What does the man have left to accomplish? After winning his record tenth championship as a coach this season with the Lakers, Phil Jackson’s contract has come to an end. He has received an invitation from the team in an effort to repeat, but does Jax have the drive / health to come back? He has now been labeled as the greatest ever to patrol an NBA sideline, he has coached the greatest (Michael Jordan), and a couple others in a category just below as well (Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant). In this interview with ESPN Chicago, Phil implies that he will do everything he can in order to give it one more kick at the can. His thinking could be that there aren’t many more opportunities for him – it’s now or literally, almost never. Jackson discusses how his tenth title is different than the other nine, the difference between MJ and Kobe, how he wore his championship rings differently during the ’09 postseason, and whether or not he’s returning.
This is the tenth title, how does this one stack up with the other nine?
“Well, the other nine were like, extensions almost, of previous play. You know the Bulls had come into their own, it slipped a little bit during the course of my second year as an assistant coach, and then they had a pretty good playoff run and got to the finals against Detroit in the Eastern Conference; they’re pretty much poised to take the next step whenever they could rally. Winning those first three was remarkable and trend setting in the early nineties, and then revamping that team with Jordan and Pippen back again together, and the repeat and reincarnation of Michael as the best player in the game, and then that next three championships was even probably better, even though the team was not as talented physically perhaps as the first three that we won in Chicago. And, then coming out to L.A. it’s almost the same scenario. The Lakers had been bumped in the playoffs in four straight in the finals of the West and they were ready to make a move if they could just get over the hump ,and you know I was able to coach a pretty talented team here for the next three years to another three championships. But, then when the dissolution of the Lakers went on in an off year when I took a sabbatical, or as I called it a ‘hiatus,’ we had to revamp this whole team. Luke Walton, seriously, Luke Walton was the only player back from that last Laker team that went to the Finals against Detroit, so this one was entirely different as we revamped and traded, and made adjustments and brought in new personnel, brought personnel back like Derek Fisher and we restructured this team so it was a very interesting and sweet championship.”
How do you answer the MJ/Kobe debate?
“I think that he’s the icon of the sport. We have two great players in the league right now, more than two I should say, there’s a number of really terrific players in Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony and guys that are really, really terrific players in helping their team win. And, then there’s LeBron James, who’s like an heir-apparent to that kind of closeness that everyone wants to equate to Michael Jordan. My guy, Kobe Bryant, has been at that level now for a number of years and everyone’s been pointing towards him, but they’re different. Kobe’s a different player than Michael even though he grew up teething on Michael Jordan videos. So, his competitive drive is like MJ’s and that’s the thing that’s a key for a coach, is to go out there and have a guy that wants to win, wants to beat people, wants to carry the torch so to speak in every game, and he has that ability. He’s physically a different player, he’s about the same size, but his physique is considerably different, there’s just nothing quite compared to Michael Jordan.”
How much longer do you want to continue to coach, are you set on going for an 11th title?
“No I’m not. I have some medical issues that I have to resolve and I have to take care of those in the next couple weeks before I recommit to this thing. I’m emotionally, tied to these guys. They’ve embraced what I try to do and they’ve embraced the way I try to do it, so that commitment’s there. The organization is obviously behind what I want to do and they’ve extended that offer for continuing here, so that is all positive. It’s just covering that hurdle. And, some of that’s just getting old, and the wear and tear of the game, and the amount of flying that you do. You know, this 82 game pilgrimage that you go through before the playoffs even begin and the wear and tear and if that’s a necessary part or if this is the time now to step back, and regard that as accomplishments done and sit back in the rocker and enjoy watching guys do this. But I’d still like to push on through another year if possible.”
Is there a ring that you actually do wear?
“I have always worn the last one that was a championship. I’ll tell you how it started. I came out to Chicago as an assistant coach with Gerry Kraus as the, kind of, guiding force behind the Bulls. Gerry was like ‘It’s about the rings, it’s about the rings, do you ever wear your rings?’ And, I said, ‘Well, I wore the ring in the playoffs with my CBA teams to let them know what this is all about.’ This is about getting the ring, it’s not about making money or about more stuff, it’s about getting a ring and that’s kind of symbolic of what you’ve done. And, he said ‘You’ve got to wear a ring.’ And, I said ‘Well, I’m kind of reluctant to wear a ring, they’re heavy and they’re bulky. So, I wore a ring, and you know the Bennigan’s out by Skokie, right there as you get off the expressway? Well, they’ve extended the expressway now up on the Edens, but there was a Bennigan’s there, so I went up after a game and I was sitting there just tapping my finger on the railing waiting for my pizza or whatever I had ordered, and I got back to my room in the hotel and I looked at my ring and the diamond was gone. It had fallen in the sawdust that they had on the floor; they always had peanuts or something else. So, I lost the diamond in that ring. So, anyways Krause says ‘We’ll get a replacement for that, but I want you to wear the ring.’ So, that’s kind of how it started. So, every year we won a championship I’d wear the ring that we’d won, the following year, and ultimately, in 2002, after wearing the last one that we’d rung up for 2003 playoffs, 2004 playoffs, 2006 playoffs, 2007 playoffs, for five years I’ve worn this same ring, I got tired of it so this year I started wearing different rings for different series and I think that was the charm. That was it.”