Phil Jackson didn't directly compare Kobe Bryant, unfavorably, to LeBron James. In an interview with HBO's "Real Sports," Phil Jackson even compared Kobe to Michael Jordan, in a way. A good way. This is so confusing — does Phil hate Kobe or love LeBron or hate Michael or love Kobe? This is the Internet, doesn't he know he's only supposed to discuss basketball in black and white terms?
Here's his take on LeBron James' role with the Miami Heat, as compared with Kobe Bryant's final few years under Phil in Los Angeles, as transcribed by Ethan Skolnick:
Oh, they're— they're using LeBron every possible way they can. He's such a great player. I still think his game is gonna grow. I still think it's gonna grow. But he was like Scottie Pippen was to the Bulls. He's maybe a pass first and shoot second player. Whereas, you know, Michael or Kobe are like, "I'm gonna shoot this ball." Every time they get the ball, they're looking to score. LeBron's not like that. And I love that about him. But he also, when he goes after scoring, he's also terrific. You want a player that can do both. I tried to get Kobe to do both for numbers of years, and he could. But his first instinct is to beat the guy that's in front of him.
Jackson's instincts are not incorrect, and they're in line with what a whole lot of us have been begging Kobe to do for years. On a team with a few great scorers and a whole crew of guys that struggle to find their own shot, perhaps it was best for Bryant to use his formidable passing and dishing skills in a way that made the Lakers a more dangerous team overall, rather than a top-heavy squad with Bryant leading the way in shots and points per game.
Of course, our criticism of LeBron extends in the other direction. He's taken over the 2012 Finals because of an increased attention paid to putting the ball in the hole, being less of a Pippen and more of a Jordan (or, as we duck lightning bolts, "a Kobe"). Because, on a team with two other scoring superstars that are fighting to score efficiently as they work through injuries (Chris Bosh is shooting 40 percent from the floor since returning to action following a debilitating abdominal injury), James is being counted on more than ever to play less as an all-around demon, and more as a pointed scorer.
That's never been an issue for Kobe, and while he remains a fabulous player, his gunner-happy ways have had a part in ensuring that his Laker teams have gone out in the second round in consecutive seasons. Sure, the Lakers are a top-heavy team featuring three superstars and a cast of struggling role players; but so is the team that is currently up 2-1 in the Finals right now.
Just sayin', just like Phil …
In the same interview, Phil goes on to dismiss the idea that he could never work against longtime rival (dating back to their meeting as players in the 1972 and 1973 NBA Finals) Pat Riley. Here's his musings, to HBO's Andrea Kramer:
I mean, we both have respect for each other. And we're both basketball-minded guys. I mean, yeah, that'd be no problem. But I'd probably rather have him working for me than me working for him.
Of course, this is such a far-fetched scenario that Jackson can't help but take the helpful and high road, here. For instance, I am no great fan of, say, Kate Gosselin. But if the two of us were forced to act as high priest and priestess of a colony on Mars in 2029, I'm sure I could work swimmingly with her. And we're sure that colony will be established around the same time Pat Riley hires Phil Jackson to coach the Miami Heat.
Here's more of Phil's interview with Kramer, including a look at his rarely seen Montana home: