Phil Jackson: The Backbone of two of NBA’s Greates Dynasties
Phil Jackson, undeniably the most successful NBA coach of all-time, led both Michael Jordan’s Bulls and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers to multiple championships. Despite having rosters backed by tremendous talent, Jackson managed to gain respect from the some of the league’s most egotistical players. His unorthodox ways of coaching cemented his legendary status as they were able to accomplish feats that many players and coaches strive for their entire careers. But what makes Jackson different? He did it 13 times. Eleven rings as a coach, and two as a player. Phil stressed the importance of deep value among his teams, using a coaching method of inspiring, rather than dictating. He was able to challenge his players to work harder, rather than challenging their egos. It was for this reason that he earned his nickname, “Zen Master,” and finished his coaching career with a 1,155-485 record.
Starting with the 90s Bulls, Jackson led the team to six championships. He approached the NBA season with a brand-new tactic, the “triangle offense,” that proved to be very effective. He also utilized his players by creating specific roles for them, interviewing each one individually to better understand their personalities. He felt as though if he knew them better off of the court, he’d be able to count on them more on the court. Jackson said his goal was to create an environment that develops chemistry amongst the players, allowing them to play with little to no coaching from the sideline. He utilized practice as a time to build this chemistry and help his players learn each other’s playing styles while preparing for each specific opponent.
“This is what I was trying to do with the Bulls,” Jackson stated. “My goal was to act as instinctively as possible to allow the players to lead the team from within. I wanted them to be able to flow with the action, the way a tree bends with the wind. That’s why I put so much emphasis on having tightly structured practices.”
Phil Jackson’s time with the Bulls resulted in six championships from the early to late 1990s. While in Chicago, Michael Jordan played in 7.25 of those seasons, resulting in a regular season record of 595-193 and a post season record of 111-41. Jackson also coached Jordan to winning six finals MVPs, 5 regular season MVPs, a handful of All-NBA First Teams along with scoring titles and many other accolades. It’s obvious how mutual Phil and Michael’s respect was for each other, which is why Jordan revealed that he would refuse to return to Chicago for the 1998-99 season unless Phil Jackson was the coach, despite also saying that he wished they had gone for a seventh ring.
“It’s maddening because I felt like we could have won seven,” Jordan stated on ESPN’s, ‘The Last Dance.’ “I really believe that.”
Jackson also coped with the egotistical mindsets of players such as Dennis Rodman, who had a reputation of doing what’s in his own interest. Rodman once informed Jackson he needed a 48 hour vacation, leaving amidst the playoff hunt to go to Las Vegas. The vacation lasted longer than 48 hours and resulted in Michael Jordan personally retrieving Rodman from his Vegas hotel. Rodman also appeared with Hulk Hogan on a WCW Monday Nitro show before Game 4 of the 1998 NBA Finals. What punishment did Rodman receive for his actions? None.
Rob Perez, a senior NBA producer at The Action Network tweeted out, “in a 48-hour span: Dennis Rodman played hooky to no consequence, whooped DDP’s ass on Nitro, made the game-clinching free throws in a Finals game, and then went home with Carmen Electra. This hot streak may never be conquered.”
It is the trust Jackson bestowed among his players that resulted in all of the success they had.
“He don’t look at me as a basketball player,” Rodman stated. “He looks at me as a great friend.”
After the 1998 season, Jackson took a one-year hiatus and returned to coaching with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was able to turn them from a good team to a great one. He was the final piece to an NBA Championship team’s puzzle. In his first season with the Lakers, Jackson led the team to a 67-win season — the second most wins they’ve had in a single season to this day. This was largely due to the success of the triangle offense he used in Chicago. Under Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal averaged 29.7 points per game and won his only MVP trophy. He also used his team-bonding tactics in order to create one of the greatest on court duos between Shaq and Kobe.
The Lakers were able to complete a three-peat in the 2002 season and remain the most recent team to complete the task. Jackson’s career slowly began to cripple, as he wasn’t nearly as successful as the New York Knicks president as he was a coach of the Bulls and Lakers. In fact, his time with the Knicks is seen as a disaster, as he was unable to bring the team any success. He also made many decisions such as leading the Knicks to a 16-game losing streak (the worst in franchise history) as well as a 17-win season (also the worst in franchise history). It doesn’t take away the 11 rings he won as a coach and the immense amount of respect gained from players across the board, though.
“The people in New York just need to trust the fact that he knows more about the game than any of them put together,” stated Kobe Bryant. “In my opinion, he’s the greatest coach in any profession. Ever.”