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15 May 2011

Reflections on the career of NBA “Zen Master” Phil Jackson

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May 15, 2011 Category: Sports Posted by:

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun


When the Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated by the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA’s Western Conference semi-finals, it likely signaled the end of the coaching career of Phil Jackson.


It was an ignominious and somewhat embarrassing end as the Lakers were handed a 122-86 drubbing at the hands of the Mavericks, but it’s the end nonetheless. Wonder how much ink that will get in the book that the Zen Master has probably been writing since he left the Chicago Bulls?


When you look at Jackson’s time as an NBA head coach there is no denying his record. As the coach of two of the league’s championship dynasties: the Lakers of this decade and the Bulls of the 90s, Jackson is a Hall of Fame coach with 11 NBA Championships, including won back- to-back to titles on four different occasions. Jackson’s teams have also three-peated three times and he has a 70 percent career winning percentage


Jackson has coached a Who’s Who of NBA Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers including Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Scottie Pippin, Shaquille O’Neal and Dennis Rodman. This should be an open and shut case for the argument that he right up there with Boston Celtics great Red Auerbach as one of the best NBA coaches of all time, especially when you consider his championships and winning percentage.


But there are some who don’t think much of Jackson’s accomplishments as a head coach because all of the talent he’s had on those teams. Jackson’s detractors say that when you have a Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant and a Shaquille O’Neal you should win all of those titles.


Even my Significant Other, a girl who felt the Sixers traded the wrong AI, said that a trained seal on one flipper could coach Michael Jordan’s Bulls or Kobe and Shaq’s Lakers to a title. “I’d be more impressed,” she said, “if he won any of those titles with the crap that Doug Collins, Larry Brown or even Byron Scott has had to work with.”


In any event, the big issue that folks have Jackson is that he’s had all the best talent and if you can’t win with folks like Jordan, Bryant and O’Neal in their prime, you should go back to the college level.


I have mixed feelings about Jackson because I do believe that it takes a monumental effort to manage all the egos he’s had to manage and make them play as a team. That’s no easy task. The fact that he managed to mesh the volatile Rodman in with the pristine Jordan and still win without incident or without tearing the team apart is significant. Managing the egos of Bryant and O’Neal, and later Ron Artest, was the same challenge.


The fact that Jackson was able to keep those guys on the same page and win multiple NBA titles speaks volumes about how successful the “Zen Master” was at getting those guys to buy into his offensive and defensive concepts.


Before Jackson came to the Bulls in the late 80s and the Lakers in the 2000s, there was another guy coaching the team with the same talent and they didn’t win a championship. Jackson won with those guys when coaches of a lesser ability could not do it. Not everyone has the ability to coach a talented team full of highly volatile egos.


Let’s face it every team that’s ever won a title in any sport has won on their strength of their talent whether you’re talking about Auerbach’s Celtics who had Bill Russell and Bob Cousy or Pat Riley’s “Showtime” Lakers with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.


I have to agree with my Significant Other on one thing, too. I wonder how Jackson would have fared if he had to build a team from scratch. In other words, could he have taken a team of young guys like Collins’s current Philadelphia 76ers squad to an NBA title? One of the hardest things to do in coaching in any sport is to build a champion from the ground up.


Better yet, could Jackson have taken Brown’s 2001 Sixers squad with Allen Iverson and a bunch of role players through the playoffs and to the NBA Finals? A lot of people don’t believe he could have pulled it off. Luckily for Jackson, he did have the largess of both the Lakers and the Bulls who had a front office that was generous enough to bring in the talent needed to win.


Since we’ll never know if Jackson could have coached a team starting from scratch, the only thing you can do is give him credit for what he done with what he had in front of him. Winning 11 championships between two different teams is just something that you can’t hate on at all. You’ve gotta give him his props as one of the great coaches of all time.

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