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Who was the better coach: Bulls' Phil Jackson or Warriors' Steve Kerr?

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AP

Who was the better coach: Bulls' Phil Jackson or Warriors' Steve Kerr?

Editor's Note: Over the next week, NBC Sports Chicago and NBC Sports Bay Area will try to settle the debate about which is the best NBA team of all time: the 1995-96 Bulls or the 2016-17 Warriors. Check out NBCSportsBayArea.com for the Warriors perspective.

Over the past week, NBC Sports Chicago and NBC Sports Bay Area have been trading blows debating topics related to a central, timeless NBA debate — Which team was better: The 1995-96 Bulls or the 2016-17 Warriors?

Now, we arrive at a breakdown of the coaches. Phil Jackson vs. Steve Jerr. The (Zen)master vs. the disciple.

And frankly, while we appreciate the thought, this one hardly qualifies as a debate. Phil Jackson is the better coach seven days a week and twice on Sundays. There isn’t much of an argument to be had here, but let’s break it down anyways. Objective reporter hat: On.

First, the resumes. A rundown of each of the coach’s accolades skews wildly in Jackson’s favor. 

Inhale.

In 20 seasons at the helm of the Bulls and then the Los Angeles Lakers, the Zenmaster won 11 NBA championships (as noted by our Chris Kamka, a .550 title percentage is better than the win percentage of the three current playoff teams). Embedded in those 11 titles are three three-peats — two with the Bulls (1991-93; 1996-98) and one with the Lakers (2000-02). Worth noting: The second Bulls’ three-peat and the Lakers’ three-peat came consecutively for Jackson, who jetted straight back to the top after one year away from coaching following the Bulls’ "last dance" in 1998-99. Jackson ranks seventh all-time in regular season wins (1,155), but did it in fewer games and seasons than anyone else in the top 10. He’s first in playoff wins (229) by a mile. He’s third all-time in both regular season win percentage (.704) and playoff win percentage (.688). But longevity is the key: Jackson is the only coach in the top five all-time in regular season win percentage with more than eight years of experience, and the only coach in the top eight in playoff win percentage to coach more than nine years. His 13 conference championships and 11 NBA titles (with an 11-2 Finals record) are both records. If you restricted this conversation to just Jackson's time with the Bulls, his six titles and six conference championships would rank third all-time, and he did that in nine seasons. He never coached a team with a below-.500 record.

Exhale. 

So, yeah. On numbers, alone, there is simply no one in Jackson’s stratosphere. His hardware is without comparison.

But maybe that’s not fair to Kerr. After all, Jackson had nearly four times as many years and games to amass those figures, and Kerr is already incredibly decorated just six seasons into his head coaching career. In fact, he’s pretty much on Jackson’s level in every statistical measure — if not above — after six seasons (or five-plus in Kerr's case, as the fate of the 2019-20 season still hangs in the balance):

  Games Reg. season record Playoff record*** NBA titles Conference titles Coach of the Year awards
Steve Kerr 475 337-138 (.704*) 77-28 (.733**) 3 5 1
Phil Jackson**** 492 342-150 (.695) 66-28 (.702) 3 3 1

*First all-time

**Second all-time

***The NBA switched to best-of-seven first round series in 2003. Jackson’s Bulls owned a record of 27-2 in nine best-of-five first round series in his tenure. Adjusted for inflation, Jackson's early-career playoff record would likely be even better.

****Jackson’s career regular season (.704) and postseason win percentages (.688) each rank third all-time. Those in front of him? Kerr and *rubs eyes* David Blatt in regular season win percentage. Nick Nurse and Kerr in postseason win percentage.

Now, further in Kerr's defense, his regular season win-loss record might be even gaudier without the confluence of severe injuries to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson (and departure of Kevin Durant) that have hampered the Warriors so far in 2019-20. When the NBA indefinitely suspended play, Golden State owned the worst record in the league at 15-50, but it’s hard to peg that entirely — if even partially — on Kerr.

The rub, though, is that for Kerr to keep up with Jackson by the numbers throughout his career, he would basically have to sustain his current level of success four times over. I’m happy to be proven wrong, but that doesn’t feel plausible given the Warriors’ trajectory and with the amount of player movement in today’s game. Again, it’s not just Jackson’s excellence, but his longevity, that astounds.

But wait, you say. Jackson always had stacked rosters. Anyone could have rattled off six titles in eight years with prime Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and a host of perfectly cast role players. And what a chore that Lakers’ three-peat must have been to manufacture, with only a young Kobe Bryant and peak Shaquille O’Neal to build around. Kerr was the missing piece to the Warriors’ dynasty coming to fruition!

The rebuttal there is two-pronged. For one, the bulk of the Warriors’ postseason success (two of Kerr’s three titles, 46 of his 77 postseason wins) came after Durant made the Warriors the most brazenly constructed superteam of all time. Their 73-win 2015-16 regular season came before adding Durant, but their loss in unprecedented fashion in the Finals (they remain the only team to squander a 3-1 Finals lead) is an unscrubbable mark on Kerr's record. It also warrants mention that Luke Walton presided over that team through its first 43 regular season games (going 39-4 and winning two Coach of the Month awards) while Kerr rehabbed a back injury until Jan. 22. It's impossible to know exactly how much Kerr was involved with the team's operations while sidelined, and he deserves credit for developing them into the juggernaut they were (he is officially credited for those wins and losses), but again, it's worth noting.

And secondly: Yes Jackson’s rosters were also loaded, but his unconventional yet progressive coaching methods were almost as instrumental to maximizing his talent as the players, themselves, were. Those Bulls teams of the ’90s were a hotbed of potentially flammable personalities. The perpetual tension in Bryant and O’Neal’s relationship is well-documented. The thread that united those teams and drove them to the highest levels of achievement was the Zenmaster and his inclusive, contemplative approach. Jordan famously refused to play for another coach. Toni Kukoc recently lauded Jackson as a leader who went beyond X's and O's to truly get to know his players. Kerr, himself, said he “wouldn’t have become the coach of the Golden State Warriors if [he] hadn’t had [his] experience with the Bulls,” citing the tutelage of Jordan, Pippen and Jackson as essential to his later success as a player, broadcaster and coach. The list goes on.

That’s not to say Kerr isn’t a deft communicator, though the quick unraveling of Durant’s Warriors tenure is a slight mark against him. But Jackson is the best to ever do it, and he proved it at multiple stops. Jackson’s first and last titles came 19 years apart — for different franchises — and he employed the same strategic (the triangle offense) and interpersonal coaching methods throughout. His is a staggering, wide-spanning career. Kerr’s is, thus far, impressively decorated to the point of Hall of Fame deservedness, but there’s a chasm to clear before he reaches Jackson’s level of acclaim.

Of course, anything is possible. Kerr could one day reach the statistical and mythological heights Jackson achieved in his two decades in the league. But that day is not today. Jackson is the better coach. And for now, it’s not particularly close.

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For Bulls' Coby White, mentoring and guiding youth is a vital, personal mission

For Bulls' Coby White, mentoring and guiding youth is a vital, personal mission

As a rookie for the Bulls, Coby White had a role to play. Pour in buckets in bunches. Listen, learn and grow. Teammates past and present describe him as exceptionally mature for his age and station. Coaches laud his work ethic and adaptability.

But when the 20-year-old returns home to Goldsboro, N.C. he assumes a different type of position: That of a mentor. His gaudy high school resume makes him something of an icon in the landscape of North Carolina basketball. The perseverance it took to follow that foundation to a starring role at UNC, and now the NBA, make him a role model to many.

“It's just kids that have looked up to me since I was in high school,” White said, adding that, when safe, he frequently visits a nearby gym in Goldsboro to work with and mentor high schoolers in the area. “I just truly appreciate them for allowing me to make a connection with them. When I go home, I try to just help kids and mentor kids as much as possible and try to help them realize that there is a way out — and not necessarily with basketball, but anything in life.”

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In an extension of that philosophy, White and Napheesa Collier of the Minnesota Lynx co-led a virtual life skills session on Tuesday with top 13- and 14-year old boys and girls basketball players from around the world as part of the Jr. NBA’s Global Championship. Since its founding in 2018, the Championship has consisted of players from 16 regions — eight within the U.S. and Canada, and eight international — assembling for a bracketed tournament supplemented by personal development and community engagement programming at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.

But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the showcase went remote in 2020. Now, participants’ days are filled with competitive, at-home drills, as well as plenty of the latter set of programs. This year, it’s just taking place virtually. 

White’s role in the event, along with Collier, was facilitating an hour-long discussion and breakout sessions with 60 returning Jr. NBA participants on topics ranging from racism, to police brutality, to mental health, advocacy and beyond. 

“We thought it was incumbent upon us to use our platform to have a meaningful dialogue with players about race and social justice,” said NBA Senior Director of Youth Basketball Development Adam Harper, adding that that focus has been part of the program since its inception. “And help [participants] understand the role, as young people they can play in driving social change and interaction.”

At points in the conversation, White stressed the importance of having a solid support system (in his case, his family) when navigating life’s challenges. He also spoke to the value of education and dialogue with those close to you when finding one’s voice.

“It's not too long ago that they (White and Collier) were sitting in very similar seats as the kids that we were engaging in discussion,” Harper, who participated in the sessions, said. “So I think their ability to share lessons that they learned along the way will certainly resonate.”

The Bulls rook called it a new experience, but a rewarding one. His participation in Jr. NBA initiatives date back to Jr. NBA Day at All-Star weekend in Chicago, and leading remote dribbling tutorials at the beginning of the league’s hiatus.

“It was my first time doing something like that virtually,” White said of the discussion. “It's definitely something I'd want to do again… It was a good conversation. They had some good points, and I feel like they were really engaged and they took it well.”

White joined NBC Sports Chicago for a phone conversation to discuss his philosophy on mentorship, the athlete’s role in social justice advocacy and his experiences with racism. Edited for clarity:

* * *

What did you talk about in the Jr. NBA discussion?

We just talked about police brutality, what's going on, everything that's going on in the world with George Floyd and everything, talked about that. Talked about racism — not only just now, but in life. How it affects sports on and off the court. We talked about life challenges, things that we personally went through and how we got over it. Just talked about life and what most likely you encounter growing and how it's not gonna be easy.

How did the conversation resonate?

It was a good conversation. They had some good points, and I feel like they were really engaged and they took it well.

What messages or advice do you try to convey when you talk to kids, like in the Jr. NBA conversation?

That you can make it in anything in life if you put your mind to it. I know I had dreams of going to the NBA since I was young and there was a good amount of people that told me, "That dream's not really realistic."

And it's also having the fine line of encouraging them and positivity but it's also keeping it real with them. There's kids that want to be in the NBA and NFL, but it's a once in a lifetime opportunity for most kids. It just so happens that God blessed me with the talent. So also encourage them to get out there and find interests that's not sports-related and attack that. Always have a backup plan.

I told 'em, one thing for me is adversity. There's going to be a lot of adversity you go through in life and how you react off that and for me, I just tell them that I'm always here no matter what, no matter where I am, most of the kids I mentor they have my number, so they can hit me up any time they need to talk about anything. Anything they need, I would have their back through it all. 

What, if anything, in your upbringing motivate you to give back through mentorship like this?

That (my upbringing) obviously influenced me a lot. When I was growing up, I had my brother and my sister and those were the two great mentors for me to look up to, and they always put me on the right path. I had two great parents that put me on the right path. But my brother and my sister were really the ones that showed me, like, you put your mind to something and you can do it. No matter what it is. And they always believed in me and told me if I just work hard, the sky's the limit for me. 

So, I just want kids to be able to have that foundation, that same foundation I had. Because without my brother and my sister, I really don't know where I would be right now.

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What’s your perspective on the role athletes can play advocating and educating on issues of racism and social justice?

I think it's huge. Not only me, but every athlete in the world plays a huge part because so many of these kids look up to who we are. I feel like for me it's about spreading positivity, but also connecting with them on a certain level where you can keep it real with them. When I go back home, I like to mentor a lot of kids because a lot of kids look up to me, and I just tell them how I feel and tell them, what life challenges they're going to run into and how everything isn't easy.

And with the conversation around systemic racism, police brutality and racial violence, what change do you hope to see and impart?

Equality. For me, it's equality. That no matter what skin color you are, no matter who you are, no matter who your family is, everyone should be treated equally and have a fair opportunity in life. No matter if you're Black, white, red, yellow. You should have a fair opportunity in life and not be judged based upon your skin color. 

But also, that it's real. Growing up, it's real. You hear about it, but when you experience it and when you really see it (racism), it's life-changing. Just making sure they know, you know, stand up for what you believe in. But also make sure to be careful out here. And it's sad you have to say that, but it's the truth.

How have you seen or experienced racism in your life, and how does it affect advice you pass down?

When I was 16, I was with four friends and we was about to get something to eat. The parking lot was full of cars, but the cops picked our car to come to, made us get out the car, one by one searched us and then after searching us one by one searched my whole car from the front of the car to my trunk. We didn’t see a warrant or anything. They searched my car because they seen four young African-American kids and thought we were up to no good. After they searched my car and didn’t find anything they left without searching anyone else’s. 

So at that moment I realized that this was real, and when I’m talking to younger kids, I tell them to always be aware of your surroundings. Because things of that sort can happen to you at any moment, which is why you should surround yourself with people on the right track because you never know. Anything could have happened that night.

What's been going through your head the last couple months, since George Floyd's death and the protests/discourse it's sparked?

It's been a lot of stuff going through my mind. It's crazy that — to be honest, I was talking to my sister about it — the main thing that's sticking out to me is, if I'm being honest, without COVID(-19 pandemic) happening, everything else might not have happened like it did. COVID made the world stop and at a standstill, no sports, no entertainment, no new movies coming out, no nothing. And so, when this happened, everybody focused on this and keyed in on this.  

So, like, in reality, Trayvon Martin got killed in 2012, I was 12 years old. And for 400 years, stuff like this has been going on but this is the first time people have actually taken initiative — I'm not going to say everybody has to take initiative, but when the whole world takes initiative and protests and is behind it, it just means so much more. And I'm not saying COVID isn't bad, it's a bad thing I hate what's going on. But without it, would people really be protesting as much and being so involved, you know what I'm saying?

It does seem there's been an enhanced focus, and the protests were worldwide 

Yeah, it was global, in different countries. Before it was here and there, people talking about it. But after a couple weeks people got games, people watch sports, sports is going on, entertainment is going on, so people went on with their lives. But now I think people had the time to sit back, like, this is wrong. This is wrong, this should not be the world we live in when young Black African-Americans, they feel threatened every time they leave their house.

Some have said sports returning could be a distraction from all the things you just mentioned. How have you felt about the way the NBA and WNBA have handled their returns? 

Sports coming back is good. I feel like as long as they keep doing what they're doing, it's good. To keep spreading that message, especially the WNBA and the NBA, keep spreading that message. Don't let it die down. I feel like since the season has resumed everyone has still been doing their part keeping Black Lives Matter alive. 

All that said, do you feel any optimism that real change could come this time? Or is it too soon to say? 

I'm really encouraged and happy to see the involvement. But something like this isn't going to change overnight. It's been going on for centuries. So I just feel like it's going to take a lot of time. But I think we're taking steps in the right direction for sure. To help the cause and help end racism period in the world. So, I feel like we're taking the right steps and the right precautions. But it's definitely going to take some time, it's not going to be something that happens overnight.

What’s your focus moving forward in the spirit of that mission? 

I think to just keep supporting the cause, to keep supporting Black Lives Matter. And keep spreading positivity and encouragement, but just keep voicing my opinion and voicing what I feel on it. Keep doing events like I did yesterday. I'm not really a big social media guy, it hadn't even crossed my mind to use my platform on social media, I haven't even really used it yet. And I don't feel guilty, but maybe I don't feel like I'm doing enough right now. So, maybe I'll start using my social media, and using that. But for me, it's keep doing these NBA- type events and keeping my platform out there.

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Jim Boylen updates and Bulls miss a chance with no second bubble

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USA Today

Bulls Talk Podcast: Jim Boylen updates and Bulls miss a chance with no second bubble

Host Jason Goff is joined by Bulls insider K.C. Johnson, and Rob Schaefer as they provide updates on Jim Boylen's status with the Bulls now that the potential of a second NBA Bubble with the teams that didn't make the firstone is seemingly out. The crew discusses what not having a second bubble means for the Bulls and the new front office. Later on, they discuss the play of LeBron James and the Lakers and get into the injury of Ben Simmons and how that may shake up the Eastern Conference playoffs.

(1:10) - Reasons why the NBA and NBA Players aren't moving with a second bubble so far

(10:02) - Jim Boylen updates and what the Bulls new front office may be considering

(24:15) - Who has the brighter future, the Knicks or the Bulls?

(31:50) - What's wrong with the Lakers?

(38:30) - Sixers lose Ben Simmons indefinitely

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

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