RENO, Nev. - NBA all-star? Most valuable player? One of the greatest ever?
How about coach.
Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant has developed such a floor presence during the NBA playoffs that Alonzo Mourning can't figure out what exactly it is Lakers Coach Phil Jackson is doing on the bench.
"To tell you the truth, Phil doesn't have to do anything but call time outs," said Mourning, the former NBA star who helped lead the Miami Heat to the 2006 championship and twice was named the league's defensive player of the year.
"Kobe is the facilitator. He is the one driving the mission of this particular team right now," he said. "The communication level he has with his teammates out there, you can just see it."
"I think Phil is just showing up, to tell you the truth, and Kobe is doing all the work to make this team successful."
Mourning was speaking Wednesday on a teleconference that also included Shane Battier and Wally Szczerbiak promoting the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship at Lake Tahoe. They are among the 75 sports stars and celebrities scheduled to play in the 20th annual event at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course July 17-19.
Battier, a small forward for the Houston Rockets who has had relative success defending Bryant, was asked what kind of a putt he would compare to trying to hold the Lakers' star under 20 points.
"I think you would have a double-breaking, 40-foot, downhill slider," he said with a laugh. "Similar to the one Tiger Woods hit in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines last year on No. 11."
Battier said Bryant has slowly risen to a new level since Shaquille O'Neal left the team in 2004.
"There's been a lot said about Kobe and how important these finals are for him. I think it is finally his team," he said. "He was always sort of Robin to Shaq's Bat Man."
"When you are the main catalyst on a team and you win a championship, it sets you apart. Kobe knows that. The basketball world knows that. It really is what is driving him at this point."
Mourning said he's cheering for the Orlando Magic to bounce back from a 2-1 deficit Thursday night and win the title because of his long relationship with coach Stan Van Gundy and longtime friend Patrick Ewing. But he said he doesn't see them pulling it off unless they step up their defence and especially clamp down on Bryant.
"Once you get to the finals you've got to establish a defensive presence and use your defence to stimulate your offence," Mourning said.
"It sort of puzzles me with Stan because he was under the tutelage of Pat Riley, who is obviously a huge defensive advocate, that he would take a more aggressive approach, especially with the pick and roll play," he said.
"When I see the way Orlando is playing that pick and roll, it is just ridiculous - slacking back on the screen and giving Kobe air space. You've got to get Kobe to turn his back on a hard trap, get the ball out of his hands and deny the ball back to him. By then, time is off the clock and somebody else has to make a decision. ... I like Orlando's chances if they play it that way."