I attribute this amazing turnaround of Kobe Bryant to one player, Steve Nash and to one coach, Phil Jackson. Nash has become the league’s preeminent point guard and recently anointed MVP. It was Nash’s passing, playmaking, shot selection and ball handling that brought him consideration as MVP. But it is an ability to make a team better by your presence that brings the MVP award to your mantle. Nash has done that winning the award last year and repeating again this year. I wonder if it was Phil that showed Kobe the way by convincing him to play more like Nash?
Kobe has thrown up (nice imagery) an average of 32 shots per 48 minutes this season, accounting for nearly 40% of his team’s shots and twice the average NBA player. Still, several of those shots have gone down. Kobe is a scoring machine and led the league with a 35.4 season average, the highest average since Jordan graced the game. His season total landed him seventh all-time behind two names - Wilt Chamberlain and Jordan. However, unlike Nash, his performance led to a mediocre regular season (45-37) and left the rest of the Lakers standing around watching.
Enter the zen-master Jackson who has coached the very best - remember Michael Jordan - and has nine NBA championships. He has called the "one-man team" Kobe to repentance and Kobe has listened. Leaders listen.
Kobe has found that leadership, not scoring, makes a team great and may also create some legacy for the leader. His performance in the playoffs against the Suns has been inspired. He has empowered his teammates to find greatness. He has led the youthful Lakers not by his scoring but by his passing, defense and attitude.
There are some memorable highlights of the Lakers – Suns series. Is it Kobe dunking over Nash or Kobe’s floater that took game four into overtime or the game four jumper over two Suns? For me the defining moment of the series and perhaps the defining moment of Kobe’s career came when after scoring the floater, he did not bask in his own glory but sought out Smush Parker, the young, unlikely hero whose hustle and hassle of Nash led to the turnover that resulted in Kobe having the ball and the chance to make that improbable floater. Yes, the floater was a great shot but the newly converted Kobe may have finally realized trust, sharing, appreciation and confidence is leadership and leadership wins games, MVP trophies and legacy. trust in the game plan, teamates and a coach. Jackson return to LA now seems like Laker genius.
From Michael Wilbon,
“Jackson, might be doing the best work of his career. After playing one way all season, Jackson convinced Kobe that to beat the Suns he would have to change his game 180 degrees. And Kobe listened, then did it, turning himself into a teammate-embracing, pass-first big brother of a teammate. That's great playing, brought on by great coaching.”
Photo credits to Lori Shepler LA Times