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By Marcus Shockley
It’s hard for most basketball fans to think of Phil Jackson as either the greatest pro basketball coach of all time or one of the two greatest, with the only other contender being Red Auerbach of the legendary Boston Celtics.
With 11 championship rings on his resume, it would seem easy to place him at the top of the list. But Phil has the dubious distinction with having coached not just one of the greatest players of all time, but three of them. Fans look at Phil’s rings and think that it might not be a valid argument that he actually ‘coached’ his way to those championships.
Of course, winning championships is a measure of success, but it’s not the only one. Fans also know that NBA coaches may be the least involved in the success of their teams, playing more babysitter than coach and having less influence on outcomes of games than possibly any other sport. So, where does all of that place Phil in the history of basketball?
It goes without saying that Phil Jackson is a Hall of Fame coach. Some have pointed out that Phil was able to win in Chicago and L.A. with teams that other coaches were not able to win with. This argument isn’t entirely accurate, but at the core of Phil’s success is obviously his ability to work with large ego players and manage them. Players who have worked with Phil say he does actually coach, something that can’t be said about the majority of head men sitting on benches in the NBA. So Jackson must be, at the very least, recognized for his ability to create group success.
The real problem that so many fans have with calling Phil Jackson the greatest coach is that coaches in the NBA and the work they do to get the most out of their talent pales in comparison to college basketball coaches and all football coaches. The harsh reality is that almost every college coach wishes that he had so much talent on his roster that his only problem is ‘getting them to play together’. Could Phil Jackson take a team like Butler or VCU to the Final Four or title game? We’ll never know.
This means that Phil Jackson can only be compared to other NBA coaches in historical terms.
However, if Phil is truly retired for good this time, the NBA has lost one of it’s best managers and a man who was able to sustain his success and consistency for longer than any other coach in NBA history. That, alone, is his legacy and what he should be remembered for.
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