- LZ Granderson, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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It may not be today.
It may not be tomorrow.
It may not be next week or even next year.
But one day the media is going to have to answer for its sins.
One day we're going to have to explain how Phil Jackson, arguably the greatest coach in the history of the game, has only one coach of the year award to his name, and his top current player, Kobe Bryant, the best player of his generation, has one regular-season MVP trophy.
Just one I tell you.
If there ever was a sports example of taking life for granted, this would be it.
If there ever was a sports example of no good deed going unpunished, this egregious oversight would also fit.
LeBron James may be willing to cede the hardware to Derrick Rose -- and don't get me wrong, watching Rose bloom into a superstar has been wonderful -- but even that would be a mistake. James tops the league in player efficiency and Rose is not even in the top 10 (OK, he's 11th). But stats aside, Rose also benefits from not only James' narrative being soiled by his defection to Miami, but also that the Kobe narrative is the same old story.
Bryant is doing work -- again.
Yaaaaawn. What else you got?
Yes, the Bulls point guard has carried his team as it battled injuries to key players (Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer). But the Lakers have also had injuries this year (Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Matt Barnes), and that doesn't get talked about as much. It doesn't get talked about as much because for the past decade we have grown so accustomed to Kobe's exploits, we take him for granted.
Or we nitpick at his legacy with hollow criticism such as he's had All-Star teammates or a great coach -- as if Magic Johnson (three MVPs), Michael Jordan (five) and Larry Bird (three) didn't have Hall of Fame teammates or great coaches. True, he's having a down year compared to himself, but compared to the league? Please son. And I'm not even a Kobe fan. But I do know for the past decade, when the game's on the line, he's been the most feared player on the planet.
The only omission more glaring than the lack of MVP trophies in Kobe's case is the lack of coach of the year awards in Jackson's. At least Bryant's been recognized this century. Jackson's only award came in 1996. Here is a man with the highest winning percentage of any Hall of Fame coach, a man who has managed locker rooms with two of the most eccentric players in history (Dennis Rodman and Ron Artest) and yet somehow, he has gone 15 years without another end-of-the-year award.
Except for championships, of course.
Yes, decades from now, at some sort of futuristic barbershop where they cut hair using laser guns, NBA fans will be floating on their pods trying to figure out how Bill Fitch, a man who won only 46 percent of the games he coached, ended up with twice as many COY awards as Jackson. At the sports bar of the future, where we'll be able to order our drinks using telepathy, basketball historians will fry their cortexes trying to understand how Don Nelson, a man who has never coached a single Finals game, owns three times as many COY awards as Jackson.
If you love the game the way I do, you don't see how any of this is right. Heck, if you love the idea of logic, you don't see how it's right.
Put it this way: at the conclusion of the 2002-03 season with a 50-32 record and having won the previous three championships, Jackson finished 14th in the COY voting, just one point ahead of Pacers coach Isiah Thomas. This year Tom Thibodeau, George Karl and Gregg Popovich are mentioned, but it's Jackson who is favored to win a title for the third consecutive time (and if it happens, it would be the fourth three-peat of his career). How a man can repeat as champion on seven separate occasions and be considered the top coach only once is beyond me. Yes, it's a regular-season award, but Jackson has never had a losing season and is the only man to have coached two of the 10 greatest teams of all time.
Like Bryant, Jackson is being punished because in this culture our appreciation of things that are hard to get is much greater than our appreciation of things we already have. We want something new and shiny and we want it often, so we heap all of the accolades on Rose and this year's COY front-runner, Thibodeau, because they are doing something unexpected -- not great, just unexpected. Meanwhile Kobe and Jackson are afterthoughts because, well, of course the Lakers have won 16 of 17 games.
They're the Lakers.
What else you got?
And that's the problem with assumptions of success. If blending talented players together was easy, Mike D'Antoni and Erik Spoelstra wouldn't be updating their résumés. Boston's Red Auerbach was similarly dissed, garnering one COY award despite all of his success. But at least the trophy's named after him. It seems Jackson only gets shout outs by talking heads and in columns like this one. I guess it's partially his fault. Jackson makes it look so easy, we lose sight of just how hard it is.
Just as Bryant's continual brilliance has desensitized us to Bryant's continual brilliance.
I get it, dude rubs people the wrong way. He used to take ill-advised shots. He's been accused of tanking games to make a point. He's had legal trouble. He ratted out Shaq. He tried to be a studio gangsta. Trust me, I get it all. But he's not being considered for Miss Congeniality. And neither is Jackson, who comes across as arrogant at times and pretends he doesn't like drama but is not above starting and picking fights as he did with Bryant earlier this year.
However, if predictions hold true to form, come summer the two will not only make it to their eighth Finals in 11 years together, but also hoist their sixth trophy. Bryant would tie Jordan in that department, revitalizing the comparisons, and Jackson would sail off into the sunset as the greatest coach in the game's history -- but its best only once, the year Kobe was drafted.
Who knew back then the two would go on to be bonded by years of winning together?
Who knew the media would go on to punish them for doing so?
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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