Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The Zen Master Prevails!
As you all know by now, the Los Angeles Lakers have won their 15th NBA championship, which makes them the second winningest basketball team in the NBA. Only the Boston Celtics have more championships (17). The Chicago Bulls run a very distant third with 6 championships.
The man who steered Chicago through all six of those titles is also the man who has steered the Los Angeles Lakers to 4 of those 15 titles... Phil Jackson ! The accolades flew on Sunday. He is being called the "greatest coach in modern sports history". He is the only single coach in any pro sport who has won 10 championships but, is he really the greatest coach in modern sport history?
I don't want to hate but, I used to hear this stuff about Phil Jackson years before and I used to say that, if I had Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman on my team and a nice cast of supporting players who knew their roles and played the way they did, I'd be the greatest coach in modern times too! I said the same thing about having Kobe Bryant, who is unarguably, the best player in the NBA at the moment (okay, I said "at the moment"), and Shaquille O'Neal, one of the four greatest centers of all time, on my team when Shaq was in his prime and simply a beast in the paint.
I said that, to my liking, a guy like Larry Brown was my idea of a better coach. See, Larry Brown took under-achieving teams like the Clippers, Nuggets, Cavaliers, Pacers and yes, my own Sixers and made them contenders. He got them to the playoffs and the NBA championships with maybe one truly great player (i.e. Allen Iverson) on the team. I argued that anybody can win when they have the greatest players of all time on their team but, that's not so easy when you have maybe one superstar and a group of just average players.
However, Magic Johnson said something on Sports Center last night that made me rethink everything I had said before. He talked about how Phil knew how to handle the massive egos of superstars like himself, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal and yes, even Kobe Bryant. He talked about how Scottie Pippen quit on Phil in one game and how instead of yelling and screaming like a lot of coaches would do, he put his arms around Scottie, talked to him, built up his ego that had been shattered, and got a championship-caliber player out of him.
I imagine handling a man of Michael Jordan's ego and majesty was no walk in the park either. The same thing happened a few years ago when Kobe Bryant was demanding to be traded, as well as demanding that certain teammates be traded away also that he didn't deem dedicated and competitive enough. Phil put his arms around Kobe, soothed that massive ego, told him to hold on... that he was going to get him the players he needed around him, and get him a championship. Kobe made nice, Phil and management got him a nice talented cadre of young players, and two nights ago, Phil Jackson made good on his promise to get Kobe that fourth ring.
You see, Phil's talent is in being a facilitator. I know, we all have laughed and called him "The Zen Master" coach but the truth is, Phil Jackson put his ego on the back porch. He developed Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher into leaders, talked to each player according to their needs, and got them to contribute to their highest level. So, when Alonzo Mourning remarked that " all Phil Jackson did was show up and Kobe is really running the show", I can see how it might have appeared that way but, that was not the case. Phil was actually running the show but letting his players look like and maybe even "think" they were. The bottom line is this... the guy won a championship, again!
I gotta give Phil his props because I was actually rooting for the Orlando Magic. But, these Lakers just shut them down... they defended better and they played team ball. Kobe didn't have to work nearly as hard as Lebron did when he faced this same Magic ball club. Kobe finally learned how to trust his teammates... something that was apparent Lebron James (as much as I like the guy) hasn't learned how to do yet. He's young, he'll learn... just like Jordan learned.
In the 80's, I loved the Lakers (as long as they weren't playing the Sixers) and Magic Johnson was my favorite player. I loved "showtime". I haven't loved these Lakers. I always said that they were bullies. I rejoiced when Detroit knocked them out and I leaped for joy when the Boston Celtics (a team I never thought I'd be rooting for) sent them packing last year. Even this year, I wanted to see a Lebron-Kobe showdown more than anything. Then finally, I hoped that the Magic might shut them down the same way they ousted the Sixers, Celtics, and Cavs. It didn't happen.
I'm a basketball fan through and through so, even though my team lost, I have to appreciate the beauty of the team that did win and the man that got them there. So, for the moment, my hat is off to Phil Jackson. Job well done!