Phil Jackson on relationship with Kobe: 'Quite often I could feel his hatred'
The holy trinity of Los Angeles Lakers basketball in the early 2000's - featuring Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and head coach Phil Jackson - didn't need to like each other, as long as they won together.
And that they did, to the tune of three-straight NBA championships from 2000 to 2002. The on-court brilliance of the "Black Mamba" and "Superman," paired with the Zen mastery of one of the greatest sideline generals in league history, overcame tension, animosity, and obvious hostility behind closed doors.
In 2004, Jackson wrote a tell-all book on his experiences in Los Angeles during the 2003-04 season entitled "The Last Season: A Team in Search of Its Soul." Jackson was critical of Bryant, referring to him as a selfish player and uncoachable, to which the 17-time NBA All-Star was defensive about during an early-2015 interview with GQ.
When asked about Kobe's negative comments in an interview with Charley Rosen for ESPN, Jackson acknowledged the ill-will that was present during the final leg of their original run together, though the relationship improved dramatically years later when they joined forces for another go at a title:
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.
The way to Kobe's heart is to let him be himself on the basketball court, whatever that entails. The now 36-year-old has shown a tendency in year's past to still be that "wild horse," as he referred to himself to GQ, but leeway from coaches and the recognition of what he's capable of doing when let loose is all he ever needed.
Jackson knew that, while still keeping certain restrictions on his game, keeping him focused on how the team would run its offense.
Whatever gets the job done.
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