Phil Jackson: A Reflection
Phil Jackson started a Thursday evening discussion in the Lakers' team hotel in Portland with a vodka club soda and lime.
The most accomplished coach in basketball history intermittently sipped his cocktail and munched on a few french fries during the next 80 minutes, sharing stories and thoughts, past and present, with the seven reporters who follow the team across the country.
So interesting is Jackson that one can sit back and listen to him muse about just about anything, as we reporters have before and after each game, and at each practice of the 2010-11 season. Some in the room go back with Jackson to his start with the Lakers back in 1999, and there was no shortage of inquiries.
Below are the highlights of a conversation featuring what Jackson will miss -- he maintained his season-long mantra that he is definitely retiring -- and why, recollections of his favorite players, some Michael Jordan discussion, Phil's philosophy of coaching, his greatest memory and more:
A corner room of the lobby bar at the team's hotel featured a pool table and a bunch of books, fitting for a place to speak intimately with Phil Jackson. Among his first comments regarded the pool table, which for him was "too common" to have in his house. Typical. As such, he bought a far less conventional Snooker table, a game he played growing up. Ever the teacher, Jackson explained the rules to the assembled journalists.
Phil's first answer on what he'll miss most while being away from the game: "A lot of it is about the relationships that you have and the community that you build up ... There's a real lifestyle that goes with this. It's hard to break through. I have a memory of one of my favorite players, Jud Buechler, who was asked what he missed the most. Besides other things, he said 'NBA naps.' You get out in the real world and you can't have that nap at 3, 4, 5 in the afternoon so you can be vital and alert at 10, 11, 12 or whatever time you get in at night when you travel. So there's a whole lifestyle that goes into adjusting to the rhythm of this life. And it's also one of the best things about leaving, because it's very unhealthy. We're eating at midnight on planes and will be up to 3 in the morning when you haven't had anything to eat since 3 in the afternoon. It's a really unhealthy lifestyle. That's a good reason to get out of the game in some ways too."
Retirement -- It's Happening:
In Phil's words: "I've kind of prepared for retiring for the last two seasons. Everybody says they don't believe I'm not coming back. Obviously I wasn't going to come back, but Dr. Buss extended my contract for two years, and I said 'I'm only going to do this one year at a time.' So one year led to the championship in Orlando, which led to a championship versus Boston, which led to this year, which was also a year I hadn't anticipated coming back. I'd anticipated retiring and kind of setting up a home to go to in Montana."
Jackson elaborated on the home he's been building for the last 15 years, but shared that he'll actually likely live in Los Angeles for about 60 percent of the year, due not to the bears and moose in his Montana yard in the winter, but because of the "inclement weather." Plus, four of his five kids and his girlfriend Jeanie Buss live in L.A.
Later in the interview, when the peanuts, fries, chips and drinks were almost gone, Jackson re-visited the retirement discussion: "I thought I was going to retire last July (2010). I told (Lakers VP of PR John) Black and (Lakers GM) Mitch (Kupchak) I don't think I'm coming back, you better plan on something besides this. And it just felt like the right thing to do at the time." Jackson said he didn't want to coach after he was 60 (he's now 65) due to a perceived generation gap, but the chance to three-peat, and more pertinently, calls and text messages from Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher made him change his mind. Furthermore, Jackson wanted to look out for his coaching and training staffs whose jobs were tied with him.
Jackson's 25 Favorites:
He didn't name them all, but when asked if there were five guys Jackson coached that he'd like to have dinner with today, he said it was literally more like 25. Among those named were former first three-peating Bull Horace Grant (Jackson said he'd "definitely" like to check out Grant's dog ranch), current TNT broadcaster and former Bulls gunner Steve Kerr (Jackson knows his whole family) and Buechler.
What will Jackson watch more while sitting in his house next year: the NBA or Major League Baseball? A baseball enthusiast since childhood, Jackson had to pause for a bit to think about the inquiry. He shared that he enjoys watching baseball while he cooked, particularly on Sunday nights when ESPN puts on the game of the week. Phil said that he did not watch the NBA during his last stint away from coaching (his "sabbatical"), but upon his return from traveling to Australia and such, he watched college hoops and got inspired to get back into coaching. We didn't have a chance to a discuss whether or not he expects a similar fire to be stoked in the coming year, or whether he'll watch the NBA in 2011-12.
Phil's Coaching Influence ... and Soccer:
When asked if other coaches in various sports have contacted him to inquire about his methods or whatever, Jackson said that certainly many have. He listed some (like Joe Girardi of the New York Yankees, Brian Billick formerly of the Baltimore Ravens and many more), and I actually wrote an article on March 16 detailing how one of the world's greatest soccer coaches, Jos