Coach Phil Jackson is surrounded by family and friends after the Lakers… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The game was over, maybe his last news conference save telling everyone goodbye a week from now, but he wasn't done.
I managed to work myself behind scenes, off limits to the media, but now that Phil Jackson and I have become such great buddies, we have this private meeting place after games.
He seemed to forget, though, in all the excitement of being doused with champagne and taking bows.
"Don't let him talk to me, John, don't," shouted Phil with mock anger, Lakers' publicist John Black suggesting Phil duck into a back door to really get away.
I thought he might have a bottle of champagne to share, but instead he grabbed Pau Gasol, who was passing by for his postgame news conference, Jackson asking him to protect him from "this stalker."
Phil's a funny guy as I have learned, and more relaxed during these playoffs than at any time I have seen him, which makes you wonder if he already knows what he will be doing next year.
"Just give me a hint about next year," I pleaded.
And so he did.
"I have no clue," he said with a wave of his hand and a hardy laugh. "That's as honest as I can be."
A few months back he said he had a kidney stone that would require medical attention, and a few weeks back he said, "65" when it was suggested he might be back next season.
He will turn 65 in September, and Thursday he once again was talking about the 114-game grind the Lakers had this season, and the toll it takes on him.
He earned a base salary of $12 million this season, and reportedly $2 million more in bonuses which he intends to donate to charity. Hard to argue this morning it's not money well-spent.
It might be too rich for the Lakers, but doesn't he have to come back? He's the surest bet as there is in sports when it comes to winning a championship, and Dr. Jerry Buss is the best owner in all of sports, isn't it a no-brainer?
Jackson's coached 19 years in the NBA, advanced to the Finals an astounding 13 times, winning 11 championship rings and yet most of the time he's probably taken for granted.
Lakers' fans have yet to sound the alarm, probably more talk on radio about the return of Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar when you would think they would've been screaming Holy Tomjanovich at the end of Game 7.
Fortunately, Jeanie and I have something in common; we won't be moving to Montana any time soon, so no way do I see Phil abandoning his girl and buddy for the woods and a life of solitude and mosquitoes.
He's got it too good here, as Jeanie reminded him on the ride to Staples Center before Game 7, videotaping their conversation for Jeanie Vision and telling him how awkward it will be to drive to the arena next year with a new coach.
That probably got his attention.
But what a tough read. The guy almost never shows any emotion, which prompted another hallway conversation after the win in Game 1.
It had struck me as such a cool moment, both teams coming out for the opening tip, the crowd in Staples on its feet screaming and ABC in a commercial break, allowing someone like Jackson to just soak it all in.
When I asked about the moment in a news conference, it went nowhere, requiring a private meeting.
"How come you never show any emotion?"
"I can't allow myself," he said, while citing the teachings of Buddha.
Tell me Buddha wouldn't think about standing up with Sasha Vujacic at the free-throw line, or covering his eyes, the whole season and a championship ring riding on the ball going in.
But that's life in the NBA, heart in hand many a grueling, nerve-racking night, but the ball almost always rolling in, it seems, for any team coached by Jackson.
Some folks still like to note that he coaches only great players, but isn't there greatness in knowing how to handle such talent?
"It's really about my inner being,'' Jackson said. "It's about the joy for this group of guys that put so much work out there."
Before the start of Game 7, Jackson was asked if he was nervous, excited or maybe anxious and Jackson said, "I'm keyed up," in the same voice used by HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey."
But that's the Lakers' steady hand at the controls, and while not always evident, Jackson's patience and almost unrivaled calm played a huge role in the Lakers' clinching victory.
He even stood up with 11.7 seconds to play, but of course sat down for the finish.
Just resting up for next season, as I see it, as the Lakers' head coach.
KOUFAX ALERT: For anyone who might have missed Sandy Koufax emerging from hibernation a few months back in the Nokia Theatre, Koufax & Torre for the benefit of Safe at Home will be shown again tonight about 7:30 on FSN West.
Koufax starts slowly in the program, but as soon as he starts talking about Henry Aaron and Aaron's success hitting him, he's as brilliant as he was more than 40 years ago on the mound.
As for Torre, he saves the night when the audience makes a bold move to boo the host off the stage and Torre takes over.
TODAY'S LAST word comes in e-mail from Jasper Short:
"Reading your article concerning Jeff Van Gundy's defense of Kobe Bryant leaves me scratching my head. You wonder who he's talking to? He's talking to you.''
Get out of here.
Lakers win! Buy championship merchandise here
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