During Phil Jackson’s 11-season stint as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, he had an up-and-down relationship with Kobe Bryant. The ups included five championships, and the downs, well, they were mostly about both men’s failing efforts to not get on each other’s nerves.
The problems between Jackson and Bryant were at their worst during the coach’s first go-around with the team, from 1999 to 2004, during which the pair, helped greatly by Shaquille O’Neal, won three straight titles. When the coach returned in 2005 (to a Shaq-less Lakers), he had written a tell-all about the squad’s 2003-04 campaign called, “The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul,” in which he described Bryant in less-than-flattering terms.
On Monday, ESPN published another installment in a series of conversations Jackson had with reporter Charley Rosen during this past season, Jackson’s first running the New York Knicks. Rosen asked about comments Bryant had made about the issues he’d had with his former coach. Here is what Jackson had to say:
“Ah, my good friend Kobe Bryant. … Yes, quite often I could feel his hatred.
“I’m sure Kobe was pissed when I wrote in ‘The Last Season’ that he was uncoachable. And, yes, we were often at loggerheads. He wanted more freedom and I wanted him to be more disciplined. This is a normal source of friction thing between coaches and players on just about every level of competition.
“But when I came back for my second stint with the Lakers, Kobe and I worked it all out. I gave him more of a license to do his thing, as long as it stayed within the overall context of the triangle. And we did win two more championships. Anyway, I’ve always seen Kobe as a truly great player, an intelligent guy and a remarkable person.”
Indeed, a Washington Post account from the 2006 playoffs noted that “the Kobe-Phil relationship no longer appears strained and has turned into a much-ado-over-nothing story.” Of course, the team did not return to title contention until it acquired center Pau Gasol before the 2007-08 season.
The Bryant comments to which Rosen referred came from a GQ story published in February of this year. Here is a sampling of what the shooting guard had to say:
“I was like a wild horse that had the potential to become Secretariat, but who was just too [expletive] wild. So part of that was him trying to tame me. He’s also very intelligent, and he understood the dynamic he had to deal with between me and Shaq. So he would take shots at me in the press, and I understood he was doing that in order to ingratiate himself to Shaq. And since I knew what he was doing, I felt like that was an insult to my intelligence. I mean, I knew what he was doing. Why not just come to me and tell me that?
“Another thing was that I would go to him in confidence and talk about certain things, and he would then use those things to manipulate the media against me. And from that standpoint, I finally said, ‘No way. I’m not gonna deal with that anymore.’ This was during our first run, during those first three championships.
“So when he’d come out in the press and say those things about me, I was finally like, ‘[Expletive] it. I’m done with this guy. I’ll play for him and win championships, but I will have no interaction with him.’ Yet at the same time, it drove me at a maniacal pace. Because either consciously or unconsciously, he put a tremendous amount of pressure on me to be efficient, and to be great, and to be great now.”
“I was like, ‘[Expletive] him. I’m out here busting my ass. I’m killing myself.’ And it became insulting. Because I chose to extend my deal with the Lakers to play with Shaquille O’ Neal and win championships. I knew what I could have done individually. I could have gone to another team and averaged 35 points a game. I could have gone anywhere and destroyed people. I gave that up to win championships. So it was infuriating to hear people say I was selfish. It was very, very maddening.”