Phil Jackson – The Most Overrated Coach in History?

How does one go about becoming known as the greatest coach in the history of basketball? Many have aspired to this but unfortunately there is no book on how to do it. Perhaps Phil Jackson should write one. I have taken the liberty of creating an outline which should prove helpful should he decide to take the challenge. Although accepting a challenge has never been one of Coach Jackson’s strong suits.

First you inherit a vastly improving team that has just reached the conference finals. On it you have a young player who is tearing up the league and set to enter his prime years who goes by the name of Michael Jordan. You also have a guy named Scottie Pippin who is about to stake his claim as the most versatile player in the game and one of the 50 greatest of all-time. You then add to the potpourri a coach already in the team’s employ named Tex Winter who happens to be the architect of a little known offensive system called The Triangle.

When speaking to reporters about your players, you use words like “angularity” and “personal actions”. You continually wax philosophical and hand out books about Gandhi and Zen Oneness for your players to read. And your rote answer to questions regarding how you plan to solve team issues is that you’ll “let them play through it.”

After riding the coattails of the best duo in the league’s history, an offensive scheme created by an inherited assistant and a whole lot of capable role players to six championships, you take a year off.

Based on the patina which has been painted upon you by the artists which have surrounded you, your coaching is now in high demand.

You decide to return to the league with a team which had finished the previous season with a .620 winning percentage. On it happens to be a player who is as close to unstoppable as anyone who has ever played the game. His name is Shaquille O’Neil. Then add a budding superstar named Kobe Bryant to the mix. Oh yeah, and call your old pal Tex Winter to sit beside you on your fold-up throne.

You snag a few more rings, and after two consecutive years of failing to win another you get run out of town by the team’s superstar.

A year later you’re called back into service with the same team that had hurled you into the alley just 362 days prior. After two seasons of playing barely above .500, your team is in complete disarray and your superstar player goes viral on You Tube where he can be found screaming and pleading to be saved from drowning in the Lake(ers).

Just over halfway through the next season your team has the 5th best record in the conference. You wake up one morning and find Pau Gasol stuffed into your resident Goodwill box and realize that whoever donated him also hauled away and assumed the 9-million dollar lease on your trash can. You know, the one with the words Kwame Brown stenciled on it. You go 28-9 the rest of the way, finish with the best record in the conference and once again find yourself in the NBA finals.

So there you have it. Sort of an “Idiot’s Guide to Becoming Known as the Greatest Coach in NBA History” outline.

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh on the Zenmeister. He’s certainly not a bad coach. He does seem to be able to win when he has the best talent to work with and I suppose there is some merit to that. But how much can be told about a driver’s skill who wins races when he has the fastest car?

Maybe the best a coach can do in today’s world is to somehow convince his players to play as a team. He seems to have generally been able to do that, Kobe Bryant’s occasional periods of one-on-five play notwithstanding. But to measure him based on his ring collection and career win-loss record is misleading. Does anyone honestly believe that the Bulls would not have won those championships anyway? And if he had coached any other team during that period, where would he be and how would he rate now?

He may not be the most overrated coach in sports history but he certainly has lived a charmed life as one. And if he would project even the slightest air of humility about what he has accomplished, maybe some folks would be more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

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