I took for granted Phil Jackson left his white horse tied up out back when he stepped to the microphone, a little surprised, though, that I didn’t hear the sound of trumpets heralding his return to save the Lakers.
He was wearing black suit pants, a black suit coat, standing in sandals, the soul patch back, while sporting a fancy T-shirt with rosary beads and a medal hanging around his neck.
“It’s a Chinese coin,” he would show me later when I asked. “The beads are for a healthy heart.”
“That’s weird,” I suggested.
“It is weird,” he said, keeping with the spirit of the day.
He was here again -- like an athlete who can’t stay retired, packing the kind of Messiah complex one might expect from someone who has won nine championship rings and who is accustomed to speaking from on high.
“I figured I couldn’t live in this town if I didn’t take the job,” Jackson said, proclaiming himself a victim of popular demand. “I couldn’t go down the street without someone yelling from a bus or car wanting to know when I was coming back.”
Obviously, we don’t live in the same neighborhood.
I’M NOT buying it. Too many unanswered questions and a move that is out of character for Jackson, who is normally the final piece to the championship puzzle.
Where was Kobe Bryant on Tuesday? Instead of delivering a crafted, politically correct statement via fax to the media, why wasn’t he standing beside Jackson -- a statement that would have really cleared the air.
There is no question this is going to play well with the folks who sit courtside and pay $2,100 a ticket, but how smart are the people who sit courtside and pay $2,100 a ticket to watch an NBA game?
Laker faithful, believing Jackson really is the coaching Messiah, undoubtedly will have the team back in the playoffs before the season starts, forgetting for a moment the roster remains full of stiffs.
It’s the same roster Jackson trashed a few weeks ago -- softening those remarks Tuesday, of course, but then whom is he kidding now?
What kind of coach will Jackson be without major league firepower? Do you think he’ll get off the bench more?
The triangle will be different, he said, since it doesn’t appear Shaquille O’Neal will be here, and everyone laughed when he said that -- except Jackson.
Later, asked about O’Neal, who can opt out of his Miami deal and return immediately to L.A., Jackson said it wasn’t a joke, “It was a hook” to catch O’Neal’s attention. Manna from heaven, too, for sports talk radio today: Shaq might be coming back!
If so, then where is Kobe going?
“It’s beyond the realm of possibility in my mind’s eye,” Jackson said in discounting Shaq’s return, “but it’s there,” and apparently Jeanie has taught Phil something about marketing and raising the interest in a bad team.
The Lakers will have a Chicago Bulls’ look to them, Jackson said, Lamar Odom being asked to play the role of Scottie Pippen, while the “uncoachable,” as Jackson called Bryant in his book, gets the chance to play M.J.
We’re off to a good start, all right, because nothing irritates K.B. more than being compared to M.J., and a Bulls-like attack will invite that.
Jackson said Bryant called with congratulations -- I presume, for making his life miserable once again. Jackson’s back, all right, and his good friend and Bryant basher, Charley Rosen, is still writing for Foxsports.com -- just waiting for Jackson to give him more ammunition.
“I believe they [Jackson and Bryant] can [coexist] because, while Jackson is exasperated with Kobe’s selfishness, he admires the young man’s talent, and above all, his will to win,” Rosen wrote Tuesday.
Nice to know that Jackson is already “exasperated” with Bryant’s selfishness.
“He was uncoachable before we had our meeting last February, but very coachable after that,” Jackson said, suggesting there is no longer a rift between them. “I know it’s something everybody is going to look at as we go on, but I don’t see a problem.”
If there is, we’ll hear about it from Rosen.
Two years ago, Bryant told me in an interview: “I don’t like Phil as a person, but I love him as a coach. Would I go to lunch with him? No, but I like playing for him.”
The best the Lakers can probably hope for is that nothing has changed.
LAKER MANAGEMENT, charging more for tickets than any other NBA team, had no other choice in a marketplace that demands star power. So the folks who run the team did their job.
But what about Jackson, coach and author, who said he was waiting for a vision before coming back? One thing we know, he’s nuttier than ever.
“It’s not about the money,” he said, and it’s always about the money, in this case a nice Social Security package of $30 million for three more years’ work.
It’s not about winning one more championship to pass Red Auerbach, he said, and do you really believe that? If so, why would anyone want him coaching the Lakers again? And it’s not about proving he can win without star players, he said, “because you can’t win in the NBA without star players.”
“It’s just a great challenge,” he said, as if it’s really that simple.
“It’s going to take the support of the people of L.A. to make this a positive experience,” he said, a funny comment when you consider he never seemed to give a hoot about the people of L.A. during his previous regime.
Did you embrace Laker fans the first time around? I asked. “No,” he said, but it’s going to be different now.
I’m not holding my breath.
T.J. Simers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.