Phil Jackson was just messing with us, once again.
The wily former coach of the Lakers and Chicago Bulls wrote a book in 2004 that was called “The Last Season.”
It seemed true at the time, but the legendary leader came back for a six-year run with the Lakers and highlighted it in his new memoir available next Tuesday, “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success.”
Jackson often refused to compare Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, but he does so on several occasions in his new book, co-written with Hugh Delehanty and published by Penguin Press.
It’s pretty easy to figure out who Jackson was referencing in the following passage: “In his mind he had it all figured out. His goal was to become the greatest basketball player of all time. And he was certain he knew what he had to do to get there. Why should he listen to anybody else? If he followed my advice and cut back his scoring, he’d fall short of his ultimate goal. How was I going to get through to this kid?”
It wasn’t Jordan.
As a young 20-something, Bryant told Lakers teammates he wanted to win 10 rings but was a “stubborn, hard-headed learner,” Jackson wrote.
Jackson threatened during one film session in the 1999-2000 season that a trade could be “gladly” worked out if Bryant didn’t want to share the ball with his teammates.
Another time, Jackson shot back when Bryant said he wanted to be captain of the team: “You can’t be captain if nobody follows you,” Jackson recalled saying.
Jackson couldn’t help but include a humorous face-to-face meeting between Bryant and Jordan in his first season as the Lakers’ coach.
“Kobe was hell-bent on surpassing Jordan as the greatest player in the game. His obsession with Michael was striking,” Jackson said. “When we played in Chicago that season, I orchestrated a meeting between the two stars, thinking that Michael might help shift Kobe’s attitude toward selfless teamwork. After they shook hands, the first words out of Kobe’s mouth were, ‘You know I can kick your ass one on one.’”
Jackson took an extra step during the height of the Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal feud in 2003-04, consulting a psychotherapist who recommended dialing back criticism of Bryant in front of teammates and giving him more positive feedback.
It was one of many revelations Jackson discussed in his 339-page book, an advance copy of which was obtained by The Times.
Bryant’s leadership ability eventually began to change, Jackson wrote, taking front stage during a championship season in 2008-09, the Lakers successfully retooling with a different look of finesse (Pau Gasol) instead of the brute force of the O’Neal teams that created three championships.
If Bryant talked to teammates in his earlier years with the Lakers, it was usually, “Give me the damn ball,” Jackson wrote.
“But then Kobe started to shift. He embraced the team and his teammates, calling them up when we were on the road and inviting them out to dinner. It was as if the other players were now his partners, not his personal spear-carriers.”