After once calling him “uncoachable,” former Lakers coach Phil Jackson has since likened Kobe Bryant as if he were “my son.”
And, as it is often with family members, that includes the good and the bad.
The early stages proved rocky even as they won three consecutive NBA championships. Bryant expressed frustration with Jackson’s triangle system stifling his individual talent. Bryant sensed Jackson sided with Shaquille O’Neal during the pair’s ongoing feud. Jackson also described Bryant as “uncoachable” in his book, “The Last Season,” which detailed the Lakers’ 2003-04 campaign that ended with a loss to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals and the team’s eventual dismantling.
The two then reunited in 2006, eventually won two more NBA titles and have kept a close relationship since.
“I love Kobe Bryant. I consider him like my son,” Jackson told Seth Davis in an interview aired on Campusinsiders.com. I consider him as someone who I had a tense relationship with, but something that has mellowed through the course of the years.”
Still, Jackson hardly avoided uncomfortable topics surrounding Bryant in his interview with Davis.
Jackson noted how Bryant’s thirst for scoring often made him a difficult teammate. He acknowledged asking the Lakers’ front office to trade Bryant during his first stint with the Lakers Jackson even admitted that Bryant’s eventually dismissed sexual assault charge in 2003 tainted his view toward his player partly because his daughter was an assault victim while dating an athlete in college.
But Jackson sounds very understanding on why Bryant no long could co-exist with O’Neal even if it came at the expense of winning more NBA championships together. It all traced back when O’Neal delayed having toe surgery following the Lakers’ third consecutive title run in 2002, causing the former Lakers center to miss the first 12 games of the 2002-03 season. The Lakers eventually lost in the Western Conference semifinals to the San Antonio Spurs.
“He felt Shaq did not do the operation appropriately for his team on a time frame that would’ve given us four championships,” Jackson said of Bryant’s though process. “Rehab didn’t make Shaq the player he was before. That limited our ability to get a fourth consecutive championship. That really grinded Kobe down. Next year, he was done with Shaq and everything blew up a little bit on that process.”
Afterwards, Jackson was let go and the Lakers traded O’Neal to the Miami Heat. The two patched up their relationship though after Jackson rejoined the Lakers for the 2005-06 season.
“I consider him as someone who I had a tense relationship with,” Jackson said, “but something that has mellowed through the course of the years.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org