At least that was the case for a sold-out audience that packed the Alex Theatre on Wednesday evening for “Phil Jackson in conversation with John Salley,” a roughly hour-long conversation and question-and-answer event in the Live Talks LA series that also included a book signing of Jackson’s latest work, “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success.”
Jackson, 68, the famed former coach of the Lakers and Chicago Bulls and an NBA champion with the New York Knicks, spent about 45 minutes conversing with TV host and former NBA player John Salley, who played under Jackson in both Chicago and Los Angeles.
Jackson also answered questions from the audience as topics throughout the evening ranged from Jackson’s time as player, his coaching in both Chicago and Los Angeles, comparisons between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and between Shaquille O’Neal and Wilt Chamberlain, to name a few items.
Salley immediately broke the ice at the event, when the host handed Jackson his copy of “Eleven Rings” to sign, which brought immediate laughter from the crowd, which only moments earlier gave Jackson a welcoming standing ovation that included chants of, “We love Phil.”
Then Salley opened with a simple inquiry.
“I just have one question. Why did you cut me,” Salley quipped to the roar of the crowd. “That’s all I came for.”
To which, Jackson replied: “I brought John to Chicago for the last championship run and then John was here in L.A. for the first championship,” Jackson said to open dialogue. “This conversation has been going on for years.”
About seven minutes into the show, Salley hit on an over decade-long hot button issue for Lakers fans in questioning the relationship between O’Neal and Bryant.
Jackson noted that “it had been a challenge to bend both players’ wills and ego to be able to play with each other and with their teammates,” and that some of the antics, including that both players used separation trainers “was teenage-stuff.”
Some of that youthfulness manifested in strange ways, Jackson mentioned, including how O’Neal one day showed up to practice nearly nude, while only wearing sneakers to lighten up the mood.
While Salley described O’Neal as “a big kid,” he also addressed a common thought many have of Jackson.
“People think you just sit there and don’t do anything,” Salley said.
That’s when Salley told the audience about the two times Jackson had scared him: First, according to Salley, when Jackson forcefully grabbed the jersey of former forward Travis Knight, while trying to show how to set a screen.
The other instance was at halftime of a game when Jackson threw a Gatorade bottle against the wall in anger.
“I knew you weren’t crazy, so I was worried,” Salley said.
One of the interesting comparisons was between Chamberlain and O’Neal, in which Jackson asked O’Neal once after a game “what he thought was the great accomplishment made by Wilt Chamberlain?”
O’Neal mentioned that it was “Chamberlain’s 50-point-per game average [during the 1961-62].”
Jackson countered that the event happened that season, but “it wasn’t his 50-point average, but his 48-minute-per-game average” and that Chamberlain only “missed two minutes once in an overtime game that season.”
Jackson said the speech fired up O’Neal, who later that same season won the 1999-2000 NBA MVP award.
As for the comparison between Bryant and Jordan, Jackson was diplomatic, too which Salley said that the reason why many believe Jordan is the greatest “is because Phil Jackson says he’s the greatest.”
Jackson did say that Jordan had an advantage in that he had played for a few seasons before Jackson arrived in Chicago and was well aware of his talent.
In comparison, Bryant grew up under the shadow of O’Neal and felt a need to prove that he was one of the greatest players of all time.