Yo, Phil Jackson: Shut Up!
Over the course of his coaching career, he’s gotten the most out of his players by tricking them into thinking they’re better than they really are. He’s used yoga and all sorts of different offbeat methods in order to get his players focused on the game of basketball. There’s a reason, after all, he’s affectionately known as the “Zen Master” throughout the league.
He uses those same mind tricks on opposing players and even referees in order to gain a competitive advantage. For instance, before the Lakers took on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Playoffs last season, he spoke publicly about how Thunder guard Kevin Durant got treated “like a superstar” throughout the season and had plenty of calls go his way as a result of it. He got fined for the comments, but the damage was done: For the length of the series, Jackson was in the minds of Durant and the referees every time he got touched.
That’s all well and good. Jackson has obviously learned a thing or two while earning an NBA-record 11 NBA rings as a head coach. In fact, it’s the reason he has all those rings. But his latest mind game is all screwed up. During an interview with a Chicago radio station earlier this week, Jackson was asked about the coaching situation in Miami, where the Heat are off to a rough start despite the addition of LeBron James and Chris Bosh to a team that already featured superstar Dwyane Wade. His response was over the line.
“The scenario that sits kind of behind the scene, is that eventually these guys that were recruited—Bosh and James—by Pat Riley and Micky Arison, the owner, are going to come in and say, ‘We feel [Riley] can do a better job coaching the team,’” he said. “‘We came here on the hopes that this would work.’…That’s kind of my take on it, is that eventually if things don’t straighten out here soon, it could be the Van Gundy thing all over again.”
Though it seems harmless enough, Jackson actually managed to take shots at two different NBA head coaches with a simple 20-second sound byte. First, he suggested that current Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra isn’t getting the job done in Miami by saying that James and Bosh might want to try and coax Heat GM Pat Riley—a legendary coach in his own right—out of retirement. Second, he offended Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy, a former head coach for the Heat, who stepped down back in 2005 and allowed Riley to take his position.
In reality, the problem here isn’t that what Phil Jackson is wrong. There are plenty of NBA fans and NBA insiders alike wondering whether or not Riley will try and take the head coaching reins in Miami before the end of the NBA season. But, what gives Jackson the right to interject his opinion into the mix and to call both Spoelstra and Van Gundy’s coaching abilities into question? Who died and made Jackson boss of his fellow NBA coaches?
If you ask me, Phil Jackson is acting a bit like the 50 Cent of the NBA right now. There’s no reason for him to be talking about Spoelstra, Van Gundy or either of their respective teams right now. But he does it anyway because he can. He gets asked to do these interviews and, rather than turn them down, he feels like he can use them to his benefit. He feels like he can hop on the radio, stir up the pot and use it as a competitive advantage. He feels like he can drag anyone’s name into the mix as long as it benefits him. And, really, who is going to try and stop him?
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen with 50, talking too much can actually hurt your reputation and force people to start ignoring what you have to say. Eventually, you become the guy who talks all the time and doesn’t know when to bite his tongue. Your voice becomes less and less important.
We usually love the mind games Phil Jackson plays. They’re entertaining and make the big games that he’s involved in that much better. But it’s too early in the season for him to be flapping his gums already. At this point, it’s best if he leaves other head coaches’ names out of his mouth and goes about his business out on the West Coast. It’s best if he turns down interviews if he’s going to take shots at the Heat situation. It’s best if he keeps his yapper shut if he doesn’t have anything nice to say.
Sorry, Phil, but right now, it’s probably best if you just shut up.