We might as well get this straight from the start. When it comes to Phil Jackson, don’t count me among his legion of admirers. There are a multitude of reasons for my not-so-flattering opinion of the ex-Bull and Laker coach.
But my main issue with Jackson is his sometimes insufferable sense of self-importance that manifests itself in innumerable ways. It’s gotten to the point where Jackson often demonstrates he’s got a bigger head than those that reside on Mount Rushmore. His sizeable ego could inflate the Goodyear blimp. And it seems as if he truly believes in this “Zen Master” hype, a somewhat laughable tag that’s been attached to him.
Jackson tries to sell the public on his embracement of Eastern and holistic philosophies, that he’s a more serious thinker than the one Rodin sculpted. But strip everything else away and it all comes down to one thing for Phil. It’s all about id and those that are willing to look at him honestly, can see it right off. Jackson isn’t so much deep as he is transparent.
What’s so aggravating about Jackson is that he acts as if the admittedly impressive success he’s enjoyed, 11 championships as a coach, is primarily due to his own skill, acumen and wherewithal. As if he was the main orchestrator of the numerous titles of which he’s been a part. Garbage. Nothing could be further from the truth. You take away either Jordan or Pippen from his halcyon days in Chicago and Jackson doesn’t win squat. You force him to go to battle without either Shaq or Kobe in L.A. and he comes up empty. And in his second go-round in Tinseltown, remove either Bryant or Gasol from the mix and Jackson’s not even an afterthought.
The truth is Jackson should be counting his lucky stars that he was dropped into three tailor-made situations. The Bulls were primed to explode when Jackson was handed the keys to that team. During L.A. Phase 1, he was blessed with having the most dominant inside (Shaq) and outside (Kobe) players in the entire NBA. In L.A. Phase 2, the dynamic combo of Kobe and Pau paved the way for more Laker hardware.
These spectacular players were clearly the catalysts, the impetus for those championship runs. It isn’t outrageous to contend that in some ways, Jackson was mighty fortunate just be be along for the ride.
Now, my credibility would be nil if I tried to assert that Phil Jackson can’t coach. You simply can’t be a part of 11 NBA crowns without having made real, legitimate and tangible contributions. From all acounts, Jackson is an accomplished leader, although tending towards the nutty professor side. Jackson likes to play up the angle that he’s unconventional, a modern-day hoop hippie with a counterculture bent. But his offbeat approach has worked well enough that the results can’t be trivialized or dismissed. He must be saluted. He deserves his due and share of the props.
But Jackson isn’t really an originator or creator. He hasn’t conceived of anything dramatic, revolutionary, radical or innovative. Though he sometimes acts as if he did, it was James Naismith who invented the game of basketball, not full-of-himself Phil.
What Jackson does do is refine and tweak. He took Tex Winters’s triangle offense, turned it into his bedrock principle and got enough players to buy into the concept. Jackson maybe adept at getting his teams to execute a certain scheme but nowhere has he demonstrated himself to be an inspired genius or hoop savant, as many of his annoying sycophants claim.
No, I can’t possibly contend that Jackson is without merit when it comes to the art of coaching. There’s plenty of evidence to indicate he knows his stuff in that area. But what I can suggest is that he’s been given excessive and inordinate credit at the expense of others like front office mavens Jerry Krause, Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak, who practicually insured Jackson’s success by providing him with loaded and talented rosters.
And it’s an absolute joke for Jackson to be cited as a comparable cog to those superstar players who were the prime movers behind the Bull and Laker greatness. Without them, Jackson is a mere footnote. Without him, it’s still reasonable to assume that most of those championships are still won. When weighing Jackson’s importance versus that of the players, Phil is left in the dust. And while not trying to denigrate or minimize what he’s accomplished, let’s keep things in perspective. Let’s keep it real. Jackson needed others abundantly more than they needed him.
But through his actions, comments, manipulation of the press and mannerisms, it’s hard not to get the impression that Phil believes he was the main man, the alpha and omega behind everything. That it was he that was the single most crucial factor in Chicago and L.A. achieving basketball glory. That devoid of his presence and direction, Michael, Scottie, Shaq, Kobe and Pau would have been ringless, if not lost.
And that’s why I find it difficult to tolerate the guy. He should be exceedingly grateful that he was handed stacked and winning decks. But there seems little appreciation for the fortuitous happenstance that put him at the right places, at the right times. Yes, he made the most of those opportunities, kudos to him, but he should feel blessed that those glorious and made-to-order chances were afforded him and not someone else. Though some would vehemently disagree, I truly believe a few other talented and insightful coaches could have, at the very least, approached Phil’s enviable record if they’d been dealt the exact same cards.
And now Phil is back, not as a coach but as the new president of the sometimes dysfunctional New York Knicks. It’ll be interesting to see if he can build, direct and run a viable basketball operation. Up until now, he hasn’t had to wrestle with such a challenging task. To date, he’s inherited talent, as opposed to assembling it. There’s a huge difference between the two. If Jackson should fail to do so in such a high-profile locale as the Big Apple, his reputed basketball expertise will take a justifiable hit. His colossal ego will suddenly be vulnerable to being significantly punctured.
At this juncture, it’s probably too late in the day to hope that Jackson might show just a dose of humility. When people anoit you a deity and worship and genuflect at your altar, it takes a better man that Jackson to keep it all in perspective. To realize that it was others that had a massive impact in helping to make you and forging your reputation. That you were a key part in something special, but by no means an overriding one.
Until Jackson understands that fundamental truth and reality, I just can’t abide him. Not when he carries himself as if he’s bigger than the game itself.
Source: basketball-reference.com/coaches/Phil Jackson.