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NBA FINALS

Third Three-Peat Ties Jackson With Auerbach

Lakers: Coach lights up his own cigar after ninth title catches Celtic legend. His playoff wins surpass Riley.

June 13, 2002|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Somewhere in Boston on Wednesday night, Red Auerbach was probably sitting with an unlit cigar.

Auerbach had reigned supreme as the coach with the most championships in NBA history, a total of nine. Wednesday, he got company. Phil Jackson joined him when his Lakers swept the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals.

Jackson's nine might be even more impressive because they have come in bunches of three, a three-peat with the Chicago Bulls that ended with the 1992-93 season, another Bull three-peat that ended in the 1997-98 season and now this.

Most coaches would be gracious in welcoming another into their elite circle. Auerbach has been bitter, pointing out the superstars Jackson had at his disposal in Chicago and with the Lakers, from Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Auerbach has, of course, ignored his own stable of superstars from Bill Russell and Bill Sharman to Bob Cousy and John Havlicek.

Jackson has taken the high road in this drama, saying Auerbach has claimed he was misquoted and announced he was sure Auerbach would send him a victory cigar like the ones he himself smoked.

"Looks like I'm going to have to get my own cigar out of my briefcase in the locker room and light it up," Jackson said after Wednesday's victory. "I didn't get one [from] Red."

Jackson reached several other milestones Wednesday. The victory was his 156th in the postseason, surpassing Pat Riley as the winningest playoff coach in history. The sweep was Jackson's first in the NBA Finals. And he becomes the first coach to lead two different teams to a three-peat.

And with all that going on, Jackson had the presence of mind to put 14-year veteran Mitch Richmond into the game in the closing minutes. .

Jackson's strength as a coach has always come from his ability to motivate his players, whether by presenting them with selected books to expand their minds, or selected plays to expand their game.

It helps, of course, that he was a player, at the University of North Dakota, for a decade with the New York Knicks and for a final two seasons with the Nets.

When Jackson arrived in Los Angeles three years ago, he had a center who, despite possessing the size and skill to be a dominating force in the league, had never won a championship at the collegiate or pro level. One of the first things Jackson did upon assuming the reins of the Lakers was to invite the Laker center up to his Montana hideaway to discuss his future plans. In the wilds of Montana, the seeds of a dynasty were planted. .

But those seeds needed to be grown and nurtured.

"The one thing about basketball is that the drama changes every night," Jackson said. "There's a different scenario that happens. We hope they could run like a play on Broadway, but they don't. There's different lines for everybody to use.

"It's my belief and my experience that the third victory in the three successive years is always the most unique and most difficult one to fight your way through. This certainly was so this year."

But Jackson, for all his accomplishments, is quick to hand off the credit.

"They knew," he said of his players, "that games aren't won in the first quarter, seasons aren't won in the first month. They pace themselves very well."

Jackson praised all the players who had contributed to his win total, and his assistant coaches, singling out Tex Winter, architect of the triangle offense.

Jackson reserved special praise for one of his former coaches, who is no longer alive.

"I said at the start of this year that I was [dedicating] this championship to Red Holzman, my mentor," Jackson said. "This is a big moment for me and for him."

But not necessarily the last. Jackson says he'll be back next year to shoot for a 10th title.

That news undoubtedly won't go over well in Boston.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Victory Parade

*--* Lenny Wilkens 80-94 460 Most coaching victories in NBA playoffs: Coach W-L Pct Phil Jackson 156-54 743 Pat Riley 155-100 608 Red Auerbach 99-69 589 K.C. Jones 81-57 587

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