When the Boston Celtics lost Game 1 of the 1966 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, it appeared the Celtics epic championship run was coming to an end. That's when Celtics coach Red Auerbach delivered the news that's said to have inspired his team to victory and an eighth consecutive championship — ninth in 10 years.
He would retire from coaching after the season.
Auerbach, a pioneer of modern basketball and one of the greatest sports minds of all time, left behind a coaching legacy no one was ever supposed to be able to surpass: Nine NBA championships.
It took 43 years, but in 2009 Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson did what was once considered the impossible. He passed Auerbach for the most NBA titles won as a coach when he collected his 10th championship. Jackson would go on to win another championship the following season to bring his total to 11, but the one that broke the record will always be very memorable.
In a span of 19 years, Jackson would coach the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls to six championships in eight years; then take the helm of the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers en route to three straight titles; and, after a brief stint away from the game, return to the new-look Lakers and team up with Bryant for two more championships in 2009 and 2010.
Jackson's critics will cite the breadth of talent available to him as the means behind his coaching legacy. Jackson was indeed fortunate to have coached some of the game's greatest players, but what isn't immediately understood by those at a distance is how difficult it was for Jackson to juggle the egos that accompany such greatness and seamlessly mold the product on the court.
"The best way to sum it up is just that Phil's belief in his own players far outweighs that of any coach I've ever played for in terms of his willingness to allow the players to be players and make the plays," said Lakers guard Derek Fisher following the 2009 NBA Finals.
Indeed, Jackson had a way with players few coaches, if any, have had. He played a pivotal role in the development of Jordan as a team player; he had Scottie Pippen embrace his No. 2 role with the Bulls; he managed the uneasy relationship between O'Neal and Bryant; he convinced Lamar Odom that playing off the bench was for the greater good; and he consistently added a stellar cast of supporting players on all his championship-winning teams.
After the Lakers broke up the Jackson-O'Neal-Bryant trio following the 2003-2004 season, though, the road back to the mountaintop was an arduous one for Jackson. Returning to the Lakers in 2005, Jackson's relationship with Bryant needed serious repairs and the team's roster was lacking star power.
The Lakers would draft Andrew Bynum in 2005, making him the youngest player ever drafted in NBA history at age 17 years, 244 days. The team would later complete a blockbuster trade with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2008 that delivered All-Star forward Pau Gasol to L.A.. Jackson, always tinkering with the lineup, moved Trevor Ariza into the starting lineup and shifted star forward Odom into a reserve role.
The table was set for the Lakers to rejoin the NBA elite.
But after being on the receiving end of the worst championship-clinching loss in NBA history at the hands of the Boston Celtics in 2008, Jackson and Bryant entered the 2008-09 season on a mission. In the regular season, the Lakers would snap Boston's 19-game winning streak in an NBA Finals rematch. The following game, L.A. would end the Cleveland Cavaliers 23-game home winning streak to become the only team in NBA history to win back-to-back road games against teams with at least .800 win percentages 40-plus games into a season.
Entering the playoffs, the Lakers held the top seed in the West and defeated Utah, Houston and Denver to make a second consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.
When the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic in five games in the 2009 NBA Finals to claim the franchise's 15th championship, the team presented Jackson with a gift only for him. A gold hat, with a purple Roman numeral X stitched on the front to signify Jackson's record-setting 10th championship.
Of course, Jackson couldn't leave the media without an ode to Auerbach.
"I'll smoke the cigar tonight in memory of Red," Jackson said, referring the infamous cigar-smoking Auerbach used to do on the bench during games whenever he believed victory was assured.