By Nima Zarrabi
Los Angeles—On Wednesday evening at Staples Center, the Los Angeles Lakers brass held their third annual basketball 101—The Ultimate floor seat: How to watch a game like a coach with Phil Jackson. The event is put on by the Los Angeles Sports Commission with the proceeds ($500 per ticket) going to the Los Angles Lakers Youth Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps local community organizations based on need.
About 400 members of the local community shined themselves up for this remarkable four-hour event that truly resembles a Lakers fantasy camp. The night started out with a cocktail reception and silent auction on the floor. Basically, one side of the Staples court was taken out and tables and a stage were erected. The other side of the court remained intact and guests were allowed to shoot around on the court during the reception. Many did, with the key completely jammed with eager rebounders. Also during this time, guests were allowed to tour the locker room to get an up close look at the Lakers safe Lake Show’s safe spot. Many guests lined up to pose for pictures next to Kobe Bryant’s locker. There wasn’t much to see in KB’s locker other than a Philadelphia Eagles mini-helmet, lotion, game uniform and two pairs of his ill Nikes. Lamar Odom’s locker stands out as a shrine to his son Jayden, who tragically died in his sleep this past summer.
Following the reception, a dinner buffet was rolled out and a panel discussion with Lakers greats got underway. On the stage sat: Kurt Rambis, retired NBA referee Hue Hollins (a strange choice considering the circumstances—more on this later), John Salley, Brian Shaw, Phil Jackson, Tex Winter and Jeanie Buss. Emcee and FSN broadcaster Bill MacDonald led the panelists in a very cool discussion of the state of the NBA that included several funny anectdotes.
Hollins was added to the panel so the fans could figure out what the heck goes on in the mind of a ref. He defended NBA refs on the regular despite Rambis’ contention that certain players in the league are allowed to travel. Rambis claimed that the biggest abusers of traveling are Spurs guard Tony Parker and Dwyane Wade of the Heat, whenever they apply their patented spin moves. “They spin on the dribble, plant on their pivot foot, hop and then take two more steps.” Rambis looked sick as he was discussing his disgust for the no-calls. Hollins laughed and said, “Players who are smart are the ones who do not travel.”
While discussing NBA pregame rituals, both Jackson and Salley shared a few locker room memories of Dennis Rodman. “Dennis used to work out before games and then he would shower. That meant that there was no shower after the game. I didn’t care though. I wasn’t dating him,” Salley said. Jackson recalled how Rodman would watch the pregame edit of the opposition before a game. “He would sit there in a chair in front of the TV naked, with just a towel on his head.”
Soon talk shifted towards the Lakers’ precocious center Andrew Bynum. The 7-footer was the topic of several discussions as Lakers fans are clearly excited about his potential. Rambis spoke of how Bynum is still learning the game due to the fact that he missed a great deal of fundamental teaching by skipping college. “Right now he has a baby hook that he can shoot with either hand and a jump shot from about 12 feet. There is soooooooo much for him to learn. Eventually, he’s going to be able to do a lot of things. Brian Shaw had this to say about Bynum: “I compare him to a baby giraffe, how when they’re born they’re rickety and all over the place. They can barely walk.”
Shaw then discussed trying to teach Bynum how to perfect the “Shaw-Shaq Redemption” the lob play that Shaw and Shaq ran so effectively years ago. “When he is being overplayed in the deep post, it’s a spin move and then the lob comes from the corner. He needs to get better with becoming orientated after the spin.” The story prompted Salley to share Phil’s philosophy on the alley-oop. “Phil always hated the alley-oop. Everybody knows B. Shaw just throws oops. Eventually he convinced Phil to get it into the playbook.”
Jackson smiled and then noted that the Lakers believe Andrew will not totally mature into his body until the age of 24. Bynum turned 20 this past October.
Soon after, talk shifted towards the actual X’s and O’s of the game. Jackson said most NBA teams have about 100 plays in their playbook. The Lakers usually focus on 12 of the opposition’s plays before each game, determined by frequency of use. A handout was passed to all the guests that was an actual pregame Lakers report that the coaching staff gave to the players before a game against the Phoenix Suns last year. The report has an intro page with statements such as, “Play screen rolls by holding up Nash and stopping penetration,” “Barbosa drives left,” etc. The next few pages consisted of personnel reports with stats and breakdowns of each Suns player and their tendencies. There were also four pages of the Suns actual plays.
The panel then moved its way onto the floor for actual instruction, with the guests surrounding the court. Jackson and the gang went through what Phoenix likes to do on both ends of the court. They broke down their plays in such a way that it became easy to see how Steve Nash conducts this high powered offense. Jackson also mentioned that the Suns are better than people perceive them on defense. “They try to clog the lane and invite you to shoot jump shots. That can lead to long rebounds that leads them to run outs.” Winter followed up the discussion by taking everyone through the basic fundamentals of the triangle offense. He demonstrated how the Lakers use spacing and movement on the floor to create room for Kobe to operate. Really interesting stuff.
After the on-court instruction, dessert was served and the panelists came back to the stage for a Q&A session with the audience. All of the questions were submitted by the guests earlier in the evening via note cards placed at the table.
Here is a random sampling of some of the best:
Who is your dream starting five?
Tex Winter: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Larry Bird.
During the ‘91 Finals, the Bulls double-teamed Magic Johnson. Is there anyone you would do that to in today’s game?
Phil Jackson: We also did it against John Stockton in the Jazz series. Today, I would say Gilbert Arenas, Steve Nash at times and Dwyane Wade. You want to get the ball out of their hands in a playoff situation.
Emcee and FSN broadcaster Bill MacDonald followed up with, “What did Gilbert get you guys for this year? 61?”
Phil Jackson: I don’t remember. You try and forget stuff like that quickly.
Who would be the cutest starting five ever (for our female readers—FYI)?
Jeanie Buss: Rick Fox, Tony Parker, Reggie Theus, Kurt Rambis & Phil Jackson.
“What are the differences between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant?”
At first, Jackson passed on the question while the other panelists dug in.
Rambis: They are both athletic, talented and have a high level of competitiveness with a burning desire to win. That’s what drives them.
Salley: They played in different eras. Mike played when you were allowed to hand check. There are different rules now. Also, Michael is the originator. Everything he did, Kobe was able to watch and study. Kobe is also double-jointed which helps him with his jump shot.
Jackson then chimes in: One of the things that sets Michael apart is his ability to palm the ball off the dribble. It’s a genius ability to go from a straight dribble to a palm when you’re moving toward the rim. That allowed Michael to do things with the ball that most players cannot do. Kobe makes up for it with his flexibility and deftness.
Funniest moment: A fan in the audience brought up the irony of having Hollins and Jackson on the stage together. After all, it was Hollins who made what Bulls fans dub as “the most infamous foul in franchise history” against them in the pivotal 5th game of their 1994 second-round series against the Knicks. Hollins called a phantom foul on Scottie Pippen who was defending a last second jump shot by the Knicks Hubert Davis in the closing seconds. The call came late, Davis nailed the free throws and the Knicks went up 3-2 in the series, eventually advancing in seven games. It was a sad end to an MVP-like season for Pippen, who took his game to new heights while MJ was out on sabbatical.
When it came time for Hollins to comment on the play, he opted against it. “I plead the fifth,” he said. Phil Jackson couldn’t resist. “I always tell our players that the referees aren’t the ones who decide the game. That was the one time I was wrong.”
After a few seconds of laughter, Phil eased the tension by saying the best thing about the play is that both he and Hollins were able to get over it quickly. I highly doubt it, but it was a nice thing to say in light of Hollins’ embarrassment over a play he is likely to be remembered for.
Sightings: Doug Ellin, the creator of the HBO hit series Entourage was in attendance with his son. Also spotted in the crowd was a grown-up Jonathan Lipnicki. For those of you who are drawing a blank, think Jerry Maguire. Lipnicki starred as Ray, the son of Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger). Fans of the former child star already know that he has ditched those glasses and is now in his awkward teen stage.