May 8, 2011, 6:29 PM EDT
This was not how you expected to see Phil Jackson walking away from the NBA.
After a series where he could not get his players to buy into the system, to make the extra defensive rotation, to play at their peak, then to watch the players unravel at the end and take cheap shots. You could sense his desperation in Game 3 when he went to an Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom front line — a lineup he had used for 2:19 all season long — and stood there hitting Gasol in the chest. All in vain.
Except it sort of is how we knew Jackson would leave, with a wry smile on his face and making a joke regardless of the outcome.
“All my hopes and aspirations are this is the final game I’ll coach,” Jackson said after the game. “It has been a wonderful run. I go out with a sour note after having been fined $35,000 this morning by the league. So that’s not fun and having the feeling I’m being chased down the freeway by them. As Richard Nixon says, he won’t be able to kick this guy around anymore.”
In a couple of days, even Lakers fans will calm down and Jackson will be remembered as the best of the modern era. A guy with 11 rings over two different teams, who had great players but got them to be great teammates. A guy who revolutionized coaching.
Largely because he approached coaching more like parenting. The goal was to raise an independent team that could go out on its own in the playoffs and deal with the pressures the game and opponents threw at them. That’s why the no timeouts during games. Why the calmness on the bench during games, even when his team stunk. He, like legendary college coach John Wooden, wanted to do his coaching during practices then let the players play during games.
“He was the white version of my father,” Shaquille O’Neal once said (from Alan Ross’ book Lakers Glory). “I do something spectacular, he sits there and says ‘so what?’ He doesn’t let me lose my focus. He stays on me all the time. That’s what I like. It’s what I need.”
That was Jackson’s gift — understanding players. Even Dennis Rodman. He treated each player differently, yelling at some while more gently prodding others. Just like no two children are alike and need different discipline to help them grow, so does each player on a team. Jackson got that in a way few other coaches do.
“He allowed you to have input,” former player and now Jackson lead assistant Brian Shaw said one. “I liked that about him. With some coaches it’s like, ‘I’m the coach, I’m the one with the power.’”
All that helped get players to buy into a selfless system. In the middle of the 1990s and the height of isolation basketball, the Bulls were running Tex Winter’s triangle offense, which demanded selflessness. It’s a system that is hard to learn not because of the cuts or motions, but because it is a “read and react offense.” Like an NFL offense, it’s designed to have different actions depending on where the blitz is coming from. It takes time to learn to read then make the right play, it takes time for a team to get in synch with that. It’s a thinking man’s offense when run right.
Jackson was able to get the supposedly impossible to handle modern player to buy into that. To make plays.
For all the talk of Zen and the chants in the locker room (and that did happen, as did group meditation and more) the gift of Jackson is that he got teams to buy into that. To raise his talents.
He was at times arrogant. And condescending. But he was competitive from his time as a Knick, while he honed his skills in the CBA. He figured out what could win and how that was part of who it was, then he passed it on to his players.
And they bought it. Most of the time. Jackson’s last team — and it is his last team, he is not coming back — didn’t, which is why it is odd to see him leave this way, swept out of the second round.
But he still has that smile on his face. And 11 rings.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:59 PM EDT
It’s the memory of a lifetime… even if you get embarrassed.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT
Mark Madsen and Paul Pressey also reportedly candidates for Byron Scott’s staff
Jul 31, 2014, 4:31 PM EDT
Watch this and remember why you love basketball.
Jul 31, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT
Wall raising expectations after Wizards met last season’s playoff goal
Jul 31, 2014, 3:05 PM EDT
Jul 31, 2014, 2:22 PM EDT
Does China really know what it’s getting here?
Jul 31, 2014, 1:51 PM EDT
As tight as he is with Kidd, do you really think Payton would choose Milwaukee over Los Angeles?
Jul 31, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT
Milwaukee, with Damien Inglis in limbo, now facing roster crunch
Jul 31, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT
Like most “feuds,” once two rational people sit down and talk for a minute, everything dissipates.
Jul 31, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT
That means he’s signing with the Wizards, right?
Jul 31, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
Barring another move, Toronto down to one roster spot for Lucas Nogueira or DeAndre Daniels
Jul 31, 2014, 10:41 AM EDT
“We think he’s one of the top players in the league and we need for him to be that five that nobody has.” —Mike Krzyzewski on Anthony Davis
Jul 31, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Palmer to marry celebrity hair stylist Tanya Stine
Jul 31, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT
Former Oregon State standout impresses with shot-blocking ability
Jul 31, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
Jeremy Lin in a full-blown dance number. You know you want to see that.
Jul 31, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Hawks forward, now trying out for Team USA World Cup team, has come a long way
Jul 31, 2014, 12:04 AM EDT
A LeBron James-Kevin Love combo seems increasingly inevitable
Jul 30, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
“His unique skill set makes him one of the best players in the game today.” —Pat Riley on Chris Bosh, who still is overpaid.
Jul 30, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT
Pat Riley got beat in free agency, and he doesn’t take losing well.
Jul 30, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Scott, not Mike Brown, would have followed Phil Jackson
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- Referee Violet Palmer comes out publicly as gay 39
- Report: Cavaliers last team standing in Kevin Love trade talks 85
- Pat Riley says he didn’t think LeBron was leaving, Heat can turn around quickly 56
- Coach K on Rose: “Derrick’s played great, not good, and hasn’t held anything back” 30
- Report: Anthony Bennett pulled from pro-am by agent, possibly due to his inclusion in Kevin Love trade talks 43
- Report: Sixers fighting against immediate changes to NBA Draft Lottery system 59
- Team USA going small ball, but how many bigs do they keep on the bench? 4