With the big man finally coaching his last NBA game just a few short weeks ago, there comes an end to perhaps the most dominating professional coaching career in sports history. And with the beginning of the NBA finals at our fingertips, it seems fitting to look back on the man that is Phil Jackson.
BADASS TUESDAY: Phil Jackson
As a fan of professional basketball, I’ll always remember Phil Jackson as the most prolific, yet backhanded, trash-talker the game has ever seen. Phil always had something to say. A few words to the media to stir the pot for their upcoming series or a pointedly subtle insult aimed at his opponent’s best player. Basketball may have been Phil’s trade, but mind games were his specialty. Phil’s trash talk wasn’t a product of anger or intimidation as it so often is with others. Jackson opened his mouth to the media with a premeditated purpose to distract his opponents, to get in their head and throw their psyche off balance. Half of the fun of the NBA playoffs was checking SportsCenter to see what the Zen Master was going to comment on or even go on a rant about next. In a world where every player in professional sports seems to want to be friends the guys on the other team (or even plan an elaborate free agent trade to their side of the fence), Phil wasn’t afraid to make a few enemies in pursuit of championship rings.
Ahem, eleven championship rings. The numbers speak for themselves. Eleven rings in just over twenty years. A 50 percent success rate for winning it all. And don’t feed me any BS about how he had Jordan, how he had Kobe. With great talent comes great expectations and, moreover, huge egos. If anything, the guy deserves an award as the best manager of personalities the league has ever seen. And he thrived on making his best players peak at playoff time, when it mattered. Fanning the flame of their confidence when they needed it, humbling them when their heads ballooned, as they so easily do when you’re busy three-peating all over the place. I’ll remember Phil less for the triangle offense and more for his relational approach to coaching—the approach that built him a dynasty of success that doesn’t look like it’ll be surpassed any time soon.
The league’s gonna miss you, Phil. And I will too.