Lakers' Letter of the Day: A
Can Los Angeles Lakers' many type-A personalities coexist on the same team?
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- If this Lakers thing is going to work, they'd better hope the wisdom of Steve Jobs applies to basketball as well as it did to business.
I'm reading Walter Isaacson's well-done biography of Jobs, and was struck by the profoundness in one simple quote. After Jobs returned to Apple for his second tour as CEO, he drew a lesson from his past and tried to surround himself with as much talent as he could, regardless of the egos. (Yes, tech geeks have egos too.)
"The Mac team was an attempt to build a whole team like that, A players," Jobs told Isaacson. "People said they wouldn't get along, they'd hate working with each other. But I realized that A players like to work with A players, they just didn't like working with C players."
And that's what it comes down to with the Lakers, isn't it? All five starters -- Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace -- have been A players on their teams during their careers. If they all view each other as equals, communicate on an A-to-A level and appreciate working with peers, this can function.
In a brief interlude from the crush of reporters at the Lakers' facility on media day, I handed my cell phone to Kobe to let him read the Jobs quote. He studied it and said, "That describes my whole career."
Although Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal had a personality clash worthy of "Boardwalk Empire," they actually functioned together well on the basketball court, with three banners hanging in Staples Center as testament. And Kobe became even more appreciative of the basketball value of an A-level center after he took the floor with Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown in the low post, while sharing the backcourt with Smush Parker and Chucky Atkins. Kobe was so frustrated he wanted out of Lakerland ... until the arrival of another A, Gasol, pacified him.
Now he's surrounded by more A's than the Oakland baseball team. And he made an astute distinction about this team and the group that put together the landmark Macintosh computer.
"We all do different stuff," he said, referring to himself, Nash and Howard, and using a word other than "stuff."
They're not all vying to come up with the best operating system for a computer. A better comparison, he said, would be if you were discussing an A-level engineer, an A-level marketer, an A-level digital technician all working on a project. They're each contributing in different ways, not competing.
Earlier, while speaking to a throng of reporters, Kobe doled out the different roles for this team's stars when asked to compare it to the squad that assembled in Miami two years ago.
"The Heat had two players who were really similar," Bryant said. "Different in size but similar in how they handled the ball and what they liked to do. Here, Steve's primarily the facilitator, ball handler. I can go back to my natural place, which is scoring the ball, attacking the rim. We all know what Dwight does."
So as long as Kobe accepts having less control of the offense, as long as Nash realizes he needs to feed the shooting guard with the monster appetite, and as long as Howard accepts that for the first time in his career the team doesn't revolve around him, it can work.
"It's a process," Howard said. "I'm willing to go through that process and learn from one of the greatest to ever play the game. And I think it will be great. We've had plenty of conversations about that. Learning from a guy like Kobe, I know he's going to be tough on me, but I expect that and I want him to do that. I want to be that guy. So I'll take all the heat that he's going to give me, because at the end of the day I know it's going to make me a better player and a better person."
Of course, this was media day, where nothing of substance is accomplished but much is said. But I found it interesting that what coach Mike Brown was talking about, even more than the need to adapt to the modified Princeton offense the Lakers will be running this season, is the need for respect.
If we don't respect who people are, if we don't respect ways people can contribute to the better good of the team, it's going to cause turmoil. It won't allow us to have a harmonious group. We'll be disconnected.” -- Lakers coach Mike Brown
"We have to have that common respect for one another in order to keep the fabric of this team together," Brown said. "If we don't respect who people are, if we don't respect ways people can contribute to the better good of the team, it's going to cause turmoil. It won't allow us to have a harmonious group. We'll be disconnected."
There are other factors, of course. Health is always foremost, particularly when the principal players include a 38-year-old point guard, a shooting guard who has logged 1,381 regular-season and postseason games, and a center coming off back surgery. The Lakers will need better play from a bench that's been bolstered by Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks.
But the matter that can be controlled by the attitudes of the men most responsible for the team's success is respect. It's going to take trust, the realization that if an MVP passes the ball there might be another MVP willing to receive it, that if a defensive player of the year winner gets beat another defensive player of the year winner can rotate to help. "A" players all around.
"It's going to take hard work, thinking, committing, understanding and being willing to adjust and sacrifice and finding the best possible way to make this thing work," Nash said. "Having said that, I don't want to make it sound like it's too complicated. We have terrific players and it should be very possible to make each other better."
There wasn't really much to be learned on media day, other than Metta World Peace appears to be in fantastic shape. But here's one observation. After Bryant finished the rounds of interviews, videotapings and pictures, he was headed to the locker room when Alison Bogli, a Lakers public relations manager, asked him to go across the gym for one more photo shoot. Bryant shook his head and walked away. "It's a wrap," he said.
Bryant's reluctance was understandable. He had already fulfilled every obligation that had come his way, and to cut another swath through the crowd meant being subjected to more questions, more requests to do radio promo drops, more hassles. But a few minutes later Bogli emerged from the room with Bryant dutifully trudging behind her, acquiescing to one more photo session.
He was showing some respect for others. It was a small step. It's the key to the Lakers' season.