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For Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, it's all over except the book . . . probably

Jackson, a coaching legend at 65, retires with a record 11 NBA titles, five with the Lakers, who were swept out of the playoffs Sunday by Dallas. But he's retired twice before. Will this one stick?

May 09, 2011|By Lisa Dillman
  • Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, listening to the national anthem before the start of Game 3 of the NBA Finals in Orlando, led the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers to 11 championships.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, listening to the national anthem before the… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

It is (probably) over.

All except for an inevitable, and expected, book by Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, perhaps called "The Last Stand," which ended with a mad, sad coda in Dallas.

Of all the instant analysis offered of Jackson's unparalleled coaching career, one person managed to put it in historical perspective and sprinkled in a dose of logic and humor from the podium.

It came from someone who will go down as more than a historical footnote. The Mavericks' Rick Carlisle will be remembered as the man who coached, and won, against Jackson in his final game . . . if Jackson stays retired.

"Look, we're talking about the greatest coach in the history of our game," Carlisle said in his postgame news conference Sunday in Dallas.

"I was drafted by Red Auerbach, I was around Red Auerbach for three or four years. And I know the magnitude of what he accomplished over a multi-decade period, and what Phil's done, you know, is ridiculous. This is a tough series for them, but this shouldn't taint what he's done and I don't believe it will."

What Jackson has done is win, and influence the game, over parts of four decades. He started as an assistant with the Bulls in 1987, then took over as head coach in Chicago in 1989 and installed Tex Winter's triangle offense. Jackson won six championships with the Bulls over an eight-season stretch, 1990-91 through 1997-98, making the playoffs every year.

Those results immediately followed when Jackson arrived in Los Angeles in 1999, leading to his third three-peat as coach and, eventually, five championships in all with the Lakers. He won two championships as a player, with the New York Knicks in the 1970s.

The Lakers' loss to Dallas on Sunday, which completed a second-round series sweep for the Mavericks, ended Jackson's quest for a 12th NBA title as coach and his campaign for a fourth three-peat. His regular-season winning percentage goes down as .704 — 1,155-485. In the playoffs it's .688 — 229-104.

Jackson's teams never missed the playoffs, never finished below .500. The closest call was in 2006-07, when the Lakers were 42-40 and lost to the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs' first round.

Twice Jackson has taken time away from coaching in the NBA before returning. After his final title in Chicago, he departed and vowed never to coach again, but ended up coming to Los Angeles after a year away from the NBA.

His other break came after another appearance in the NBA Finals — this one the Lakers' loss in five games to the Detroit Pistons in 2004. Days later, he stepped away, missing the next season. But Jackson never really went away, it seemed, influencing and shaping the Lakers from afar.

He created headlines after putting out a book, "The Last Season," in which he offered sharp criticism of Lakers star Kobe Bryant, calling him "uncoachable." Even as Jackson was playing tourist, hanging out with one of his former Chicago players, Luc Longley, in Australia, there were reports he'd become coach of the Knicks.

But Jackson had one more dance with the Lakers. He returned three days shy of a year after he'd departed, coming back after they missed the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. His successor for the 2004-05 season, Rudy Tomjanovich, departed after 41 games because of health concerns.

Twice Jackson brought order to messy, dysfunctional situations in Los Angeles. The first time resulted in the Lakers' first title since the Showtime glory days, and Shaquille O'Neal wrote about it in "Shaq Talks Back," recalling what Jackson said after the Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers in the 2000 Finals:

"Earlier in the year, I remember him saying, 'The reason why I came out of retirement is because I like you guys and I got tired of seeing you guys lose. That's why I took this job.' I don't know why, but I remembered him saying that the night we won."

O'Neal said that the greatest lesson Jackson taught him was poise. Others who had never played for or coached with Jackson also noticed, including current New Orleans Hornets Coach Monty Williams.

Williams, during the first round of the playoffs in Los Angeles this year, was asked about his coaching influences. He spoke about Doc Rivers, Gregg Popovich and Nate McMillan.

"And Phil Jackson," Williams said.

He marveled at Jackson's calmness during the heat of the moment, and how he sat on the sideline, seemingly unaffected by the madness around him: Zen Master as Den Master.

(This, of course, was before the Dallas series.)

But navigating troubled waters has almost been a calling card for Jackson. He handled Dennis Rodman and Ron Artest, though, thankfully, not at the same time. He coexisted with Bryant even after the "uncoachable" episode.

Temporary peace treaties were forged between superstars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Chicago, and O'Neal and Bryant in Los Angeles.

Temporary enough to last until the victory parade(s).

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