by Lang Whitaker

First of all, congratulations to the Los Angeles Lakers on winning their 15th NBA title. (As I predicted in SLAM’s NBA Preview issue back in October. And OK, I was wrong about Greg Oden.) The Lakers and Cavs were the best teams in the NBA all season long, and when it came down to the come down, the Lakers were able to deal with the postseason pressure better than any other team in the world. And I credit much of that to Phil Jackson.

Whenever ABC turned on the mics in the huddles, I’d cringe at Stan Van Gundy’s manic, screechy tirades. Hey, whatever works is whatever works, but surely that kind of coaching can’t retain relevancy over many years. Conversely, I loved Phil Jackson’s quiet, subdued huddle instructions. That’s what I’d want to listen to, and that’s the guy I’d want to give my best for. Which is one of the reasons I think Phil Jackson is the greatest coach in NBA history.

Thing is, I thought that before last night’s game. Winning a 10th title gives Phil more championships than Red Auerbach, sure, but it shouldn’t tip anyone’s scale when considering who is the greater of the two. How do I take Phil over Red? I just think Red had it a little easier. I brought this up earlier today and our assistant editor, Tzvi, immediately took issue with me. (Of course, Tzvi wears a Celtics hat to work every day.) His point was that even though there were only 8 teams in the NBA back then, every teams was stacked, which made it even tougher to win 9 titles.

Perhaps, but to me it was probably easier, in the sense that coaches had absolute power, so players had to listen to them or be gone. Phil Jackson has won his rings in an era where coaches have become largely disposable. Phil has managed to get these millionaire guys to buy into what he’s selling year after year after year.

And sure, he’s always coached great player, but as Chris Broussard pointed out today, the final season before Michael Jordan left the Bulls to go be terrible at baseball, the Bulls won 57 games. The next season, 1993-94, Jordan left, the Bulls replaced him with Pete Myers, and Jackson led them to 55 wins.

kobe winsWhile we’re talking places in the hierarchy, I don’t think LA’s win last night really changes where Kobe ranks among the NBA’s greatest. According to me, ahead of Kobe, in no particular order, are Jordan, Magic, Bird, Russell, Wilt, Oscar, Duncan, Shaq, Kareem. Maybe Kobe grabs that 10 spot, though I suspect Jerry West and Hakeem would want to argue that with Kobe.

• And of course, we can’t talk about Kobe without talking about Shaq. I was watching the New Zealand/Spain Confederations Cup match yesterday afternoon on ESPN 2, and across the bottom of the screen came a message that the Cavs were in preliminary talks to trade for Shaquille O’Neal. When I got home I checked ESPN.com and there were no headlines about this, only a story on the NBA page saying that there was no trade imminent. So basically ESPN2 was warning us that nothing was going to happen anytime soon.

But I do think this trade has to happen. It will allow Phoenix to shed salary and move Amare back to center, and it will not only give Cleveland someone to bang inside against healthy Celtics and Magic teams, but I also think it will give Cleveland a guy who can get inside Dwight’s head a little bit.

I loved this bit about the Dwight/Shaq dynamic in Chris Ballard’s Dwight cover story in Sports Illustrateda few months ago:

NOW IT is March 3 and the two men are meeting on the court in Orlando, where the crowd is ready to embrace its current superhero at the expense of its previous one. They boo O’Neal lustily during introductions, and hold signs that read WILL THE REAL SUPERMAN PLEASE STAND UP.

Before the game, Howard goes out of his way to be politic, dismissing questions about O’Neal, but his teammates aren’t quite so reserved. An hour before tip-off, Howard, backup guard Tyronn Lue and point guard Rafer Alston are in the locker room talking about O’Neal’s latest comments, which included this gem: “Every street he is driving down in Orlando, I have been on that street. Every nightclub, every restaurant, I have been there and done that.”

“What was that about?’ says Alston. “Him saying he’s driven on all your streets, been to all your clubs?”

Howard shrugs. “Crazy, huh?”

In the corner, Lue, a former teammate of Shaq’s in L.A., shakes his head. “C’mon, Diesel,” Lue says loudly. “It’s not your turn, it’s man-child’s turn.”

Is it? An hour later, on the court before tip-off, O’Neal makes a point of greeting seemingly every Magic player, from reserve center Tony Battie to backup guard J.J. Redick, but he avoids Howard. Finally, Howard has to walk to the opposite end of the court and interrupt O’Neal’s conversation with Alston to get in a quick, awkward hug. Then, on the first play, O’Neal emphatically rejects Howard’s running hook—which shouldn’t have come as a surprise considering O’Neal spent a good five minutes during pregame practicing doing just that, as well as instructing Suns backup centers Robin Lopez and Louis Amundson on how to block it.

Shaq might be an a-hole, but he’s the a-hole I’d want on my team.

• A bunch of people texted/emailed me over the weekend regarding Brandon Jennings comments about Ricky Rubio. (Or as my mom called him recently, Ricky Ruiz.)

After a workout in Sacto on Friday, Brandon was asked about playing against Ricky and how he felt that went. Sam Amick had the transcript:

Q: How did he (Rubio) do and how would he do to compare to the other guys in college now?

A: “Well when I was playing he only zero assists and two turnovers, you know you tell me how that was.”

Q: How many minutes was he (Rubio) playing?

A: “We had about even minutes, I had 12 points, about six assists, that was the most I ever played was 30 minutes. I was a little winded but I still think I got the best of him.”

Q: How would he compare to the college freshman for example?

A: “Well put it like this, if he was in a workout with me, Jonny Flynn, Drew Holiday, (Ty) Lawson, and Stephen Curry he wouldn’t even be at the top.”

Q: Do you think he’s all hype?

A: “Yeah because he played in the Olympics, been playing pro ball since 14, you know there it is right there. His stats you know 26 minutes, having 16 points, seven assists, nine steals in 26 minutes, and you have all that? You know, I really don’t know, I can’t wait to play him though.”

Q: Is it safe to say you think should go before Ricky Rubio in the draft?

A: “Yeah, I think I’m a better player think he is, I can shoot the ball better than he can, you know the only time I have seen him do something is when he has a homerun pass or something like that. I think the dude is just all hype. I can’t even front you know, I’m just going to be real with you guys.”

I was at the game Brandon’s talking about, and Brandon’s giving a little bit of revisionist history. Ricky’s stats might not have been amazing, but he only played 8 minutes because he was recovering from a wrist injury.

And I can’t really hate on Brandon saying he thinks he’s better than Rubio — did people expect him to say that he thinks he’s not as good as another prospect? Right now Brandon’s trying to get his stock as high as he can. He’s fighting up, but I still don’t think he’ll get drafted ahead of Ricky.

• Saw The Hangover this weekend and loved it. It was funny to see it in a big theater, but I’m really looking forward to watching it at home when I can hear more of the funny lines. Though the scene where they opened the trunk of the car was tremendous.

• Finally, here’s a dope link for anyone who, like me, grew up on Speak & Spell.