Saturday , Nov , 15 , 2008 Oly Sandor

Kobe, Shaq, and Phil at fault for L.A. Lakers split

Unlike most, I never saw this as a two-party dispute. Ever. I always maintained a third party, Phil Jackson, should shoulder some blame. Jackson, the legendary Chicago and Los Angeles coach and much-hailed Zen-Master, never embraced the mediator role, often pitting the two stars against each other for self-serving purposes …

Kobe, Shaq, and Phil at fault for L.A. Lakers split

Part of me wants it to end. Their divorce was and still is TMZ material, complete with snitching, backstabbing, and a bizarre request for a sampling of the buttocks.

For years, I reluctantly reported on the Shaq-Kobe feud. From break-ups to make-ups, I covered the story because there was an audience demand. Like you, HoopsVibe has bills to pay too .

Unlike most, I never saw this as a two-party dispute. Ever. I always maintained a third party, Phil Jackson, should shoulder some blame.  Jackson, the legendary Chicago and Los Angeles coach and much-hailed Zen-Master, never embraced the mediator role, often pitting the two stars against each other for self-serving purposes.

Recently, O’Neal recently weighed-in on his former coach and discussed returning to the purple-and-gold:

Shaquille O’Neal said he hasn’t ruled out a return to the Lakers as a free agent in 2010. He also claimed he never had a problem with Kobe Bryant while they played together with the Lakers. He said he believes they could have won more titles together if he hadn’t been traded to the Miami Heat in 2004. "I swear to God we never had a problem," O’Neal, now with the Phoenix Suns, said during an interview posted Friday on the Web site of the Sacramento Bee. "On the court, we never had a problem." Instead, O’Neal blamed their creative tension on Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "I think it was all designed by Phil," he said. "Because, if you think about it, Phil never called us into the office and said, ‘Both of you, shut the (heck) up.’ Never did that in four years. He knew that when I read something, I was going to get upset. And he knew Kobe was going to always come out and play hard. "So I think it was all done by design." (November 14th, 2008 Sacramento Bee, CNNSI Fan Nation)

I know the veteran has his reasons for blaming Jackson. His contract expires in the summer of 2010 and he wants the option of rejoining the Lakers. Of course, this scenario is highly unlikely. Ownership won’t forgive O’Neal’s behaviour in 2003 and the club recently extended young big Andrew Bynum.

There is some truth with his comments. Jackson is a great coach and an even better opportunist. In Chicago, he was reporter Sam Smith’s inside source for the controversial book The Jordan Rules.

Jackson gave up inside dirt on the organization’s politics, rules favouring Jordan, and other contentious issues typically protected by the sanctity of the locker room. Smith’s gossipy book was a bestseller and the club went on an intense internal search to root out the leak.   

Jackson then manipulated the club’s witch-hunt for his own purposes, blaming long-time assistant coach, mentor, and supposed friend Johnny Bach. Of course, Jackson knew he was the source, not Bach. The long-time assistant coach, who was having family issues at the time, was fired after years of service with Chicago and went through a depression.

Remember, Jackson wrote a tell-all on the Lakers 2003-04 season, painting Bryant in a most unflattering light. Of course, after rejoining the organization, he revised the chapter on his star swing. Clearly, the Hall of Fame coach is capable of anything and could have contributed to the NBA’s greatest divorce.

Again, I’m tired of this story. By rightfully allocating some blame toward Jackson, hopefully we all can move on. I know better, though. There will soon be another twist in the Shaq-Kobe saga. And I’ll report on it.

How do you see Phil Jackson: a great coach or a self-serving opportunist? Was he responsible for the Shaq-Kobe split? Get at us in the comment box below and come back to HoopsVibe The Blog for more NBA tidbits.  Photo courtesy of compujamery.