When asked recently who the best athlete he ever coached was, Phil Jackson gave an interesting and somewhat surprising answer: Dennis Rodman. Surprising, because this came from the man who has had the privilege of coaching two of the greatest players of all time in Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Not to mention Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal ... let's just say Phil's had an unbelievably unfair share of some of the league's top talent over the years.
The days of Kobe feuding with his coach are a distant memory, and as such, Kobe backed up Phil's assertion by providing some testimony on the matter in Rodman's behalf.
“I do not disagree with that at all,” said Bryant. “People obviously think of Jordan first, but as an athlete, Dennis was a freak of nature. In terms of his size, he ran like a deer, he could run all day, he could defend from the one position all the way up to the five. Look at one series when he was guarding Jordan when he was with Detroit, and fast forward to when he was with the Bulls and he was guarding Shaq. You don’t see athletes like that too often.”
If we're talking about pure athleticism here, and not overall basketball ability, I think Kobe and Phil are spot on. There's no way that Rodman's offensive skill set comes anywhere close to that of Jordan's or Bryant's; anyone that ever saw him attempt to shoot a free throw can tell you that. But the way he got after it on the glass and was able to shut players of all styles down defensively, I think you'd have to give the athletic award to Rodman.