With 11 championships in 20 years as an NBA head coach; there is an argument that Phil Jackson is the greatest coach in NBA history. Others might say it’s Red Auerbach, legendary coach of the Boston Celtics, who led them to nine championships. Whatever side of the fence you fall on; there is no denying the fact that Jackson’s record is impressive.
Jackson retired after his Los Angeles Lakers were swept in the second round of the NBA Playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks. Being swept in the postseason was a brand new thing for Phil: this was the first time it had ever happened in his 20 years as a head coach. Over nine years as coach of the Chicago Bulls, Jackson won six championships, twice winning three straight titles. After a one-year retirement, Jackson moved to Los Angeles, where he won five more titles with the Lakers.
Jackson always did things his own way, and a little differently than other coaches around the league. For instance, he is often referred to as the “Zen Master” because of his penchant for mind games and calm sideline personality. He also has been known to give his players books to read based on their personalities. Speaking of personalities, Jackson was able to manage some of the biggest in the game. In Chicago, he coached players such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman. When he went to Los Angeles, he won with players like Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and Ron Artest.
There are skeptics who think Jackson wasn’t much of a coach at all because he did seem to have the best players and the best teams wherever he went. Take Jordan for example. No one argues that “His Airness” is one of the greatest of all time. Pippen was selected as one of the top 50 players of all time. Kobe is thought to be the best player in the NBA today. Shaq was the most dominant big man in the league while he was with the Lakers. So all Phil had to do was roll the ball out there, stay out of the way, and get the ring, right?
I don’t think so. I think that having stars on his teams made Jackson an even better coach. Jackson had to keep everyone on the team motivated to keep on winning, whether it was key players like MJ or role players like Luke Walton. He had to manage egos while getting the superstars to buy in to what he was saying. Keeping that balance, in my opinion, separates him from most other coaches.
Jackson retired with an overall record of 1155-485. He was the fastest to 1,000 wins in NBA history and was named NBA Coach of the Year following the 1995-96 season, easily putting him at the top of my list of all-time coaches.