(Note – portions of the text are from Bill’s book www.achosenbullet.com)
So long to Sacred Hoops author Phil Jackson who, by the way, was also the glue that held together the two great dynasties, while bringing out the best of the two best players (no easy task), of the last 20 years. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen any athlete or player more comfortable in his own skin, more in control of his emotions and more at ease as well as at peace with who he is. Phil was just cool regardless of circumstance and thus his teams never panicked.
That Jackson has had to defend himself against critics that have whispered that he’s won so often solely from coaching the best talent is ridiculous. Besides, what coach of any dynasty in any sport didn’t have the best players? Everyone over the next several days will talk about the 11 championships, but by far his best coaching job was the 1993-94 season when Michael Jordan was off playing baseball. Nothing else comes close in my opinion and solidified him, then, as a great coach. With Jordan gone, the Bulls at 55-27 finished only two games off their 57-25 mark the year prior when MJ led them to their third consecutive title. He also unified the team after Scottie Pippen’s infamous boycott of the final 1.8 seconds of their Game 3 victory over New York on Toni Kukoc’s buzzer beater. The Bulls would lose in 7 fierce games at the height of the rivalry with the Ewing / Riley Knicks, but Jackson’s coaching pedigree was firmly established in my mind. Not bad for a guy Jerry Krause found in the CBA and from a promotion as assistant that most of us thought in 1989 was one of the dumbest moves imaginable by a front office.
After the ‘89 season, the Bulls’ front office made an unpopular move with the fans as well as the media, but a move eventually and overwhelmingly proved correct. Doug Collins was heir apparent to Mike Ditka as the most popular head coach in Chicago. In his three years, the Bulls improved each season, culminating with a playoff run that saw the Bulls lay the foundation for their 1990s dynasty. But in June, the Bulls shockingly fired Collins and replaced him with an unknown assistant named Phil Jackson. Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and his GM Krause (who hired Jackson as an NBA assistant out of the back alley if the CBA when no opportunities existed for him in the league) took a tremendous amount of heat.
But Jackson, through a blend of coaching and personal philosophies, proved to be a steady hand in guiding the Bulls. Through assistant coach Tex Winter, he implemented the Triangle Offense which forces passing among the players on the court and ball distribution to get all five guys involved in the flow of the offense. Jackson properly harnessed the talent and energy of a great individual player like Jordan, not an easy task with a player of MJ’s caliber. Jackson helped him to fully comprehend true sacrifice and giving of one’s self. Credit goes to Jordan for reinventing himself by understanding and having the willingness to change his mindset for the betterment of his team.
My favorite memory of Jackson memory was sitting on the floor of the Old Chicago Stadium for Game 6 of the 1992 Finals against Portland. The Bulls, up 3 games to 2, found themselves down by fifteen going into the fourth quarter. In one of many master moves made by Phil Jackson over the course of his career, he started the final quarter with four bench players to go along with Scottie Pippen. Jackson, always recognizing the value of “the tribe” above all, would later say the Bulls needed fresh energy on the court. With primarily role players, the Bulls cut the deficit to five—all happening with Jordan on the bench. The crowd, in an absolute frenzy, saw Jordan return to the game fresh and well rested, while knowing Portland had no chance. Two Jordan free throws with twelve seconds left gave the Bulls a 97–93 lead and sealed the win which I had the privilege to witness from mere feet away . So thank you to a unique, if not odd, free spirit. Unlike other former coaches, I don’t think we’ll be seeing much of Phil from here on out on TV or anywhere else; take it easy Easy Rider!