We realize that at this point in Kobe Bryant's remarkable career, Phil Jackson is almost obliged to say that he's as good as Michael Jordan, but in his heart of hearts, we're pretty sure he doesn't believe that, and if he were standing in the same room with Jordan, he'd tell him, confidentially, that Jordan was the better player.
That's not a knock on Kobe.Â He's become a great player, the best of his era.Â But come on.Â If Jordan were playing against him -- a Jordan in his prime -- he'd eat him for breakfast.Â And that's true for LeBron as well, and anyone else you can think of.
We're far enough removed from Jordan now to remember just the magnificence and forget the hugely competitive nature he brought to the game, or just as importantly, his desire to perfect every aspect of his game.
We forget that he took time away from the game, years when his team would have surely won the title.
When it comes down to it, the conversation is not about Jordan and Kobe, it's about Jordan and Bill Russell.Â And in that conversation, we'll take Russell.Â His competitive nature was every bit as intense as Jordan's, and his desire to win was even greater.
From his junior season to the end of his NBA career, he played in, and won, the last game every year (counting the 1956 Olympics) from 1955 to 1969, except for 1958, when he was injured, and 1967, when the 76ers had one of the great teams in NBA history.