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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Phil Jackson's tenure produced the most success and fun we've ever seen

The retiring Lakers coach always played it cool and the result was 11 titles, including five in L.A.

May 11, 2011|Mark Heisler
  • Lakers Coach Phil Jackson answers questions from reporters at the team's practice facility in El Segundo on Wednesday.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson answers questions from reporters at the team's… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Phil! Come back, Phil!

Phil Jackson rode off Wednesday, like Alan Ladd in "Shane," the 1953 Western in which the gunfighter who just saved the homesteader family moseys on, never looking back as their little boy begs him to come back.

Actually, none of us begged him to come back at Wednesday's farewell news conference even if we'll miss him, in retrospect.

And Jackson did look back, thanking everyone involved in his 11 seasons with the Lakers ... bosses, Busses, players, coaches, even the press whom he previously only acknowledged one Sunday every spring when he would tell us, "Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers out there."

He was Phil Jackson to the end, whimsically alluding in Dallas to Richard Nixon's "You won't have Nixon to kick around" speech … to Wednesday's acknowledgment of the distance between him and Lakers owners Jerry and Jim Buss, if not with his significant other, Jeanie Buss.

"I haven't spoken to Jimmy Buss this year," Jackson said. "Jerry, I see occasionally and we confer.

"Mitch [Kupchak] and I … have a good relationship. Those are people in that [basketball] department that I have a relationship with.

"But as far as management, if you want to call it that, there's really not a relationship with that aspect of it. So when I leave here, I don't anticipate they'll call me up and ask my advice."

You had to be here and see it to believe they could last 11 years, much less win five titles, but they did.

On the other hand, even at $100 million in salary for Jackson, the Busses got their money's worth.

Jackson's record — 11 titles, five with the Lakers, pulling them out of predicaments in both his tours — should say it all, but doesn't.

If he's merely one of the all-time great coaches in any sport, he's by himself as the most fun.

That's easy for me to say since our beat writers, Mike Bresnahan and Brad Turner, were the ones who had to run around, sorting out the mayhem Jackson threw out, to make a point with Shaquille O'Neal or Kobe Bryant … or set off Sacramento's "red-necked semicivilized barbarians" — before going there, making the entire Lakers team endure siege by bullhorn.

Jackson's primary reason was the best one, to have fun.

If good teams aren't easy to cover in this diva/paparazzi age, it was an 11-year fun ride … at least, now that it's over and we can catch our breath.

If Jackson was the easiest rider ever, keeping pressure off players by never feeling any himself, no one was safe from his mouth.

Not O'Neal, at whom he growled, "Don't be afraid to block a shot!" before Game 2 of the 2001 Finals, after Shaq failed to block any in the Game 1 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Shaq was so stunned, he forgot to yell "Lakers!" as the starters grasped hands before the center jump, so Horace Grant had to do it.

Shaq had 28 points, 20 rebounds and eight blocks. The Lakers won out, going 15-1 that postseason.

A year later, in a second-round series in San Antonio, Jackson told Shaq to get a rebound.

That time Brian Shaw, still active, had to jump in front of Shaq, who was bearing down on Phil.

Bryant had just turned 21 when Jackson arrived in 1999 to find a wide rift between Kobe and teammates.

This didn't bother Kobe since he didn't realize it, or if he did, care.

"I told Kobe," Jackson said, " 'I would guess you'd like to be the captain of this team some day as you get a little bit older, maybe like 25.'

"He says, 'I want to be captain tomorrow.'

"I said, 'Well, you can't be captain if nobody follows you.' "

Little of what happened around the Lakers was secret.

Late in the 2006-07 season with Jackson eager for Kwame Brown to come off the injured list before the playoffs, Phil interrupted a pre-game news conference to ask Kwame, strolling in late, if he'd play.

Not tonight, said Kwame.

Brown finally told the press he'd wait for the playoffs.

Jackson, told about it, pulled out a white handkerchief and waved it.

How great has this been?

The evangelists' child from North Dakota turned New York Knicks house hippie in the '70s, turned spiritualist, turned coach did it his way every inch of the way, had more fun the farther he went, and retires as a great.

Assuming he can stay retired, this time, of course.

If the Knicks get three games under .500 next season, guess whose name will be all over the Gotham tabloids in ever-bigger type fonts?

Jackson loves only a few places in the world, the ones he knows … including New York.

"Today, I'm sure," Jackson said. "What it's going to be like in six months, who knows?"

In any case, we had our turn — 11 years on a roller coaster with the Wizard of Whimsy — and what a turn it was.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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