x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Phil Jackson's prediction riles his fellow coaches

Phil Jackson, the Los Angeles Lakers coach, has won more championships than anyone in NBA history. That record ought to earn a little leniency from his peers.

Phil Jackson, the Los Angeles Lakers coach, has won more championships than anyone in NBA history. That record ought to earn a little leniency from his peers.

Alas, Jackson's latest public comments have upset the coaching fraternity. His breach of etiquette? To verbalise what every other follower of the NBA was thinking: that if Erik Spoelstra, the coach of the Miami Heat, fails to turn around a superstar-laden team, Pat Riley, the club president will swoop in and take over.

There is precedent. In 2005, when the Dwyane Wade-Shaquille O'Neal version of the Heat struggled, Stan Van Gundy "resigned" as coach 21 games into the season. Riley took over and led the Heat to the NBA title.

This season, despite reinforcing Wade with LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the Heat lost seven of their first 15 games. In a radio interview, Jackson said: "It could be the Van Gundy thing all over again." Well, of course it could.

But Van Gundy, now coaching the Orlando Magic, erupted, calling the comments "inappropriate" and "ignorant". Other coaches weighed in, questioning how one of their own could openly speculate about the job status of another. Riley, however, was suspiciously quiet when he easily could have issued a statement of support for Spoelstra. You know, if Jackson had it wrong.

Jackson loves to tweak people, and he seemed amused at the reaction. "I didn't realise that Stan was that sensitive about the issue," he said. "And that's unfortunate."

sports@thenational.ae