Jackson Defends Bryant

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 15, 2008

LOS ANGELES, June 14 -- Kobe Bryant's leadership has been analyzed and dissected every time he scrunches his eyebrows, rolls his eyes, shakes his head, frowns, scowls or fumes in these NBA Finals. He has been criticized by members of the media for intimidating rather than inspiring his teammates; Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling even ripped him in a blog.

But Lakers Coach Phil Jackson compared Bryant's intensity in challenging his teammates to Michael Jordan's when he was in Chicago.

"Very similar in that respect," Jackson said. "I think it's very aggressive and I think it's good. Having lived with it for a period of time with two different types of players, you know, I can endorse it."

When asked about how his teammates have responded to his disapproving looks and screams, Bryant smiled and said: "Our relationship is great. I mean, I think people pay attention to it a lot more than you do when you lose than you do when you win. When you win, it's great leadership. When you lose, it's -- you're a tyrant."

Bryant can't escape the scrutiny, with the Los Angeles Lakers trailing the Boston Celtics three games to one in a best-of-seven series that was expected to be a coronation for the league's most valuable player. Bryant hasn't been able to put his stamp on this series, with the exception of Game 3, when he erupted for 36 points on 12-of-20 shooting in the Lakers' only victory. In their three losses, Bryant is shooting just 38.2 percent (26 for 68), with Ray Alllen and Paul Pierce, among others, making him exert a lot of effort just to take a shot.

Bryant said he managed to recover from the Lakers' colossal meltdown Thursday -- when they wasted a 24-point lead -- by spending time reading to his daughters, Natalia and Gianna.

"Five chapters of Harry Potter. They just wanted me to read to them, and I swear, it was awesome," Bryant said. Potter "had more problems dealing with Voldemort than what we have dealing with the media and the Celtics."

Bryant refused to respond to questions about his future with the organization. He is eligible to sign an extension this summer or opt out of his contract next summer.

"This season ain't over. It's far from over. So for me to talk about that would be acknowledging defeat, and that's something I just don't do," Bryant said. "If we start the season in training camp and you come to me and say we're going to give you three cracks to win the championship, I'm going to take that. So I'm excited about this. This is not something we're down and out. This is still the series. Look at it as college basketball. It's March Madness. It's the Elite Eight now. So we're ready to go."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company