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Thank You, Phil Jackson

2011 May 11

• dEDGE Post Scriptum •

Forget about the bitter taste left in your mouth. Try to clear your emotions or any thoughts of imploding this team and starting anew. Momentarily erase your disappointment with the drama, the lack of effort, and most of all, the tarnished character. Think back to 1999 and the state of the Los Angeles Lakers. Who was going to step in, take the helm and guide this storied franchise back to the bright

Phil Jackson leaves as the winningest coach in NBA history with 11 titles. Copyrights may apply. All rights reserved.

Phil Jackson leaves as the winningest coach in NBA history with 11 titles. Copyrights may apply. All rights reserved.

lights and heyday of Showtime? Who was strong enough and just mad enough to take the reins of a team consisting of two superstars, one in his prime and the other just starting to realize his true potential? Del Harris was definitely not the answer, nor was a young, ambitious Assistant Coach named Kurt Rambis. Jerry West had but one choice and coupled with the urging of owner Jerry Buss, he reluctantly pulled the trigger. It was a difficult decision for Jerry since the Lakers were considered family and Phil Jackson was definitely an outsider to the organization.

I’ll always talk to Phil… I can always reach out to Phil.”   – Kobe Bryant, when asked if he’ll miss Phil Jackson.

Enter Philip Douglas Jackson, fresh off a short, one year sabbatical after guiding the Chicago Bulls to two sets of 3Peats. Sure, the Bulls featured Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, but PJ was able to harness MJ’s absolute offensive dominance and channel it into unrivaled success measured by 6 NBA titles. The Zen Master came to Los Angeles to find an intriguing, yet underwhelming Lakers team that featured the most physically imposing figure in the NBA coupled with an introverted, young phenomena often thought of as selfish and bordering on egomaniacal. Expectations quickly exploded through the roof at their new downtown arena, while a new era of Lakers dominance was instantly born.

Phil Jackson was much, much more than simply a stoic, motionless figure on the bench. He understood the pulse of his teams and knew exactly which buttons to push to get the most out of his players. Copyrights may apply. All rights reserved.

Phil Jackson was much, much more than simply a stoic, motionless figure on the bench. He understood the pulse of his teams and knew exactly which buttons to push to get the most out of his players. Copyrights may apply. All rights reserved.

Critics would often argue that Phil Jackson merely rolled out the ball and let his superstars take over. That he was blessed was such overwhelming talent overshadows that neither the Bulls or the Lakers had any championship success prior to his arrival. He was a magician in dealing with the larger-than-life egos, wealth and lifestyles that his prima-dona players commanded. He was a genius with a calming demeanor, a tactician that developed confidence from within, and a mentor who influenced many yet remained rather reclusive. Phil often left his players “out on an island,” leaving it up to them to figure a way out of their predicament. Yet, he demanded professionalism and effort in practice. Good habits were developed through hard work, repetition and excellence. Games were merely the end result of this dedication.

Phil employed the use of highly talented Assistant Coaches and assigned each a specific duty. Copyrights may apply. All rights reserved.

Phil employed the use of highly talented Assistant Coaches and assigned each a specific duty. Copyrights may apply. All rights reserved.

Phil would divide up the responsibilities amongst his trove of Assistants. One would focus on defensive assignments while another would champion the offensive attack. He hired former players and coaches that understood patience, but demanded excellence, thus launching the celebrated careers of many. Frank Hamblen, Jim Cleamons, Tex Winter, Craig Hodges, Kurt Rambis, Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Brian Shaw and Chuck Person all provided their wealth of talents in one form or another to assist Jackson. Phil was not egotistical where he demanded that everything had to be his way. He often conferred with his coaching staff into the wee hours of the night following a game, devising strategy and charting trends to better prepare his players. The success of a coach is measured by the success achieved on the floor. And Phil and the Lakers excelled.

Basketball is a sport that involves the subtle interweaving of players at full speed to the point where they are thinking and moving as one.”               – Phil Jackson

But along with success comes higher expectations, over-inflated egos and ultimately, complacency. The drama would reach a boiling point at the end of the 2004 season. Feeling that the Shaq-Kobe feud had created a deep chasm within the team, Phil demanded $12 million to coach the team the following season. Owner Dr. Jerry Buss had no other option but to decline the outrageous request and instead hired Rudy Tomjanovich. With Phil out and Kobe the perceived darling of Buss, Shaq made it clear that he too wanted out. With the dynamic duo’s relationship fractured beyond repair, Shaq was dealt to Miami in exchange for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant. Gone too were Gary Payton, who joined O’Neal with the Heat, and Karl Malone, who chose to retire rather than subject himself to another tortured year with the dysfunctional Lakers.

Phil, Kobe, and longtime girlfriend, Jeanie Buss. Copyrights may apply. All rights reserved.

Phil, Kobe, and longtime girlfriend, Jeanie Buss. Copyrights may apply. All rights reserved.

Tomjanovich lasted a mere 41-games as the Lakers fell out of the playoffs with a 34-48 record. Phil’s second tenure with Lakers in 2005-06 featured a reconciliation between himself and Kobe Bryant, even after he had written a scathing biography surrounded around that tension-filled 2004 season. Perhaps no one was happier of Phil’s return than Jeanie Buss, daughter of the boss but girlfriend of the coach. Even Kobe had lobbied for Jackson’s return as he longed for a return to normalcy. With the team now solely in the hands of Bryant, the Lakers still lacked the depth and veteran leadership that had been so prevalent in their championship years. But even with a supporting cast that was less than spectacular, Phil led the Lakers back to the playoffs where they eventually fell to league MVP Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns, 4-3.

Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the Me for the We.”   – Phil Jackson

The 2006-07 season led to another First Round exit and the summer of Kobe’s discontent. With the prospect of Kobe leaving the Lakers if a trade was deemed acceptable to owner Jerry Buss, Phil played the role of intermediary in an attempt to soothe both employee and employer. If he could rebuild his relationship with the “uncoachable” Kobe, the Zen Master understood that with the right moves and personnel, everyone could prosper and move forward. And that they did. Phil was able to talk Kobe off the ledge and keep him focused on basketball and the team moving forward. Soon thereafter, the Lakers landed Pau Gasol in a mid-season trade that propelled the Lakers all the way back to the NBA Finals.

That’s a very emotional side of this whole picture, because Phil is such a special coach and such a special person to me dearly. It hurts me that it had to end this way for him.”   – Pau Gasol

Gasol, always thought of as a talented albeit somewhat underachieving player, immediately prospered in PJ’s triangle offense. A highly intelligent and willing passer, Pau experienced a rebirth of his career after 6-1/2 consistent yet unfulfilling years in Memphis. Teamed with Kobe and Lamar Odom, Gasol found himself surrounded by talent he could only dream about. Plus he had a coach who knew exactly how to mesh his talents seamlessly into the offense and bring the best out of him. That the Lakers lost to Boston in the Finals was no surprise. That they had made it to the Finals in the first place was the real surprise. Fueled by their newfound success and the emergence of Andrew Bynum as a force in the middle, Kobe ultimately decided that LA was the place for him to spend the rest of his career.

The disappointment of losing in the ’04 Finals hit Kobe and Fish the hardest. Having won 3 titles under Phil, both knew how difficult it was to reach the pinnacle of success only to squander the opportunity away. Phil taught his players to live in the moment before it was gone for good. His inclination to challenge his players through self-examination was reinforced by having popular movie scenes spliced into game films. He annually distributed hand-picked books he felt suitable for each player as another means of communicating ideals and generating introspection.

He taught me so much… I really can’t explain what he’s done for me and my basketball career.”   – Shannon Brown

Phil was at his best getting his players mentally prepared for the task at hand. He would have them practice meditation to soothe the soul and cleanse the mind. He understood the toll that friends and family took on players through the course of a season in addition to the multitude of media requests, endorsements and appearances required by league offices. Phil could sense when his players were distracted and out-of-tune with what mattered most. On these occasions, PJ would take the team on an impromptu field trip to visit some place of historical significance or simply to the movies. He was a master of managing people and instilling self confidence when faced against astronomical odds.

Phil and Kobe celebrate after defeating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2009-10 NBA Finals, the Zen Master's 11th championship of his career. Copyrights may apply. All rights reserved.

Phil and Kobe celebrate after defeating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2009-10 NBA Finals, the Zen Master's 11th championship of his career. Copyrights may apply. All rights reserved.

11 NBA Championships (6 Chicago/5 Los Angeles), 13 Conference titles, 2007 inductee into the NBA Hall-of-Fame, yet only ONE Coach-of-the-Year Award after his (72-10) Bulls shattered the Lakers long standing (69-13) record for most games won in a single season. Many feel Phil’s best coaching came later in his second stint with the Lakers after restoring them back to prominence. In 2008, he became the fastest coach to win 1,000 games. Later that year, he won his 10th NBA title as the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic, passing legendary Boston Celtic icon, Red Auerbach. The Lakers repeated as champs in 2009 beating the Celtics in 7-games for his 11th championship. In what was deemed his “last stand,” Phil committed to one final season in an attempt to chase down yet another 3Peat, which would have been his 4th such feat, and second with the Lakers.

That probably bothers guys more than anything. That probably hurts more than our own individual circumstances. He deserved to go out much better than this.”   – Derek Fisher

Phil relied on the leadership skills of his veterans even when Laker fans felt the need for change. Copyrights may apply. All rights reserved.

Phil relied on the leadership skills of his veterans even when Laker fans felt the need for change. Copyrights may apply. All rights reserved.

As the exit interviews conclude and players head out to an off-season of uncertainty, there has been one prevailing theme throughout all of the media sessions. Disappointment. Each has stated that they wish Jackson could have left the game out on top. Each has reflected on what he has meant to them not only through basketball X’s and O’s, but in real life. Even veteran role-player Joe Smith, who has seen his share of teams, coaches and personalities through the years was astounded at what he learned under Phil. His approach to the game was unconventional, unorthodox, yet highly effective. Phil leaves the Laker organization with his reputation intact and glowing ever stronger. Whoever takes the reins next season has huge shoes to fill and an even higher chair to ascend. From all Laker fans, thank you Phil Jackson. You will be truly missed. And, if you ever get the inkling that you might want to take another stab at #12, there’ll always be a high chair ready to welcome you back.

12 Responses
  1. MisterChris permalink
    May 15, 2011

    Pat Riley succeeded through constant psychological and physical motivation. Phil believed in mental and physical preparedness. Although their styles are completely different, they are similar in many ways, including going down as best Lakers coaches ever.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    May 15, 2011

    think bout it phil and come back for two more years we need you theres still a couple more rings out there!

  3. May 14, 2011

    Thank You Phil Jackson for some of the BEST YEARS in Lakers History. You are and will ALWAYS be “The GREATEST ” Coach in the history of the NBA.
    Thank You Laker Players for some great games and although it did not end the way We All wanted it to it has been a great year and We True Laker Fans know that “Everything is gonna be alright” You guys will be back and I can not wait.
    Try to enjoy your famly and your summer, get well, let all those nagging injuries heal.

    See ya in October..
    Love you guys and The Jerry Buss Empire

  4. STEVE-O permalink*
    May 14, 2011

    Shout-out to Lakers Nation. Thanks for posting my article. You guys are da bomb!

  5. CP3 permalink
    May 14, 2011

    We will miss phil Jackson, the greatest basketball coach that ever lived. He coached two of the best players in the NBA! He will not be forgotten says Kobe; there will be another championship and ring for Kobe Bryant and the die hard Lakers.

  6. Lakers805 permalink
    May 14, 2011

    i wanna thank u phil for everything u have done for the team and for the fans we really appreciate it thanks

  7. lakers for life permalink
    May 14, 2011

    no one is bettr than phil jackson he is and always will be the best basketball coach

  8. Purple_Reign permalink
    May 12, 2011

    It’s easy to say the hunger is back after you lose, but this team needs some retooling. Barnes was injured, but from the sound of his media session, he wants to come back and prove something. I’d give him the chance.

    Blake on the other hand was a huge disappointment and his comments (or lack of) probably revealed more than if he had said something. Some guys are suited for the big lights and some can’t handle the pressure. There are plenty of mid-level guards out there that would jump at the chance to wear the purple and gold.

    Get to work Mitch.

  9. Mike_R permalink
    May 11, 2011

    Just like there’ll never be another SHOWTIME, there’ll never be another ZEN MASTER.

  10. Lake_Show permalink
    May 11, 2011

    Thank you Phil Jackson for imparting your wisdom onto the Lakers organization for so many years. You’ve helped transform young men into adults, and inspired many to become leaders instead of mute followers.

  11. Lakers4Life permalink
    May 11, 2011

    Needless to say, I will miss Phil perched on his high chair the most.

  12. Justin_Tyme permalink
    May 11, 2011

    PJ is one of a kind, often imitated but will never be duplicated.

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