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He Tries, but Jackson Just Can’t Take a Compliment

Phil Jackson has let it be known that he thinks I’m too negative, and like you, I have no idea where he’d get an idea like that.

I know some people in town who would make a big deal out of the Lakers choking, gagging and collapsing against hapless Atlanta on Wednesday night, but my inclination here is to not even mention it.

That’s why I’m not sure where Phil is coming from these days. I would think a guy who begins every day chanting and getting in touch with his inner whatever would roll with things better, but I got to thinking that maybe it’s my fault, standing next to Vic the Brick at every news conference and coming off sounding negative by way of comparison.

So before Wednesday night’s choking, gagging and collapsing pratfall against Atlanta, there was no sign of Brick, giving me the chance to cozy up to Phil.

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“You’ve won more than 800 games in your career,” I said. “You’re brilliant, on top of the game like no one else,” and Phil interrupted me.

“See,” he said to the other reporters at the pregame gathering, “he has to throw out insults like that. Now, T.J., don’t be starting that (bad stuff).”

“Just trying to be positive,” I said.

“That’s not positive,” Phil said. “That’s insulting.”

Apparently I can’t win, and who knew I might have something in common with the Lakers. (Sorry, an old negative habit.)

I told Phil, “I’m giving you credit, you’ve got the best record in postseason play,” and he interrupted again.

“And as a prolific writer and a guy with an urbane kind of wit that loves to pen things that are so scintillating in the paper,” he said, and I think he was mocking me, “what do you have to say?”

I wanted to know how he knew I was a prolific writer, because, “you said you don’t read (Page 2).”

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“You’re right,” Phil said, and he laughed and so did all the other reporters, and it’s a good thing I’m not bothered by people who go out of their way to make others feel badly.

*

THE PLAYERS, as I read in the paper, told Phil they are underachieving -- then prove it against Atlanta. Most fans, though, contend it’s Kobe Bryant playing with a bunch of stiffs. So given Phil’s experience, I wanted to know if he thought the fans were right, or this team was better?

“If we take advantage of our homestand, we could be a surprising team at the end of the year,” he said, which was before the Underachievers’ choking, gasping, collapsing performance against Atlanta.

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“You’ve developed so many great players in your career, and done such a great job with young players,” I said, and he interrupted with another bad word and a roll of his eyes as though he thought I was pulling his leg.

“I just marvel at the way you’ve developed young players, so what can you do with Kwame Brown?” I continued. “Most people in town don’t think Brown is going to amount to anything. Do you agree or disagree?”

“I’m not going to answer that question,” Phil said. “Agree or disagree, when did you stop beating your wife? ... It’s a situation where a guy has to find some successful experiences to build on, and that’s where we are.”

I don’t want to sound negative, but asking the best coach in NBA history to project whether one of his Underachievers is going to amount to something doesn’t seem like too much to ask. I hope I don’t have to start dressing like Brick.

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“You may have misunderstood my question,” I said. “Do you think there will be a time when Kwame is a legitimate player you can consistently count on?”

“I’ll make no comment,” Phil said. “I don’t want to venture a guess.”

Phil recently gave Brown “Sacred Hoops,” one of his earlier books before taking to ripping the players he had coached -- watch out, Kwame -- and someone wanted to know if he had checked with Brown to see if he had read it.

“I should have asked him,” Phil said, but I’m sure he was busy teaching Brown how to dribble or something.

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“You’ve answered every challenge in your career,” I said, and I thought about saying, “feeling you, Phil,” but he’d already dropped a bad word on me twice.

“Aren’t Lamar Odom and Brown a test by which you might be measured here in your return, or whatever you called it, and by the way, it was great whatever you called it.”

“What happens to the team is the most important thing,” he said, and I said, I know that, “but you are a great teacher, Phil.... “

He interrupted again. “I thought I was a great motivator,” he said, and I let him know I was going to get to that, but he said, “that’s all,” and walked away -- ending everything on a negative note.

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And that was before the Underachievers’ choking, gagging, collapsing pratfall against Atlanta, and you try to be positive after something like that.

*

I’LL TELL you how far Michael Eisner has fallen. Someone gave him courtside Laker tickets. For the Atlanta game. And he used them.

*

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TODAY’S LAST word comes in e-mail from Fausto Rowlan:

“Hey Simers, I read your column on (race car driver) Katherine Legge. Why do I get the feeling you’re not just acting like a moron? If you don’t know anything about the subject, do some research, you know, like a real reporter.... McMurray would be proud of you.”

You probably didn’t get the chance to look it up, but it’s Murray.

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.

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