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Scott Howard-Cooper

Phil Jackson
Phil Jackson receives well-wishes from Jason Kidd at the end of a certain Hall-of-Fame career.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Not exactly how he wanted to exit, but Jackson is done


Posted May 9 2011 2:43PM

DALLAS -- Phil Jackson lowered himself into the cushioned metal folding chair on the slightly raised stage at the front of the room.

"OK," he said with a slight exhale.

OK, indeed. The hellish game was over, the crushing series was over, the underachieving season was over and, likely, the Hall of Fame coaching career was over. Assessment time.

"It feels really good to be ending the season, to be honest with you," Jackson said.

Whoa.

The greatest coaching winner in NBA postseason history showing no sadness at the Lakers being trounced by the Mavericks in a 4-0 sweep completed Sunday at American Airlines Center?

Is there melancholy that his legendary career appears over? Yes. Is he disappointed that Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum were ejected in the fourth quarter -- the Odom decision was debatable, but the Bynum cheap shot will probably result in a suspension to start 2011-12 -- sure. But it would have been impossible to imagine Jackson being so glad, so flat-out relieved, that he could escape to the solitude of his beloved Montana.

At that moment, some 20 minutes after the Mavericks had finished the 122-86 knockout blow, it became apparent just how anxious he was to get off the mad ride. No regrets at coming back to try for the threepeat after seriously considering retirement last summer, Jackson said. But, enough.

He was asked if this was his final game and, if so, about the emotions of the moment.

"I came back this last year with some trepidation," Jackson replied. "Kobe's knee was an issue and obviously our team was older. The thrill of trying to chase the threepeat is always an exciting thing. But, yes, I knew it was a big challenge for this team to threepeat. We had gone to the Finals and to go back twice and win it after losing it in '08 puts a lot of strain on a basketball club, from all angles. Personalities. Spiritually. Physically. Emotionally. Getting charged up for game after game and assault after assault when you go in to play teams. It was a challenge bigger than we could meet this year."

He had maintained since summer 2010 that this was his final trip on the merry-go-round with the Lakers merry-go-round, but had never completely closed the door to working elsewhere after taking a break next season. So, once again, he was asked: "Was this your final game?"

"I haven't answered that, have I?"

No.

He paused.

He grinned, loving another moment of captured attention.

"And you're not going to force me to answer it," Jackson finally allowed. "But, yes, all my hopes and aspirations are is this is the final game that I'll coach. This has been a wonderful run. I go out with a sour note after being fined $35,000 this morning by the league (for criticizing referees on Saturday), so that's not fun, feeling like I've been chased down the freeway by them. As Richard Nixon said, 'You won't be able to kick this guy around any more.' "

The ultimate NBA flower child goes out quoting Nixon. And says the season ending feels good. All this as his players set fire to every Jackson coaching mantra of playing with the proper emotion and determination.

One of the most shocking on-court moments in Lakers history -- nothing tops Magic Johnson's HIV announcement on the astonish scale -- had melded from being dominated by the Mavericks to the continued incomprehensible. What a way to go out... if this was, in fact, going out.

"My belief is that he'll retire for a while," said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, the first person to take the stage in the interview room after the game. "But I don't know how long you can be in Montana and meditate and smoke peyote or whatever he does. He's going to get bored. And I mean that in an endearing way. We're talking about the greatest coach in the history of our game. I was drafted by Red Auerbach. I was around Red Auerbach for three or four years and I know the magnitude of what he accomplished over a multi-decade period, and what Phil's done is ridiculous. This is a tough series for them, but this shouldn't taint what he's done. And I don't believe it will."

"Well, first of all, you don't smoke peyote," Jackson said later. "My trainer who has been with me a number of years, (Lakers director of athletic performance) Chip Schaefer, sent me a brief Web page about Casey Stengel when he lost at 70. The Yankees lost to Pittsburgh in a dramatic seven-game series, and they said he was too old to coach anymore. He said, 'I'm sorry I was 70. I'll never do it again.' I thought it was kind of clever and humorous in its own way. But there is a point when you feel like there is a group of young people that are coming this direction, young coaches that are coming up, that they deserve their chance, and I've had a great opportunity in a 20-year run with the championship teams."

Jackson has had enough, in other words. His body aches to the point of sometimes, when away from the court, needing a cane to walk and a brace on his knee. Thus the venting needed just from getting into a chair. His mind wanders to being able to do more activities in the great outdoors before the physical damage inflicted by a 12 seasons as a player rules more of his world.

He's just done. He would never have picked this kind of exit, and no one, even the most ardent of Lakers haters, could never have predicted 0-4 in the second round. But now that it was here, bring on retirement. This was Phil Jackson to the end.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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