There is a fair probability that anyone working in or around sports today, on both a North American and global scale, is familiar with the name Phil Jackson.
Some might, especially basketball fans in the three largest markets in the United States (New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles), be extremely familiar with his professional basketball career; as a player, head coach, and - the last 3 years - an executive.
Phil Jackson's name had become synonymous with winning.
The utilization of the "triangle" offense, the appropriately nicknamed "Zen Master" has known winning both as a player and head coach. While his professional basketball career as a player spanned 13 NBA seasons, which included 2 NBA Championships (one in 1970 in which he did not play due to injury and one in 1973, both as a member of the New York Knicks); his head coaching career really solidified him as one of the most prolific winners in NBA history.
His head coaching career is what sporting fan dreams are made of.
Beginning in the 1989 - 1990 season through the 1997 - 1998 season with the Chicago Bulls, his team had an incredible .74 (74%) team win percentage, which included making the playoffs every season, and winning 6 NBA Titles (who can forget the repeat three-peat?) Throughout his career as the Chicago Bulls head coach, he won many awards and received many professional accolades, including the 1996 Coach of the Year award.
Phil Jackson's head coaching brilliance (and winning ways) continued when he accepted the head coaching position for the Los Angeles Lakers. Coaching Kobe Bryant and company (which included the amazing Shaquille "Shaq" O'Neal during some of those seasons), his tenure as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers from the 1999 - 2000 season through the 2010 - 2011 season produced a .68 (68%) team win percentage, making the playoffs every season, and winning 5 NBA Titles (an almost repeat of his prior repeat three-peat).
Phil Jackson's name was not only synonymous with winning at this point, but he had the great fortune to coach two of the best NBA players of all time (Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant) along with a multitude of other amazing and talented teams as well.
His ability to creatively innovate, collaborate, mentor, and motivate his teams was applauded in 2007, when he was deservingly inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
And this was even before Phil coached the Los Angeles Lakers to two more NBA Titles.
His total NBA career, by the time he ended his head coaching duties with the Los Angeles Lakers after the 2010 - 2011 season, was prolific. And crazy enough to say this, but that might have even been an understatement at this point. He was - without a doubt - the most successful NBA coach of all time.
During his head coaching career in the NBA, Phil won 11 NBA titles (2 more as player) - which surpassed the legendary Red Auerbach's total of 9 to be the most in NBA head coaching history; Phil won an amazing 9 NBA Titles from the 1990 -1991 season through the 2001 - 2002 season; Phil became the only coach in the NBA to win multiple championships with more than 1 team; and finally, Phil entered the Basketball Hall of Fame with the highest win percentage (and the highest among any NBA Coach with 500 games or more under their belts).
Up until this point in his NBA career, he had never had a losing season as a head coach and only a handful of losing seasons as a player (5).
To further exemplify his winning ways up until his split with the Los Angeles Lakers, teams that he either played on or head coached made the playoffs a staggering 88% of the time.
At this point in his prolific NBA career, he could have easily rode off into the sunset, having accomplished what no NBA head coach had ever done before; and further solidify himself as one of the NBA's and sporting-world-as-a-whole's greatest coaches.
Then he became the President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks...
Now, of course if you are reading this, you now know that the Knicks and Phil Jackson have officially announced that they have "parted ways", which occurred earlier this week on Wednesday, June 28th. This ended the worst segment of Phil Jackson's NBA career, one in which the team he was an executive for not only performed under par, but incredibly poorly.
In fact, during the time Phil Jackson was the President of Basketball Operations for the Knicks, the team went an incredibly horrible 80-166, recording a losing season in all 3 years (from 2014 - 2015 through 2016 - 2017), with an overall .33 (33%) team win percentage. The Knicks performed so badly during this time period that they set franchise records for their worst season record (17-65), along with the franchise record for most consecutive losses (16), both during the 2014 - 2015 season.
The New York Knicks did not win an NBA Title or even make it to the playoffs any of the years Phil was at the helm of the team.
This was really the first time in Phil Jackson's NBA Career, either as a player or head coach, that a team he was on or head coaching failed to produce.
So, when the announcement came out on Wednesday, June 28th that the New York Knicks and Phil Jackson had officially "parted ways" it should have come to no surprise. The Knicks were historically underperforming while he was an executive in New York, and there were many allegations of bad decision making, mismanagement of resources, and poor player and front office relationships.
Why, Phil, Why?
While there are a multitude of different reasons and potential explanations for what lead to the worst performing Knicks team in franchise history, some of that blame could definitely rest on Phil Jackson's shoulders. Actually, in all honesty, most of it could probably rest on his shoulders. He was the President of Basketball Operations after all.
So, what about riding off into the sunset of his previously prolific NBA career?
Well, that ship might have passed with him leaving the Knicks, but it does not necessarily mean his NBA career is over. He obviously is (or was, depending on if you are a Knicks fan) one of the NBA's greatest coaching minds, but it will be interesting to see if he pursues any further positions in his NBA career or he takes a much needed vacation or potential retirement from the game.
As a loyal and passionate Chicago sports fan, part of me hopes he - in some way - comes back to the Bulls before he officially ends his NBA career. The bulls definitely appear to be in need of effective leadership and a winning culture. Maybe Phil Jackson could resurrect the Bulls winning ways that he helped instill in them a couple of decades ago. Or maybe it is time for him to walk away from the game and enjoy his retirement. He definitely deserves it.
Although Phil Jackson did not find an incredible amount of success being an executive for the New York Knicks in the later part of his NBA career, no sporting fan in the world can deny how he produced an immense amount of success throughout his career as a head coach.
Cheers to your prolific NBA career, Phil! (even though that Executive position with the Knicks did not really work out)
All the best,
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