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Tuesday, February 12, 2002
Updated: February 15, 10:33 AM ET
Love Triangle: Michael, Phil and Kobe

Page 2 staff

Love is never simple, not in Phil Jackson's world of the triangle offense, Zen detachment and a love affair with the boss' daughter. When Phil left his wife June to coach the Lakers, he ended up with Jeanie Buss, the daughter of Lakers owner Jerry Buss, but in effect he was really leaving her for Kobe Bryant.

Meanwhile, Kobe, who's clearly modeled himself after Michael Jordan and found himself blessed (or is it cursed?) to be the new apple of Phil's eye, seems wedded more to his own talent and career than to his team -- his shotgun marriages to Shaq and PJ look like they might fall apart at any minute.

He sometimes seems untouchable, unflappable, but Michael also knows a thing or two about love on the rocks, as his longtime love affairs with his wife, Juanita, and the city of Chicago have been nearly destroyed by various betrayals.

But how do the NBA's holy trinity feel about each other? Whether they like it or not, these three men are connected, in life and in basketball history -- the three corners of an odd love triangle. When they talk about each other, do they reveal their feelings, or keep their hearts locked away?

As these quotes make clear, love comes in all shapes and sizes:

Mike, now the statesman, shows Kobe and Phil some love
Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan welcomes the challenge of facing Kobe Bryant and other young guns.
Jordan to teammate Scottie Pippen, speaking of Kobe: "Could we jump that high at 19?"

On Kobe: "The kid is real good and I see a lot of myself in him, no doubt about it."

On facing Kobe in the 1998 All-Star Game, after which Michael was named MVP: "I just wanted to fit in and make sure Kobe didn't dominate."

1998: "How many times do you want me to say it? If Phil's not in Chicago, I'm not playing -- anywhere."

February 2001, on the talent of the NBA's young guns: "It's the kind of ammunition that drives my competitive energies. The Kobes, the Vince Carters -- I'd love to play against them. ... It would be a battle of minds. It would be about who best utilized his talents because the [talent] would be pretty equal."

May 2001, on whether he sees similarities between Kobe's game and his: "Oh, yeah. Yes. I'm looking at his post-up game and the way when his jump shot isn't falling he goes to the hole, or does what he needs to do to get himself to the foul line. And I like that he takes the game very, very seriously&. Obviously there will be comparisons from here on out between Kobe and me, just as there were between me and Dr. J when I first came into the league."

October 2001, upon announcing his comeback: "I'm not running from nobody. If anything, it'll be a great challenge. I'm not saying that I can take Kobe Bryant, that I can take Tracy McGrady. You guys are the only ones saying that they can take me. All good and fine. I'm pretty sure they're sitting back welcoming the challenge. Guess what? I'm sitting back welcoming the challenge too."

Young, cool, and playing hard to get -- Kobe keeps it all in
Kobe Bryant
Bryant respects his predecessors but rightfully wants to be recognized on his own.
1996: When Kobe joins the Lakers, he tells his dad he will play for Phil one day, though Phil is coach of the Chicago Bulls.

December 1997, on facing Michael: "When I have the chance to guard Michael Jordan, I want to guard him. I want him. It's the ultimate challenge."

"I don't want to be the next Michael Jordan, I only want to be Kobe Bryant."

February 1998, on what he respects about Michael: "The way that he approaches the game. The way he tries to dissect his opponents. He tries to abuse their weaknesses and better his strengths. There's a lot to learn from Michael."

February 1998, on what Michael will do in the All-Star Game: "I expect him to come out and play typical Jordan basketball. He's going to be ready to play. Madison Square Garden is a place where he usually lights it up."

February 1999, on being called "the next Michael Jordan": "It's a compliment, but they've had so many players they've called the next Michael Jordan, it's kind of watered down now. Some of those guys are still playing, some guys are not even in the league now. I just take it in stride."

June 2001: "I am my own player and I want to be identified as my own player. There will never be another Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan is the greatest player ever. I can't take (the comparisons) too seriously. That's Michael Jordan. I can't even roll with that."

Upon Michael's return, September 2001: "I'm just happy for him, playing the game he loves. He's helped me out a great deal, he's given me advice on certain things."

February 2002, on Michael's Wizards: "They have some talented players. Michael is an incredible leader, they've followed his lead."

Phil opens his heart, rising above it all
Phil Jackson
Phil Jackson's contract also expires after next season.
1998, writing about Michael: "After coaching him for eight seasons, I still marvel at how much Michael's enthusiasm energizes us, even at practice. I mean he never takes a day off. As a player, I had only modest skills, so I always had to operate at a maximum effort to compete. His work ethic is an important personal bond between us. ... Being Michael's coach has been an unmitigated joy. But even more important than our professional relationship, I consider Michael to be a friend."

1998, writing about Michael's influence: "After Michael retires, I only hope that the young players who will come to the fore -- players like Grant Hill and Kobe Bryant -- will be influenced by Michael's demeanor and by his sense of unselfish competitiveness. More than his championship rings, I hope this will be Michael's legacy."

May 2001: "You know, Kobe does have a sense about the game that's similar to Michael's. And I think he has that will, even though he has a guy on his team -- Shaq -- who is the dominator, which was the luxury Michael never had. Kobe likes to rise to occasions, to big-time situations like Michael did."

2001 playoffs, when asked to compare Kobe to Michael: "Kobe's become the floor leader of a basketball team that was kind of looking for that nature of a player, who could not only be a scorer, but also be a playmaker or consistently make big plays at critical times. So it was very important for Kobe to step into that role that he was envisioned at. I've always held the bar up very high for Kobe, and he's not only reached that bar, but he's jumping over the top of it right now."

More comparison and contrast: "I think it's the best that I've ever seen a player of mine play with an overall court game. I'm asking him to do so much, and he's accomplishing it. I never asked Michael to be a playmaker. That's the greatest player that I've ever had, that I could consider the greatest player in the game, and I never asked him to be a playmaker in those terms. I asked him to be playmaker when he was doubled or tripled. But Kobe has to set up the offense, to advance the ball, to read the defense, to make other players happy, and he's doing a great job of that."

October 2001, on MJ's debut with the Wizards: "Michael is the personality of this sport, he's Babe Ruth reincarnated."

January 2002, on whether Kobe's spectacular display was the best he'd ever seen: "I don't think I've ever seen anybody get 56 points in three quarters, whether it's Michael or anybody. So that has to rank right up there at the top."

February 2002, on what sets Michael apart, even now: "There's a certain amount of will and control he can exercise over a game beyond his physical abilities."

February 2002: "He's been dying to get Michael in a one-on-one situation for a few years, and I know that he'll screw it up to that level at some point, but that's not the purpose of that game. ... When we finally get to see that team, I don't think that's what it's all about. I think it's gonna be about Michael playing the way he has to play for his team to win, and Kobe having to play the way he has to play for our team to win."

"Closer Look" will be a regular Page 2 feature, exploring a hot sports topic in greater detail.