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Phil Jackson: Coach for the ages or overpaid baby-sitter?

"You Gotta Be Kidding!"
by Mickey Charles CEO, The Sports Network

Philadlephia, PA (Sports Network) -- The season has come and gone, the undisputed kings of the hardwood have been crowned and their reign is assured for another year, maybe still one more when 2003 rolls around. That remains to be seen.

Phil Jackson
Phil Jackson
But their Rasputin has been given most of the credit for their accomplishments and one has to wonder about that. If no one else, then certainly this one, myself. Underneath all that Zen philosophy and devotion to its teaching, he has been given extraordinary credit for doing more than Super Glue to keep the Los Angeles Lakers operating as a cohesive, obedient, well regimented machine incapable of breaking down even when one of its parts seems to be faltering a bit.

Is Phil Jackson really that much of a coach? Was Red Auerbach, regardless of those banners hanging from the rafters at Boston Garden? How much do you have to know when you have Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and a pretty fair supporting cast? Does it take genius to send Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Rick Fox, Robert Horry and the rest of the purple and gold out on the floor? Can you really script a play other than to get the ball to Kobe when you need a last second basket, a situation when he can still pass off to Horry, Fox or Derek Fisher for the game winner?

Perhaps he is much better at healing wounds between players like Kobe and Shaq, getting them to play together, providing enough toys and perks to make each one happy in his own right. That is a talent but it has nothing to do with coaching.

Three straight championships are ample evidence of their superiority in the sport and a dynasty in the making. This is Jackson's ninth title but would you have had much trouble achieving that given the level of talent with which he was surrounded? It is not a matter of taking away from his ability to direct the team but is Jackson, and was the cigar puffing Auerbach, as good as some would have us believe? Give me a Ferrari and I will blow you away from the starting pole as you rev up your Hyundai. Yet, both are cars with four wheels, an engine, steering wheel, gas pedal and brake. Does the driver have any impact? Sure, but switch places with me and you become driver of the moment.

In Jackson's case, he is being heralded by many as coach of the ages, from Auerbach forward. It is undeserved despite the rings and trophies. He is the poster boy for right time, right place. The Lakers will laud his abilities but it is respect for what he has done among them, a festival of love and camaraderie. I give him that without hesitation. He has kept the playpen intact and made sure that everyone has the toys he likes best, the shots he wants and the proper amount of time for handling the ball and getting recognition.

Shaq is unstoppable with anyone at the helm and that is why he earned his third straight Finals MVP award. Kobe is the best all-around player in the NBA right now; Horry should have Mr. Clutch stenciled on his shirt; Fox is as steady as a rock in concrete; and Fisher somehow manages to do the right thing at the right time despite earlier mistakes in any given game. It just happens while Jackson adorns the bench in that stoic fashion, only occasionally rising up to contest a referee's whistle, just so we know he is awake. I am not sure whether he is sketching plays during timeouts or making notes about where to meet, and what will be ordered, for dinner that evening.

It was once Pat Riley, but he faded fast when they removed a talented basketball team from the bench he occupied. Larry Brown, at the helm of the Sixers, has a longer moving agenda than Mayflower. No championships. Both are Hall of Famers but that is as much p.r. and longevity in the league as anything else. Sorry, groupies, but those are the real facts.

Phil Jackson
Phil Jackson has coached his teams to nine NBA titles.
Jackson's ninth title tied him with the Celtics' Auerbach for most championships and he just might pass him next year unless Dallas or Sacramento have something to say about that. When he won, it was also number 156 in the postseason and he passed Riley. And, it was his third threepeat, the other two coming with the Jordan led Chicago Bulls - 1991-1993 and 1996-1998.

Jackson keeps the team together, he stresses focus, he recognizes their talent, he is their father figure and his plan, in its most simplistic terms, is to go out there and play like a team, not individual stars. He baby-sits the team.

Did he really win 24 consecutive playoff series victories or did his players do that while he watched from the most expensive seat in the house?

The Nets were out of their league and Jackson could have gone to the movies while the championship series was being played. Deny it all you wish, but Jackson is a full time baby-sitter, some-time coach. He had to put Jordan, Pippen and Dennis Rodman in the same crib and make sure that they shared the basketball. Larry Brown, for example, will never win a championship with Allen Iverson. The baby runs the crib and does not have the talent, as good as he is or believes himself to be, to ever put a ring on his finger. When Iverson understands that MVP means doing the most for your team in a game, series or season and does not signify being the best player in the league, he will then be ready for the next step. Proclaiming himself the best player on the planet does not cut it.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, Jackson gave team play a new meaning and it worked. It might have happened without him but it took place under his watch so give him credit for that. He is a mediator between meditations. In football, Dick Vermeil took the Philadelphia Eagles to a level that they thought they could never reach. They overachieved until their flight crashed and self-destructed one day in New Orleans. He was not a great coach. He was an outstanding motivator. Phil Jackson is a craftsman, a teacher, and a fence mender who is as contemplative, pensive and deliberative as a world-class philosopher should be, but does that transcend into world-class coach for the ages? You gotta be kidding!