On Phil Jackson

May 13, 2011 — Leave a comment

The Sports Guy writes about his interview Phil Jackson earlier in the season. It is a great article, especially the parts about Kobe and Jordan. Simmons argues that Jackson might be the best coach in history because of his ability to manage people.

He never gets enough credit for successfully handling two of the three most difficult NBA superstars ever: Jordan and Kobe (with Wilt being the third). Jordan’s ongoing ruthlessness threatened the basic concept of a “team” — instead of being supportive, he was withering. He had to win all the time, every time. If he sensed someone might be a weak link, Jordan shattered their confidence rather than building it up. During any times of real struggle on a basketball court, he trusted himself over everyone else and played accordingly. Jackson tempered his most unlikable qualities while accentuating the good ones, steering him toward a team framework without compromising the ferocity that defined him.

His smartest small-picture move was pitting Pippen and Jordan on opposite sides in every scrimmage, which kept both players sharp and ensured their practices were properly competitive; otherwise, Jordan would have gone for a shutout every game. His smartest big-picture move was his handling of Jordan’s baseball sabbatical, when he reminded Michael that he was an artist more than a basketball player, and that, by walking away, he would be depriving millions of a chance to experience that art. He never tried to change Michael’s mind, just reminded him what was at stake. For Jordan, that cemented their relationship and opened the door for Michael’s eventual return; he knew Jackson cared about him as something more than a meal ticket. When people dismiss Jackson’s credentials with “Anyone could have coached Michael Jordan,” they are wrong.

Kobe presented a different set of issues, as we’ve rehashed ad nauseam over the past ten years. Jackson won five rings with him, but not before walking away in 2004 (and ripping Kobe to shreds in an astonishingly critical book), then returning a year later and eventually working out a manageable compromise. Jackson dealt with Kobe the same way parents deal with raising young kids: You know you’ll have good days and bad days, so you can’t dwell on the bad ones. Only once did Kobe nearly shoot the Lakers out of a title — Game 7 of the 2010 Finals, when Boston’s strategy hinged on doubling Kobe, forcing “hero” shots and hoping his ego would compel him to keep shooting (which it did) — but in another classic Jackson-era moment, Kobe’s teammates (Derek Fisher, especially) pulled him back into the fold. Bryant regrouped in the fourth quarter, made better decisions and helped the Lakers win the title.

And here is a great reflection on Jordan:

We talked about Michael’s steadfast refusal to blow random, meaningless road games in Sacramento, Vancouver, Cleveland or wherever, how those were the nights that made him truly special, when his entire team was dragging, when the NBA schedule demanded a Chicago loss, yet Michael just couldn’t allow it.

Patrick Schreiner

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I teach New Testament at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. I am married with three children. This blog, against all wisdom, includes anything I am interested in. That includes movies, music, theology, culture, hermeneutics, the Gospels, and politics. Feel free to comment and let me know you are reading or that you have found something helpful. I reserve the right to delete unhelpful or rude comments. Many of these posts are simply things I find interesting and therefore I am not asserting I agree with everything I link to.

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