Is Phil Jackson the best coach in NBA history or just lucky?

June 16, 2009

jacksonThe man who’s become known as the “Zen Master” for tapping Buddhist teachings has been fortunate enough to coach the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant as they grew into dominant superstars, but rounding their games into championship form was a never-ending battle of wills.

In his 2006 memoir, Jackson refers to Kobe as “uncoachable” for his tendency to try to win games as a solo artist. After breaking the late Red Auerbach’s record to stand alone as the first coach to win 10 NBA championships, Jackson paid tribute to Bryant for his maturity as he accepted his very first MVP award.

Jackson recalled a long-ago game in Toronto when Bryant engaged in a one-on-one battle with Vince Carter that “took the Lakers out of their team play”. Shortly after, Bryant told Jackson “I’m ready to be captain right now”, and Jackson replied “but no one is ready to follow you”.

Jackson learned his lessons from the Knicks team he played on, which won the 1973 title, and from his coach, Red Holzman: individual sacrifice for the good of the group. It has been the cornerstone of his coaching philosophy.

When Jackson became head coach in Chicago in 1991, there was an ongoing tug-of-war to get Jordan to sacrifice his game in order for the team to be better. The fight only ended when Jordan acted as a decoy in Game 5 of the 1991 Finals in Los Angeles against the Lakers. He passed the ball again and again in the fourth quarter to John Paxson, the open and hot shooter, whose jumpers clinched the title.

Jackson coaxed an uneasy peace between Jordan and Pippen, found the right role players who could mesh with the superstars. He coddled Dennis Rodman and kicked Lamar Odom in the butt, and got the most out of each.

No one has won as much as a head coach as Jackson, whose dominance of the NBA coaching landscape now approaches two decades, spanning the Michael Jordan-Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant eras.

PHOTO: Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson wears a hat made by his kids to signify his record breaking 10th NBA Championship after his team defeated the Orlando Magic in Game 5 of their NBA Finals basketball game in Orlando, Florida, June 14, 2009. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes


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Lakers win! Clearly Kobe Bryant is a great basketball player. You don’t lead a team to the championship and gain MVP status without that. But is he one of the best ever? If not, he is on his way…

Posted by A fan in da stands | Report as abusive

Phil Jackson certainly has had a run of good fortune (Karma) and he’s a good coach for coachable talent. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant are all talented and were coachable while playing for Mr. Jackson; and they too provided Coach Jackson the room or respect for him to do what he does best.
You can have the talent and misuse it. You can have the talent and not use it. You can have the talent and abuse it. You can have the talent and not recognize it. You can have the talent and bench it.
You can have the talent and think you don’t need it.
Or you can have the talent, but have the wrong strategy for success.
Mr. Jackson gets the NBA’s highest marks for doing the right thing most consistently by his players as evidence in these men, when it mattered, which allowed each of them, Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, O’Neal and Bryant to seek their superior level of play, each in their own time.
Congratulations Coach Jackson.

Posted by Jay Suber | Report as abusive

[…] This Championship showdown between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Orlando Magic basketball teams was absolutely spell bounding. Two of five of the games were decided in overtime play. Sometimes the play was artistry and sometimes it was a clinic and one time it was a blowout. But these men gave a new respect to the game, which many said when the likes of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan moved on that the NBA would never be the same. And it wasn’t for a long minute. Well, the magic of its recent golden years has returned, man for man. The game is not only thrilling but downright Intellectual and fun to watch. And guess what? None of the guys on either team that played in this Championship series are retiring. They will be back on the court next season. Orlando will no doubt regroup. The Lakers, let us say, just got that much better; truly deft strategic and battle hardened. They are now in the Zone. They are easily a “three-peat” team to borrow the words of now legendary head coach Mr. Phil Jackson, who, with this Championship win, has won more NBA titles than anyone on the planet. So is Coach Jackson just lucky? Reuters has that story. […]

Posted by News J Review » Blog Archive » The Lakers Win | Report as abusive

Calling Jackson “lucky” for having won so much is plain insulting (by implying that he has mainly benefited from something else other than his skills for his accomplishments). What did the Bulls and Lakers won before and after (with and without) him? Having superstars (talent) in a team game is as important as having a great coach, not less and not more.
If you call a ten-time winner “lucky”, then what you call a 5-time winner or a 2-time winner? Instead of thanking for the good games, we choose to curse the guy who btw didn’t ask for any such thing, but just to do in fairness what he’s good at?!?
As fans, we can only hope that for next year he stays on and we get to see a healthy Boston playing the Lakers in the playoffs, besides Orlando, Cleveland, Houston, Denver, etc…

Posted by Fel | Report as abusive

Phil Jackson is the greatest coach in NBA history. End of discussion. He has more titles than anybody, including the bitter old man Red Auerbach who would never give credit to Jackson for his accomplishments. There really is nothing to argue about here.

Posted by The Bandit | Report as abusive

Yeah, I think I’m siding with The Bandit. “Lucky” seems to be a bit of a stretch here…

Posted by Kevin Fylan | Report as abusive

The Bulls had Jordan before Phil and no trophies, Phil arrives and boom 6 trophies. The Lakers have Shaq & Kobie and no Trophies. Then Phil comes and boom 3 trophies. Sure Phil benefit have great players but the players benefited from having a great coach. Those that think the only reason Phil won 10 rings was because he happened to be lucky enough to have Jordan, Shaq & Kobie are just Phil haters.

Posted by Leo | Report as abusive

He is smart and crafty, but with a load of SUPERstars on his rosters, you are going to be a winner no matter what, put him in Toronto and see if he even gets close!!!!

Posted by George E | Report as abusive

If Phil Jackson became the head coach of the Toronto Raptors, or any team, for that matter, they would become a playoff team within a year or two, and a championship contender within 5. Not only is Phil Jackson an amazing coach, but talented players would follow him from all over the league for the chance at a ring.

Posted by Brad | Report as abusive

greatest coach..that’s all…

Posted by jjs | Report as abusive

No coach will win w/o star players. Red was fortunate enough to coach Bill Russell and John Havlichek, w/o the salary cap. A great head coach is responsible for 2 main areas: game strategy and player management. Phil’s abilitity to manage players is unparalleled.

Give credit where credit is due.

Posted by Marc | Report as abusive

What a guy!!! Phil is a GREAT coach.

Posted by Jim Deviney | Report as abusive

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