Sunday Conversation: Phil Jackson
Editor's note: Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson sat down last week for an interview with ESPN's Jim Gray. The transcript is below, and an edited version of the interview airs Sunday on SportsCenter.
Jim Gray: Why do you want to do this again? Why do you want to put yourself through what you know you're gonna have to go through?
Phil Jackson: I always tell the players, "We are in the business that's very much like a marathon race only we're gonna be doing it for 260-something days or so."
And the race is something you get ready to do. There's gonna be some trial inside of there, but you put yourself through it because ultimately it brings a lot of meaning to your life, it gives a lot of energy to what you're doing. You feel goal-oriented and those things are really positive aspects for an athlete and a person, like myself, who's been involved in that.
And then of course there's always the challenge that I can make this work.Gray: What would you have thought were the possibilities of this occurring after your loss to Detroit and you were standing on the podium that evening?
Jackson: Slim, none, probably were the two comments I'd have right off the bat.
But I had Jeanie Buss in the back corner talking about, "Would you be interested, could you possibly see yourself, is this a possibility, would you wanna do it?"
[She was] asking me questions over the course of December, January, February, March.
In April, I started to really consider it. Actually, in March I really started to consider what this team could possibly be.
And at some point -- and I'll bring the topic up -- I saw Kobe was maligned during the course of the year last year. The word itself seems strange to use, but I felt like he had to shoulder so much of the blame for the breakup of the team. Which really wasn't an accurate statement. So I kinda felt like this kid needs a break.
Gray: How much of the malignment of Kobe was due to you and what you said in the book and people felt it can become open season because his former coach felt that way?
Jackson: I don't know, because if you really read the book you saw the last 40 games -- 35 games -- of the season we really connected and the playoffs we really had a great working relationship. And basically I say that in the book a number of times.
But just the one comment where he's "uncoachable" ... I think was the outstanding thing that jumped out of that book.
It was a diary. People forget that it was a day-to-day diary, a journal -- that's what I call it. I think girls keep diaries. Men keep journals. Anyway, in this journal when you make daily impressions and you're feeling the frustration of what was going on, and granted I think we were working against each other at the time.
And working towards a goal really freed us up and we were working very well together ... so we do know that aspect of our lives very well.
Gray: So are you saying it was just a momentary feeling that you felt Kobe was uncoachable, or was that something that became pervasive as the course of time went on that led you to that and that's how you basically felt when you left?
Jackson: No. In fact, when I left, Kobe and I had quite an exit meeting together which we very much talked about the season, how we had this aspect of a month or so going through this conflict where a lot of things were problematic -- coachability, my feelings, how we resolved it, how happy I was were able to resolve it, the fact that we got to the championship and didn't win it, how disappointing that was.
But under all the duress he was under that year, I wanted to let him know how remarkable I thought he had played and we had a hug and a goodbye.
Gray: So what are you feeling today as you enter training camp? Is Kobe coachable or uncoachable?
Jackson: Kobe's very coachable. But the responsibility is my responsibility and his responsibility to make that work.
Kobe is a player in which if you give him a certain set of things that you want him to do, [he] will accomplish that. He wants to accomplish that.
And one of the things that I'm determined to do is take that best aspect of his game. I think a lot of times, I've tried to make him a playmaker -- although due to default -- and a lead guard in which he's had to do a lot of the work of setting up the team, which I think is something that ends up being like, "OK, be a playmaker, be a lead guard, be an organizer." And then where does his natural ability to score and really attack a team come in? I'd like to use him more as an attack player this year than just a playmaker and guy that's setting up the offense.
Gray: I understand you sat down with Kobe once this summer and had an extended conversation. Can you tell us how that went?
Jackson: I'm not gonna allude to an extended conversation, I'm gonna say, yes -- extended conversation, I don't know what that means. Let's just say we had a conversation. And it went --
Gray: Longer than hello?
Jackson: Yeah, it went fine.
Gray: Can you tell us what was discussed? How you can begin to put behind you what has been an antagonistic relationship?
Jackson: No, I can't. I don't want to disclose that, I want to keep it private, I think that's something we really wanna do together is to keep what we have together about each other private.
Gray: Can you win and be successful in basketball in general without being friends, without having camaraderie?
Jackson: Oh, yeah. Many teams have been able to do that.
The teams that I have coached, I would say that every team that's probably been a championship team has had that ability, but there's always been that fragile point in the season where those things have had to be breached -- relationship problems, where teammates have to back in, take a back seat, find a role, understand the relationships that are gonna be the pecking order the team has to have. Those are ongoing situations and make coaching and basketball very intriguing for me.Gray: Have you always been friends, for lack of a better term? Is Michael Jordan a friend?
Jackson: Yes, I would say Michael is a friend. He was also an employee. Yeah. Well, I don't call him my employee; we had a coach-player relationship, yes.Gray: And Shaq ... was Shaq a friend?
Jackson: Shaq was a friend, but I wouldn't call him a confidant as a friend. Shaq was more of a player-coach relationship than Michael Jordan.
Michael Jordan and I went through the death of his father, which changed our relationship, and when his father was murdered there was a point in time when I was asked to talk with Michael for the sake of basketball -- to stay in basketball. He was going to retire, he was going to go play baseball, and everyone was saying, "Why are you doing this?" And my conversation with him changed our relationship at that time. It changed from being player-coach relationship to being a friend.Gray: So I guess basically the premise is you were friends, if that's the right term ...
Gray: ... with your superstars. Both Michael and Shaq. Can you have that again with Kobe and do you need to have that as a coach and a player with your superstar?
Jackson: Well, I don't know. I don't think you have to and I don't think anything that's happened precludes the fact that we're not gonna have a very good communication level.
I think that we understand each other extremely well and we know how to work with each other -- really a comfort zone between what we know how to do and how to get it done. And [the] dedication we have to play and winning a situation is overwhelming for both of us.
Gray: You're gonna have 60 guys like me in Hawaii at every stop, every turn, all year long, asking you about this relationship. Will that further test it, or will that cement it?
Jackson: Well, it's gonna be a matter of judging words and about watching how I say words. Kobe's an extremely private person. He's been put in a very private life due to a lot of things that happened to him. And I think that he wants to protect that and I will and help protect that.Gray: How do you approach this now personally going into a season where you're really not even certain if you'll make the playoffs?
Jackson: Well, it's go-for-broke. It's not like teams before where we have said we're running this race and a lot of teams are running the race to April 27th or 24th or whatever the last day of the season is. We're running the race to June 15th.
And that's how I have to program our season because I anticipate this team is going to be in the finals at some level, either in the conference or in the league finals and so therefore you change how hard you push your team. And you build the activity level during the course of the season so that it meets a certain standard. And I like that to [be] around the All-Star Game.
This team is gonna have to push harder, quicker. Even though they're not going to have a bunch of information or education about what we do. But we're just gonna have to play harder at an earlier time.Gray: You said last year that you didn't like this Lakers roster. And it's had a number of changes since you said that, but do you like this current roster now as you go into camp?
Jackson: I'm not thrilled with it. I think that we can play with it. But I'm not thrilled with our roster.
I mean, we have five small forwards. That doesn't include moving Kobe Bryant down to small forward, which is one of the natural things I like to do.
So we're overwhelmed in certain spots and we know that. And we think we can play. I'd like to have another big guy back up my young players, we need someone with some experience to give the young players a break.Gray: Young players have not been what you at least have been labeled in the past as liking to have to deal with. How are you gonna handle the average age of a roster that's 24-25 right now?
Jackson: Well, one of the things you have to try to do is keep it short and brief communication on a real high level.
So one of the things I think as a teaching skill is to communicate in different ways, rather than doing a lot things with videotape -- auditory things, demonstration things, much of it's gonna have to be on the court ... activity-level directed, because this is an action group. And so a lot of it's gonna be out there rather than inside the room, where we did a lot of other things before.
The other thing about a young team is there are going to be mistakes, and they're going to have to learn from experience, so it's just going to be patience.
Gray: And how are you gonna be patient? How are you gonna handle the mistakes and the losses and all these things that you're not used to?
Jackson: I'm a patient person. I think that's one thing that I feel comfortable I can deal with -- the downfall and the errors, as long as I see progress and people trying.
Gray: The triangle in the past was a source of irritation to Kobe. Are you still gonna run it and how are you gonna work through that?
Jackson: We'll run it. It'll be a very interesting offense for people that have followed the triangle the last four-five years.
We'll change it up and do some things that are different than we've done before. It'll still be the same format. It'll still be the organization's ... very much what people have seen before.
But without Shaq holding onto that one block and that one spot, it'll be much more malleable and so many more people will be in the post and much more flexibility, so I think people will like it that play in it. I think it's a fair system for players. I think it teaches teamwork and I think that's the ultimate.
Gray: Is breaking Red Auerbach's record important to you?
Jackson: I can't say I wouldn't like to do it. Who wouldn't want to win another championship?
But that's not why I want to win the championship. I'd just like to win another championship if I got the opportunity.
Speaking of Red -- happy he's out of the hospital.
Yeah, it's a gas. I never thought I'd be in this position.
Gray: In your new contract are you permitted to write a book again?
Gray: Would you write a book again?
Jackson: Sure. That's what I've done. Six books, maybe now, that I've written, and there's a very good chance that this experience is going to be a learning experience for me and a teaching experience in a book form.
Gray: Do you feel as though you'll have all of the players' trust or do you think you'll have to say something in training camp so that they know when they're talking to you that this may not turn up in print 6-8 months later?Jackson: I'll talk about it. There's no doubt about the fact that I'll discuss that.
And I'm certainly not gonna write a book about this year's team. It'll probably be the cumulative experience after three-four years.
Gray: When you look back on this whole experience, is there one, [or a] couple things that you might have changed that maybe could have kept you, Shaq and Kobe all together?
Jackson: Well, that's really an interesting thought.
I think that the simple cap and the structure of the NBA progress in the last CBA, the contract between the players and the owners and the league, changed the value of how Shaq was looked at.
And I think that if there's one thing that made sense, it's Garnett had his contract. He had grandfathered in this thing. He made his contract and now Shaq has done the same thing in Miami.
And I think the one thing that could have happened is we could have communicated to Shaq this accessibility of how his contract could play out -- the final years, or his final contract -- as Miami has done, so that he could have stayed here. And made that more acceptable to him.
I think that it was all financial. Emotionally, relation-wise, spiritually, Kobe and Shaq coexisted together, even though it was not a great relationship, or happy one, it certainly has [been as] fruitful as any relationship has ever been in the NBA. Perhaps maybe Magic and Kareem if you went back to another team that had a longer duration. But there have been very few [as] successful as the one Kobe and Shaq had when they were here.Gray: So when you look back, you look back at it more as a monetary thing? Trying to say, maybe if we had done this, but nothing that you would have done or maybe could have been done to try and make there be more harmony and coexistence aside from the success on the court, all the extraneous things that went on that created this antagonism?
Jackson: No, I was a master at it. I did a great job [laughs].
Gray: Well, you just kind of let it play out and I think you hoped -- and I shouldn't be in your head -- but did you just kind of hope at some point this would just kind of work itself out?
Jackson: No, I was proactive. I was pretty proactive in doing things that would keep communications going and keep people on the same level and yet use the energy that was the natural energy to keep forcing people forward and ahead, and I think that is really important to do as you move people towards goals.
And Kobe's different-goal directed than Shaq is, and they're using their two forceful natures to the strength of the team, I think, really pushed us in a lot of directions over five years to get to four championships [that] was just a remarkable thing. So I was proud of both of them and proud of the teams we had.Gray: How many games does a coach win?
Jackson: You can win none and you can win them all. I mean really if you look at the facts, natural flow, experience, players believing the message.
Gray: Who has a tougher job this year, you or [New York Knicks coach Larry Brown]?
Jackson: I don't know [laughs]. I looked at that roster and he's got a long roster there to deal with. I think I have a little better team.
Gray: Your relationship with Jeanie Buss -- the departure, and now you're coming back. How has it affected your relationship and would you be here without her?
Jackson: That's a multi-part question.
I think that she had a lot to do with the fact that I'm back here, there's no doubt, making the ground fertile so that the idea of coming back was not a strange idea, was a very acceptable idea to the organization, to the community. I think Jeanie is very capable of doing that.
I would probably be in New York if it wasn't for Jeanie. That was a tempting offer. It was a great city that I love and it's a place that I played and so there was always that thought that I might go back there and coach someday. But I made the right decision, and [I'm] glad I did.