion. Sure, the overall resume might not look as impressive as others but when you have as many championship rings as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant combined, that certainly trumps a lot of things.

As for who Phil Jackson would take between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, he opted to leave that up to fate.

“I would flip a coin. Whichever one came up heads or tails, I’d take that person. They were that good.”

Phil Jackson

Does anyone else want to know what the entire roster would look like?

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference