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  • Brian Fishbach

Phil Jackson's Speech at Kobe Bryant Statue Unveiling

Vanessa, Laker management, Buss family, and those players that have played championship games for the Laker uniform. Will you stand up in this audience, you guys that have done that? And were teammates, some of you with Kobe Bryant.

I had an initial talk when I came to the Laker organization and Jerry West had provided a room for Kobe to meet with me. It was private prior to the ceremony, and he talked about the fact of how many hours he had watched the former team that I coached play basketball, and he was ready to step into that and he was ready to win championships. He was 22. Now I have twin boys that are exactly a year younger than he is 21. And being a father that has semi delinquent children, I knew that this guy was much more serious than the children I was raising. He was very serious about this game.

We struggled, Kobe and I struggled a lot the first year it was, I will tell you, looking at Michael Jordan and come fly with me or whatever that video was, he had everything all in markings. The way he posed, the way he held himself, it was almost amazing. And there were times I would pull him to the sideline and say, don't try to take over this game. It's not time. Don't try to take over this game. But he was dying to do so and he was ready to do so.

I arranged a meeting between Michael and Kobe to give him a little impression of how to handle being in a restricted basketball system that relied on passing the ball to available teammates and wanting to go one-on-one with this guy in front of you. So I arranged, we had a little meeting in the cigar room off the bar downstairs, and Michael and I were sitting there and Kobe walked in after his shower and the press and whatnot. He sat down. He said, Michael, I can take you one-on-one. And Michael said, well, I think you might. I'm 37, you're 22, right? But that was part of his growing up years.

And his teammates would come to me and say, Kobe never goes out with us. He's always in his room. He's watching tape, he's doing this and that, but he's not really associating with us. And so I pulled him aside and I said, you want to be captain of the team someday, don't you? And he said, oh, I should be captain now. I said, cope, you don't associate with your teammates. You're separate and apart. Well, all they think about are girls and hubcaps and cars and whatever. I'm watching the game. It's a serious business for me. And that was how he was.

We wondered, was this going to happen? Were there times so many times when I had to kind of pull him over to the sideline and say, not yet. It's not time yet. Go inside, feed Shaq the ball. He'll get it to the open man. When we went into the playoffs, the answers were proven. You all remember various items that happened. One, the pass to Shaq in the seventh game of the Portland series that year, the Indiana series, when he tore up an ankle in the second game when Rose put his foot underneath him and he landed awkwardly and sprained his ankle, the fourth game in Indiana. He came off during an overtime and won the game for the team. And Shaq picked him up and carried him off the court and said, my little brother won the game for us today. And that's the making of a dynasty. That happened those three years.

And then there was a year of discontent. Shaq didn't get an operation until the season started. And Kobe, who was serious about maybe winning four in a row, not three in a row, wasn't enough. He wanted four in a row, kind of held it against him.

But I had to say, basketball is basketball and you have to play the game with what you got and how you come to the understanding of what your team's going to be in this particular year. The fifth season, we went to the finals. Fourth time in five years, difficult year. Gary Peyton, Karl Malone were on our team. Karl was injured. Horace Grant was injured in the finals and we struggled in loss, devastating loss. Most devastating thing that you can do as a coach is survive after loss in the finals. I don't know if players feel the same way, but I'd had it happen both as a player and as a coach. So I know the intensity of it coming back from a sabbatical, that's what I call it, to take the reins of the Laker team over again. Kobe and I worked out a pack this time. Let's cooperate and collaborate. And that we did. We collaborated on how we're going to get a center Pau Gasol, to fill the gap.

We collaborated on the players that were playing at a higher level and needed to have a boost or needed to have some kind of a charge put in them. Over the years, I've given them books on leadership. "Winnie the Poo and Leadership." That's right, and "The Dao of Leadership" and Kobe absorbed them. And that initial feeling of how much better I than my teammates would always kind of survive and surface had come to the edge. I dunno if you remember this, but he scored 50 points inside of three quarters one time against Dallas. I benched him in the fourth quarter. A lot of fans didn't appreciate that, but we were up by 25, 30 points. And I said, no, that's enough. We're going to win this game and we're going to save some motion for another game on another night. But the night he got 81, we needed all those points. They were running a zone against us and we devised a little offensive system that would exaggerate Kobe having a one-on-one opportunity with her power forward, a small forward or Jaylen Rose. He ate that up. There are two things that made me proud of Kobe and who he was and the year of our discontent.

We had played a game on Tuesday night here in LA and flew up to Portland, Mardi Gras. I didn't know it was Mardi Gras until I got to Portland. The streets were still reveling with drunken young people at three in the morning. And we always had kind of a statement about the NBA bags at 2:30 or 3, about maybe 4. You might get in at two 30 or three and maybe get to bed the next morning. We were staying in the Benson Hotel and I was sitting in the lobby reading a paper at nine o'clock in the morning waiting for my staff to come down for our meeting before shoot around. And I got a tap on the shoulder. It was Kobe. He'd been at mass. He had ashes on his forehead and I knew he was working on himself. Port the seventh game of the playoffs against Boston Celtics in 2010. Kobe was having a horrible game. He ended up being six for 24 that night. And we kept saying to Kobe, stay inside the system. Don't go out on your own. Keep it moving. Keep the ball moving. Hit the open man. Make the motion that we have to go through. He finally got into it. We won the game. Ronnie Artest hit a three down the stretch, which was big.

Sasha capped it off with a couple of free throws that were down the stretch. And we celebrated a highly intense rivalry. Jay Leno had the team invited the team to go on a Tonight Show, and about seven or eight of them came on the "Tonight Show." And some of 'em were in the front, some were sitting in the back on chairs. And as Jay Leno was trying to make humor, he said, who's this guy that was always in a uniform or never in a uniform, always dressed. It's sitting behind you right there. And Kobe said, don't make fun of Adam. I Morrison. He's one of our teammates. He puts in the work, he may not get to dress, but he puts in the work and he's part of our team. And then I knew that's when I was the proudest of him.

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