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Phil Jackson: Greatest NBA Coach of All Time

With the Los Angeles Lakers capturing this season’s championship, head coach Phil Jackson surpassed late great Celtic coach, Red Auerbach in winning his tenth title. So now the question has to be asked is Phil Jackson in fact the greatest coach of all time? Auerbach was once quoted as saying that “Jackson was opportunist” because much of his success came with the teams having great players so on the outside it appears that anyone probably could have coached these teams and would have been successful at winning a championship. However, in taking a closer look, it can be easy to see that Phil Jackson had his handprint on each championship team he coached.

I was such a Bulls’ fanatic during their championship runs that there was no need to search for this information online as his regular season and post-season records are committed to memory during his time in Chicago. During his nine years in the windy city Phil Jackson compiled an astounding regular season record of 545-193 (.738 winning percentage) and a playoff record of 111-41 (.730 winning percentage) and helped the Chicago Bulls become the first team to win three consecutive championships (1991-1993) since the Minneapolis Lakers. They would again go on to win three more in 1996-1998. I think the team probably had one more title run left had management decided against bringing everyone back for 1998-1999 season. While it can be said that the Bulls had the greatest player ever in Michael Jordan, Jordan alone was not able to lift his team to achieve the success that his contemporaries had achieved during his first five seasons. It wasn’t until Phil Jackson helped Jordan buy into the triangle offense that the team’s fortune began to change. Once Jordan bought into the idea of trusting his teammates and getting them involved, compared with trying to shoulder the burden, opposing teams were no longer able to solely focus in on Jordan but had to play the Bulls as a team. That in itself is a tribute to Jackson. While Doug Collins did a decent job at coaching the team during his tenure, it was Phil Jackson that helped elevate the team to championship level.

The Los Angeles Lakers had not experienced great post-season success even with acquiring both Shaquille O’Neal from Orlando and Kobe Bryant in the 1996 draft. The Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated by the Jazz 4-1 in the conference semi-final round in 1997, 4-0 by the Utah Jazz in the conference finals in 1998, and swept again 4-0 by the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs in a strike shortened season. Enter Phil Jackson into the equation next year, and the Lakers, like the Bulls, were transformed. The Los Angeles Lakers would win the decades’ first three championships with Phil Jackson somehow showing O’Neal and Bryant how to co-exist helping both players realize that they needed each other if the team was going to be successful. Phil Jackson even led the Lakers to a fourth finals appearance in 2004 but the Pistons would prove to be too much and trounced the Lakers in five games to end their run and would lead to the trade of Shaquille O’Neal to the Miami Heat the following year. After failing twice to capture his 10th title as a head coach, Phil Jackson would again lead the Lakers to glory this past season and give the team its 15th championship banner, second only to the Celtics. During his coaching time in Los Angeles, Phil Jackson has amassed a regular season record of 496-242 (.672 winning percentage) and a playoff record of 98-50 (.662 winning percentage). So his total numbers during his 18 year career so far are 1041-435 for the regular season and 209-91 in the playoffs, which are very impressive number to say the least. Not only that, his teams have made the playoffs in every season that he was the head coach. While having talent is an important element of a team being successful, being able to manage a variety of personalities and egos on a day to day basis is just as important and I’m hard pressed to find anyone who can do that better than Jackson. Whether you are a fan or critic of Phil Jackson as a coach, his body of work does speaks for itself when everything is said and done.

James Tillman




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