With all the things Kobe Bryant has learned from Phil Jackson over the years, there’s still one unanswered question that seems to gnaw at him.
How could a keeper of 11 NBA championships ever be passed up for a coaching job? More importantly, how could the Lakers ever dismiss Jackson’s accomplishments when he’s won of five his 11 titles here in two separate stints?
“It’s very strange,” Bryant said after the Lakers’ 84-82 loss Tuesday to the San Antonio Spurs. “You would think that organizations and other coaches would try to learn from Phil. That’s what they should do. If you have a coach that has won more than anybody, you would want to study and analyze them and wonder why that is the case. They haven’t done it.”
Yes, Bryant’s still excited about the Lakers hiring Mike D’Antoni as their new head coach. He even revealed he was the first choice he recommended to the Lakers’ front office. But that was because at the time, Bryant said he didn’t know Jackson was even considered a candidate since he had retired from the game two years ago.
Once Bryant learned he was in the mix, though, he campaigned hard. He relished the “We Want Phil” chants showering down from the Lakers fans at Staples Center. Bryant glowingly sang his praises in press conferences. He acknowledged the unsettled feeling that his injured right knee partly contributed to the Lakers falling in a four game sweep to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals in Jackson’s last season.
The reason for Bryant’s want for Jackson to return? Easy. Bryant provided a startling admission on whether he’d have five NBA titles if not for Jackson’s guidance.
“Probably not,” Bryant said. “I probably wouldn’t have learned the game to the depths I know now. The thing about Phil, Pop and great coaches is they let the role players play their role. Guys like myself, Shaq, MJ, Pippen, our numbers are all going to be the same no matter who coaches. It’s just what we do. Them instilling confidence in the rest of them and putting them in a position to successful and allow them to play and develop, those are the things that make them a great coach.
Even if D’Antoni hasn’t won any NBA championships yet, Bryant called him an “offensive genius.” He also likened D’Antoni’s coaching style to Jackson “in terms of not micromanaging the team.” Left unspoken is that the recently fired Mike Brown hardly fit that characteristic.
Yet, Bryant proclaimed he’s carried “everything” from Jackson’s teachings. So much that he calls himself the “baby Zen Master.”
Hence, why he doesn’t understand one thing.
“It seems like when all our assistant coaches when they left here, to even mention the word triangle is like taboo,” Bryant said. “I don’t understand it. I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that question.”
Plenty of theories were floated, but it just led to more questions.
Do people dismiss Jackson simply coaching superior talent in Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant?
“That’s probably a little bit of it,” he said. “But if you talk to Michael and you talk to myself, I’m sure he’d sing his praises to the heavens. Michael didn’t want to play for any other coach.”
Do NBA teams just simply see Jackson’s customs as too weird, what with his meditations, mind games and sage burnings?
“It’s his theory and philosophies that he lives by and the whole Zen Master thing,” Bryant said. “He really believes in letting things unfold and allowing players to develop and allowing teams to grow into their identity and for guys to communicate with each other and adapt on the fly with each other and removing themselves from the equation. I’m sure that’s part of the master of what he’s done.”
Or do teams, including the Lakers, just not want a dominant personality around who will command attention, speak his mind and even clash with the front office?
“I don’t know,” Bryant said. “I don’t understand. If that’s the case, it’s a shame.”
Bryant doesn’t know the answer to these questions. But he does know one thing: Jackson’s ways worked. Bryant has the five NBA rings to prove it.
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