One thing that made Michael Jordan so great was his ability to make his teammates better. Like all superstars, Jordan attracted attention on the court, and that gave the Bulls’ other players room to operate. But unlike, say, Magic Johnson, Jordan didn’t necessarily excel at setting up those open teammates, at least relative to his other elite skills.
Rather, Jordan required his teammates to match his incredibly intense drive.
But demanding so much from his teammates – even punching them in the face when necessary – can be pretty alienating. In his new book, “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success,” Phil Jackson explains how Jordan got away with it while comparing MJ to Kobe Bryant. Via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:
“Michael was more charismatic and gregarious than Kobe. He loved hanging out with his teammates and security guards, playing cards, smoking cigars, and joking around,” Jackson said in the book, which was obtained in advance by The Times.
“Kobe is different. He was reserved as a teenager, in part because he was younger than the other players and hadn’t developed strong social skills in college. When Kobe first joined the Lakers, he avoided fraternizing with his teammates. But his inclination to keep to himself shifted as he grew older. Increasingly, Kobe put more energy into getting to know the other players, especially when the team was on the road.”
Not to harp on a relatively minor flaw – keep in mind, compared to the greatest player of all time – Kobe didn’t bring his teammates to his level with the same success. A fun-loving Shaquille O’Neal never matched Kobe’s seriousness, and we still talk about how Smush Parker brought down Kobe rather than how Kobe elevated Parker.
But that’s part of the reason Jordan is the best and Kobe is merely one of the best.