Following the back to back champion Lakers surprising loss to Regal FC Barcelona on Thursday, the web was abuzz with predictions of the Lakers fall from grace.
More surprising, however, was the disagreement between Kobe Bryant and coach Phil Jackson over whether or not their opponent could compete in the NBA.
As reported by ESPN LA's Dave McMenamin, when coach Jackson was asked if FCB could compete in the NBA, his answer was a resounding no.
"No...They played really well [Thursday], but they're not up to the competition that we face night in and night out," Jackson said. "But that's not taking anything away from them. The physicality of our game, the size of our players, those are things that night in and night out are very difficult to contest."
Jackson's mater of fact response shouldn't surprise anyone, as he has a history of diminishing (tempering?) the accomplishments of his opponents unless it serves to motivate his team.
Jackson understands that as much as his team was trying to win, they were far from their best. While FCB, in front of the home crowd, it would seem, played their hearts out.
Nevertheless, the Lakers shouldn't have lost.
Of course reporters never wanting to miss an opportunity for conflict, relayed Jackson's response to Bryant. After an extended sigh he countered, "I don't know why he says these things some time."
More than being a showcase for the NBA, this is an opportunity for Bryant to continue wooing his adoring fans outside the U.S. So whether or not Bryant feels as Jackson does, is it any wonder he would emerge the diplomat?
“I think they execute extremely well, they know each other extremely well, they move the ball extremely well and that's what you're looking for," Bryant said. "In the NBA, teams that do that are few and far in between, teams that play together as a unit. You see a lot of isolation game; you see a lot of guys going one-on-one. They do a great job moving the ball, they do a great job helping each other defensively, so I disagree, but, what do I know?"
Diplomacy at its finest.
Bryant is correct on all counts about FCB's fundamental style of play vs. that of the lower tier talent of the NBA, but was likely being more gracious than anything. Even so, Bryant has a healthy respect for any opponent he faces and has come to treat most wins and losses the same way, with a cool, if not polite, indifference.
If anyone was hoping for a swing vote on the matter, fellow teammate Pau Gasol wasn't biting. He instead preferred to remain complimentary of his former team while avoiding the question altogether.
Said Gasol, "FCB has a great team, they showed it out there on the court today.”
Interestingly enough, ESPN 710 radio revealed on their broadcast that as Juan Carlos Navarro ran over to shake hands with the Lakers coach, Jackson was utterly dismissive and walked off.
Without being able to get inside of the Zen Masters head, I suspect that whether or not Jackson and Bryant agree to disagree, losing had to sting...just a bit.