Jackson wanted Kobe to play like LeBron

June, 19, 2012
6/19/12
4:37
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Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
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LeBron/Kobe
David Santiago/Getty Images
Phil Jackson preferred LeBron James' pass-first mentality to Kobe Bryant's shoot-first mentality.

This will surely raise some eyebrows: Former coach Phil Jackson told HBO Sports' Andrea Kremer that he wished Kobe Bryant had played more like LeBron James.

In a recent interview with HBO's "Real Sports," Jackson opined on how the Heat are utilizing James this season. Here's the transcript via the Palm Beach Post:
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.

A few things are interesting here. First, Jackson's words reinforce something that's been true ever since James graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high schooler. Everyone wanted LeBron to be Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant or Magic Johnson, but the thing that we often miss -- and should embrace -- is that James is uniquely great. James is James. He is not Jordan or Bryant or Johnson, and that's OK.

Should your superstar be team-first or me-first? That's essentially what Jackson is getting at here. Generally speaking, coaches and fans stand on opposite sides of this debate. Here we have Jackson, arguably the most successful NBA coach of all time, saying that Bryant wanted to destroy his defender and that's not necessarily a good thing for the team. Most NBA fans, I'd presume, would cheer Bryant's score-first mentality. Bryant is referred to as a cold-blooded assassin, a ruthless competitor and, most of all, he is a champion. To many, Bryant's five rings validate his relentless mentality.

But Jackson believes Bryant could do more. It's hard to look past Bryant's hardware, but then again, only one win separates the Lakers and the 76ers over the past two postseasons. The Lakers have been a recent letdown and meanwhile Bryant is shooting more than ever (well, except for that absurd 2006 campaign).

Would the Lakers have been better if Bryant didn't lead the league in field goal attempts at age 33? We may never know, but Jackson certainly seems to think so.

So here we are in the 2012 Finals and James is once again two wins away from his first title. Until he wins his first ring, one of James' greatest strengths -- his ability to involve his teammates -- will be construed as a weakness. Passing to the open man seems like sound, team-first basketball. Others call it deferring. The pass at the end of the latest All-Star Game. The pass to Udonis Haslem in Utah. Jackson wanted that from Bryant, but as we know, Bryant wants that shot for himself. Most fans want the shot coming from Bryant's hands, too.

Later in the interview, Jackson says he believes James and Dwyane Wade have played "really well" off each other and that he wouldn't mind working with Pat Riley, but that he'd prefer working above him than below him.

That's an interesting perspective when we place it next to Riley's comments a few weeks ago at James' MVP news conference. Riley was asked whether he's impressed with how well James and Wade have played together as superstars after being alpha dogs for their respective teams for so long.

Riley's response?

“It would be equivalent to me to have somebody ask me, ‘Would you want to go on the same bench with Phil Jackson and the two of you could be co-coaches?' How would that work?’’

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