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The Strange Pair: Jerry West & Phil Jackson

We know him as Mr. Clutch, the front office orchestrator of Showtime and the Shaq/Kobe drama-laden years. We know him as one of the greatest players ever, a country boy who became Hollywood. We know him as an unstoppable beast on NBA 2K12.

Now we also know Jerry West as a depressed individual, a fragile mind made more delicate because of the high stakes game he’s been playing all these years. When you swim with sharks – NBA players, owners, general managers, billions of dollars – you’re liable to get eaten alive. Maybe both of these perspectives are the same, and we are just looking at the same person through different prisms. But with the release of his autobiography, “West By West,” we know West was much more complex than originally believed.

Did we know that West and Phil Jackson didn’t get along? That they had no relationship? Most didn’t. It was definitely a surprising revelation being that the two were responsible for bringing multiple championships to Los Angeles. West helped craft that team. Jackson molded it.

So what happened between the two? Nothing, if you believe West. There was no relationship. Phil didn’t want to be friends, and went out of his way to show it. But one person who brings his own opinion, an entirely different one, is Charley Rosen. Rosen – a longtime NBA writer – says the two started off on the wrong foot almost immediately. West thought he wasn’t being given the credit for bringing championships to L.A. in the 1980s. Then Jackson came into the picture and was promoted as a savior. How much of a role did West have in building those teams that gave him his genius rep? Rosen writes:

The fact of the matter is that West was determined to use the Lakers’ fist pick (which was also the NBA’s first overall) to draft not Magic, but Sidney Moncrief. It was only after prolonged hours of being convinced otherwise by both Bill Sharman and Chick Hearn that West finally yielded and selected Magic.

West has likewise taken credit for building the Magic-JabbarWorthy dynasty, when it was Sharman who did most of the planning,

Did both Shaq and Kobe come to L.A. during West’s watch? Certainly, but here again, others pulled the strings – various combinations of lawyers and businessmen, and in O’Neal’s case, Dale Brown.

Even initially, Rosen writes West wasn’t a fan of Jackson, and secretly hoped he would fail as the Laker coach.

He leaked word to friendly local media that Jackson was a do-nothing coach, that the triangle was bogus, ands that Kobe was being underutilized. With West as the conduit, the hitherto fore secret news of Jackson’s relationship with Jeannie Buss was fed to scandal-hungry rumor mongers in Chicago.

And so it went: West overpaid draft picks to reduce the funds available for free agents; failed to provide the backup big man the Lakers needed; then spread an absurd rumor that Kobe was going to sue Jackson for defamation of character.

Of course, Rosen is a huge supporter of Jackson and the two have been friends for decades so the truth obviously lies somewhere in between West’s claims that Jackson deliberately berated and ignored him, and Rosen’s thoughts.

How much of this is true? It’s hard to say, especially after Rosen rips into West even on the court, saying Clyde Frazier used to eat his lunch all the time and that no one on the Knicks was even worried about him. Even a hater knows that while Frazier did get the better of West at times in the Finals, West was no scrub. Not by a long shot. Still, if all this holds some varying degree of truth – from both sides – then maybe the Shaq/Kobe feud was a kindergarten slap fight compared to West/Jackson.

What do you think?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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