Does The Los Angeles Lakers’ Sweep Make You Think Less Of Coach Phil Jackson?
Okay, maybe not ever—for my money, Michael Jordan playing on the Wizards at the end of his career did more to hurt his legacy than help it—but much like MJ, it won’t be the lasting image than I have of Phil Jackson. If last weekend’s absolute trouncing of his Los Angeles Lakers turns out to be the final hurrah for Jackson before he “rides off into the sunset” as Lakers guard Derek Fisher put it, it won’t be the only thing that I remember about him. Not even close, actually.
And it’s not because Jackson was, admittedly, a pretty weird guy. I won’t remember all of the strange meditations sessions he put his players through or the “Zen Master” tag he earned as a result of his kooky practices in the locker room. I won’t remember his infamous beef with Kobe Bryant and the years he spent trying to help Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal coexist. Hell, I won’t even remember the fact that he won a record 11—yes, 11!—championship rings on his way to becoming one of the greatest NBA coaches to ever walk the planet. Because he was, in fact, much more than that to the game of basketball.
If you happened to catch the SportsCenter tribute he got on ESPN Sunday night—which, though long, was well-deserved—you got to see all the different phases of Jackson’s coaching career. From his early days with the Bulls when his hair wasn’t gray—can we blame Dennis Rodman for that transformation!?—to his two stints with the Lakers and everything in between, Jackson obviously had plenty of highlights throughout his time in the league. From ring one to ring 11, he proved that he was a winner over and over and over again. The league changed a number of times, new players took over the NBA’s marquee, and the style of player even changed, but Jackson kept doing what he did and rarely fell short of greatness when his teams took the basketball court.
But to me, Phil Jackson represented more than a bunch of X’s and O’s. He represented how much fun the game of basketball is supposed to be when it’s played right. Of course, as a Bulls fan, I’ll remember him yelling “SCOTTIE!” from the sideline, whistling to get the attention of his point guard, and guiding MJ to an absolutely magical career. But I’ll also remember that he did it all—win or lose—with a certain confidence that engaged millions of fans, regardless of whether you loved or hated his teams. Even in the face of one of the worst sweeps in sports history on Sunday (face it, LA fans: It was that bad!) he played along with the media and gave them a number of sound bytes to work with after the game. He always seemed like the kind of guy you’d want to play for if you played in the NBA—if you were ever so lucky to do so.
So while the L that the Lakers just took to the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the NBA Playoffs might be the final image that we get of Phil Jackson, it certainly won’t be the lasting image that defines his career as a coach. He may not have taken home a championship trophy, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t go out on top.