When the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Championship by beating the Orlando Magic on Sunday, star guard Kobe Bryant was the focal point as usual. He won his fourth title and more importantly, his first title without Shaquille O'Neal. As usual, the Lakers head coach Phil Jackson was in the background. While Bryant's four rings are impressive, Jackson now has 10 rings in 18 seasons as an NBA head coach. A number that is a bit mind boggling.
With Sunday's win, Jackson passed the legendary Boston Celtics head coach Red Auerbach, who had nine titles. You can argue all day who the greatest coach in NBA history is, however there is no doubt that Jackson is the most successful, but is he even close to the most respected? You would think that there would be little to criticise with Jackson. He took over the Chicago Bulls in 1989, inheriting a team led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. In his nine seasons with the Bulls, he won six championships. When Jordan retired after the 1997-1998 season, Jackson went fishing for one season and then resurfaced in 1999 with the Lakers, who were led by O'Neal and a young Bryant.
Jackson did not miss a beat as he coached the Lakers to three titles in his first three seasons there. In 2004, Jackson "retired" again, but was coaxed back to LA after just one season away. The third incarnation of Jackson's coaching career paid off with a 10th title on Sunday. So what is the knock on Phil? One argument is that he has the best players and he should always win. This is a fair statement, but I am not sure it is much of an indictment of his coaching ability. In Chicago, Phil did have the ultimate competitor and closer, Jordan.
You could have put me at centre and Jordan would have won titles. Jordan had Pippen and Horace Grant during the first three Bulls' titles. Jackson swapped in Dennis Rodman for Grant during the next three championship runs. That being said, Jackson inherited all this talent when he took over the Bulls. It was the same deal in Los Angeles. The dominant O'Neal and the rising star in Bryant equalled three more rings. How could he lose?
Should we blame Phil for aligning himself with the best? Jackson was smart to jump on the Lakers when he saw their arsenal. To me, this just shows his intelligence. The second argument is that he does little visibly on the sidelines during games. This one bothers me even more. His job is not just to draw up plays in practice and then call them during the game. That is one aspect of his role. Jackson surrounds himself with assistant coaches who can mould his players during practice.
He is a manager, much like the former Yankee manager Joe Torre, who had to balance a clubhouse full of superstars. He had to manage egos as much as he had to manage baseball games. As far as the "lack of coaching" by Jackson, what's wrong with being calm and making it look easy? Last week was the perfect example. While Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy was screaming and sweating on the bench, Jackson handled things with a stern look, a comment in a player's ear or an under control team huddle. Some sports fans may want to see him cut loose a bit. He won't.
Jackson ended argument one by winning his 10th title on Sunday with a Laker team that is led by Bryant, but is not an all-star roster. He answered argument two every year he took a team deep into the play-offs. If you don't like his style, that's fine, but if you say he isn't an all-time great coach you need to look again. @Email:email@example.com