Phil Jackson is arguably the greatest coach in NBA history. The list of superstars he has coached includes Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant. Of those, he may have had the closest relationship with Bryant. The relationship between Jackson and Bryant has really come to light in recent months since Kobe tragically passed in the helicopter crash in January.
Following Kobe Bryant’s passing, Phil Jackson said that their coach-player relationship “transcended the norm” and went beyond the hardwood. Here’s a look at how transcendent the relationship between Jackson and Bryant truly was.
Their mutual success on the court
Jackson coached Bryant for more than half of his NBA career. The Hall of Fame coach spent 11 seasons with the Lakers, and that entire tenure came during Bryant’s 20-year career in the league. All five of Bryant’s NBA titles came when Jackson was on the sideline coaching the team.
Together, they helped lead the Lakers to a 610-292 regular-season record, including seven division titles, and 118-63 in the playoffs. Under Jackson’s leadership, Bryant grew from a 21-year-old still finding his way in the league to a 32-year-old veteran who, by that time, had become the leader of one of the most storied franchises in NBA history.
Phil Jackson mentored Kobe Bryant
Jackson had spent years in the league as both a player and coach before Bryant fell under his leadership with the Lakers. That gave him the experience he needed to be able to help mentor Bryant when he took over as the Lakers’ head coach in the 1999-2000 season.
When asked in 2017 who he would want to present him into the Hall of Fame when he is inducted, he said it came down to two people — Jordan or Jackson. His reasoning for those choices was because, as journalist Liz Levy recalls, “they’ve been the greatest mentors, not only in my career as an athlete, but also as a person.”
Jackson paid tribute to Bryant in the hours after his former player’s death, saying through his agent that Bryant was “a chosen one — special in many ways to many people. Jackson went on to say that their relationship “as coach-player transcended the norm. He went beyond the veil.”
How Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant’s relationship transcended basketball
After leaving the Lakers, Jackson became an executive with the Knicks and when Bryant and the Lakers played the Jackson’s then-current team, the men spoke about their relationship and how it transcended the sport.
Jackson said that he “had to respect the dedication [Kobe] played basketball with and the desire he had. Those moments brought us together.” Bryant also discussed his feels about his former coach, saying that Jackson’s “philosophy of the game and philosophy on life is something I’ve adopted. I carry it with me.”
Kurt Rambis, who Jackson replaced as Lakers coach and later became Jackson’s assistant, recalls that Bryant was excited when the team hired Jackson to lead the squad. Rambis says that Kobe “respected Phil. He respected what Michael [Jordan] did in Chicago and felt he could replicate that here in Los Angeles.”
Early in his Lakers career, Jackson noticed that Bryant had trouble reaching and relating to his teammates. Jackson tried to correct that by making sure Bryant knew that, as the coach recalls saying, “that’s not going to work out very well then” given Bryant’s desire to be the team’s captain.
Former Laker Metta World Peace said of the duo that “they were made for each other. You felt like everything was OK with Phil at the controls and Kobe out there producing every single night.” And that partnership did work out — to the tune of a handful of championship rings for both men.