I enjoy watching baseball far more than watching professional basketball. I've followed the Lakers. I've known a number of them. I went to a lot more games in the early years. I've gotten to a point where I don't care much for the NBA. I think it's become too much about the individual, too much one-on-one, too much showmanship.
One of our players at UCLA a few years ago intercepted one at center court and he was all alone, nobody within 25 feet of him. He jumped up, and instead of just laying the ball in the basket, he turned a complete 360 and threw it back down over his head through the basket hard. The fans were stomping and roaring. Somebody tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "What'd you think of that, Coach?"
And I said, "I'd have had him out of there before he hit the floor."
The better talent you have with which to work, the more difficult it is as a coach. The greater they are as players, for the most part, the more inclined they are to try to do it alone.
As a teacher-coach, I was blessed with two of the greatest players who ever played who were completely unselfish and team-oriented: Lewis Alcindor and Bill Walton. It was obvious in practice and in games. Sure, they liked to score. But that was never first in their mind at all. "Me" was never first in them. It was always "we." That's pretty wonderful.
One of Phil Jackson's strengths as a coach is his ability to get players to accept their roles. That's one of his greatest assets. That's not easy to do. He had a little trouble with that a few years ago with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, but for the most part he's done a very good job of that.
Kobe is gradually growing up. He's made some mistakes, some horrible mistakes. He's extremely talented. You can give Jerry West the credit for seeing the possibilities early on and making the trade to get him. He's lived up to what Jerry thought he was, and maybe even better. Talent-wise, he's just amazing.
The box office depends on individuals. There aren't too many people in the Laker organization who are unhappy that he gets the attention that he does. They want somebody who gets attention, even if not all of it is good. I think he made some mistakes. We're all imperfect. Mother Teresa said that forgiveness sets you free.
As for Shaquille, I think he's always going to be a kid. As great as he is, I don't like him saying, "Everybody knows who the MVE is — the Most Valuable Ever." That's really childish in many ways. I wouldn't pick him over a number of other centers if I had a team of my own. But at the same time, I think he's the most valuable player in the game.
In my career as a teacher and coach at UCLA, the most valuable recruit we ever lost was Paul Westphal. He's the one who got away. He attended all my basketball camps, and I was sure he was going to come to UCLA. He changed his mind at the very last moment and went to USC. Paul has said that because we were doing very well at that time, he thought it would be better to help somebody else get in that spot and knock us off rather than just coming to UCLA and help us continue.
I've seen a lot of basketball players, and Paul Westphal is the only one who from what I saw was truly ambidextrous. I've had a lot of them who were pretty good with the off-hand. But you could tell whether they were left-handed or right-handed. With Paul, I believe that he could have shot with either hand and it would have looked exactly the same.
USC has had more than its share of great players and coaches over the years. I had tremendous respect for Rod Dedeaux, the legendary baseball coach, and I was very sad about his recent passing. We were friends.
And then there was John McKay. He had a great sense of humor. When I think about him, I think about the time I was in the airport and someone came up to me and said "You're John McKay."
And I said. "No."
"I know you," he said.
"No," I said, "you're wrong."