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"Are you willing to come back and be a coachable player?"-How Phil Jackson talked to Kobe Bryant before they reunited in 2006

For Jackson, it wasn’t about the money that sparked his interest in the Lakers job in 2006 but the intrigue and challenge of the opportunity to reunite with Bryant in hopes of the journey to redemption and reconciliation.
Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson

Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson

When Phil Jackson departed from the Los Angeles Lakers as head coach in 2004, he was replaced by Rudy Thomjanovich. Thomjanovich was tasked to lead a mediocre Lakers team built around Bryant to rebuild and hopefully work their way up to become a championship team once again.

While Thomjanovich may have been an intelligent and commanding coach, he wasn’t Jackson — and Bryant (who played a role in driving Jackson away) realized this in his first year under Thomjanovich’s leadership.

It all started with one play

According to current Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss, Kobe knew how much he missed Jackson when the Lakers played Shaquille O’Neal and the Miami Heat on Christmas in 2004 — the first game the duo played against each other since breaking apart. The Lakers were down 2 and had an opportunity to win the game with 3.4 seconds left to play.

Bryant wanted the last shot (no surprise there) and insisted on running the “What the F*ck” set play that Jackson often utilized to get him an open look. Unfortunately, Thomjanovich didn’t have this set in his playbook, and that’s when Kobe realized that Jackson was one of a kind. After a few months, Thomjanovich quit as the Lakers’ head coach because the task was just too much for him.

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So after Thomjanovich left, Los Angeles went after Jackson again, who was surprisingly interested in the job. For Jackson, it wasn’t about the money that sparked his interest but the intrigue and challenge of the opportunity to reunite with Bryant in hopes of the journey to redemption and reconciliation. But before the 11-time champion took on the job, he knew he needed to talk to Bryant.

“I sat and talked to Kobe before I took the job. Kobe had made a choice to go it alone and we had to talk about that. I said to Kobe, ‘you know, are you willing to come back and be a coachable player?’ He said ‘yeah.’ You know that it’s gonna take a while for us to get back and win? ‘Yeah, I know.’ Jackson revealed in episode 8 of Legacy: The True Story of the LA Lakers documentary.

Kobe didn’t need an apology from Phil

One of the biggest reasons why Jackson left in the first place was because he admitted that he could no longer coach Bryant. He may have been one of the most accomplished coaches even then, but he said Bryant was too stubborn and uncoachable. The time Bryant and Jackson spent apart from each other made them realize that they needed each other to accomplish their goals after all.

When Bryant was asked whether he needed an apology from Jackson before they reunited, the Black Mamba said that the latter coming back to Los Angeles was enough. He didn’t think holding a grudge was worth it because both he and Phil had the same desire and hunger to win more championships. Bryant was ready to take the high road and move on, being more than happy to have Jackson on his side again.

“You know what, life is short okay? And you can’t go around life carrying baggage,” Bryant said. “I didn’t need an apology from him. Just him coming back to the Lakers was enough,” he added.

Ultimately, Bryant and Jackson’s reunion led to them winning 2 more championships and sparked a special bond between two all-time greats. The breakup between the two might have been ugly and unfortunate, but at least they realized how much they needed each other to win at the end of the day. 

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