(By ANNE RYAN, USA TODAY)
Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
Phil Jackson has coached two of the greatest basketball players of all-time in Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. So it's reasonable to call him a bit of an expert when it comes to debating "the greatest."
Coming off a summer in which he captured his first NBA championship and second Olympic gold medal, LeBron James has continually heard his name associated with Jordan's as basketball minds love to compare and contrast the game's current best player with arguably the best player of all-time.
Charles Barkley recently told USA TODAY Sports James is "bigger, faster and stronger." And let's not forget Scottie Pippen said last summer James could be the best of all-time...and then backtracked.
Now, we can add Jackson to the list.
The former Bulls and Lakers coach and 11-time NBA champion recently compared James to Jordan.
In a recent interview on the "Waddle and Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000 in Chicago, Jackson said James' multidimensional skillset and ability to play four different positions could eventually help him trump Jordan.
"He's got all the physical attributes," Jackson said. "I think we all question the prepping that went into LeBron. His defense was shaky when he was a younger player and finding his way through that direction. He is a player that can play four positions. Except for perhaps the center spot, which he hasn't given a shot at yet, he can play those other four positions quite well. This is unique; Michael could play three and was very good at all three of those. But as a power player that LeBron can become, I think he has an opportunity to explore and advance some of the status that he has already gained.
Jackson pointed out that each player had their strengths.
"I have a hard time judging that best player, but I do think that Michael had more moves in the post and he had more of a, perhaps, shooting touch with his back to the basket and all these kind of things that were part of his game. LeBron has this train out of control when he gets the ball in transition that he can go coast to coast without anyone getting in his way. And if they do, he's going to over run them. And he's got the power with the body, and he's developed a left hand that's extremely good."
When comparing the two statistically, Jordan's career scoring average of 30.1 points a game trumps James' 27.6 points a game, as evidenced by Jordan's 10 scoring titles to James' one. But James has always been thought of as more of a passer as Bryant has pointed out James is more of a facilitator than he is a scorer.
But when it comes to talk about the greatest ever, championships always serve as the ultimate trump card. And right now, James has one compared to Jordan's six. However, James is 27, a year younger than Jordan was when he won his first title with Jackson in 1991. If James stays healthy, Jackson suggests he could challenge Jordan in that regard.
"Winning six championships is an elusive thing out there, and they haven't won two yet," Jackson said. "But he's kinda got the smell of it and even the Olympic experience this summer, he was the granted leader of that team and was the critical player when they needed something to happen in the final games. I think he's there. I think he's at that position. He's got good things ahead of him, and a lot of it depends upon if he's gonna be healthy for the remainder of his career.
"There's a lot of things that you are seeing in the development of this player that leads towards that, but the ideal and the whole reason behind this is what kind of championships are you gonna get from a player like this? Can he match what Michael has done?"
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