Phil Jackson: Coaching Legend At Peace Away from the Game

Phil Jackson has garnered plenty of attention since retiring from the NBA following the 2010-11 season. Jackson faded into the sunlight, leaving behind a legacy that is unlikely to be matched by anyone else. Jackson went to his home in Montana, not worried about the future.

Recently, Andrea Kremer of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel visited Jackson’s Montana home to interview the 11-time champion. They discussed everything from Jackson’s unique motivation methods to his possible future in the league. Jackson, who is a bit of a recluse when he’s not on the court, wasn’t very comfortable having a reporter visit his wilderness sanctuary.

“You’re closer than I want you to be,” Jackson said to Kremer. “I hope they edit this out.”

Jackson has spent his entire career exceeding expectations and surprising people. But now, one full season removed from his days with the Lakers, he seems to be in a much better state of mind. Jackson seems at peace with his decision to leave the sidelines, and a lot of that has to do with his improved health.

After multiple operations to repair a battered hip and ailing knee, Jackson says he feels better now than he has in a long time. And with that improved physical health comes an improved state of mind.

“I’m not dealing with pain anymore,” Jackson said. “I think that changes your mood so much.”

But does it change his mood enough to possibly consider a return to the NBA? With multiple teams reportedly interested in Jackson’s services, whether it be coaching or as a front office executive, even in retirement Jackson’s is one of the most frequent names thrown into the rumor blender.

Still, is Jackson prepared to return to the NBA after just 12 months away from it?

“I don’t have an answer for that question,” replied a straight-faced Jackson.

And what’s not to believe? Jackson, once again sporting the facial hair that we became so accustomed to seeing towards the end of the NBA season, looks at peace and at ease in his northwest sanctuary. He doesn’t have the cares or worries that are standard protocol for the league’s coaches. Life in 2012 for Jackson is peaceful.

In fact, that was one of the reasons Jackson was glad he didn’t hear from the New York Knicks, a team he played for nearly five decades ago. The Knicks, who renewed the contract of head coach Mike Woodson rather than trying to lure Jackson to the Big Apple, aren’t the type of team that Jackson wanted to come back to.

“There’s too much work that has to be done with that team,” Jackson explained. “They don’t fit together well.”

So if the Knicks aren’t the right landing spot for the so-called Zen Master, is there a team out there that could peak his interest enough to get him to leave his property in Big Sky Country?

“There might be.”

But Jackson isn’t about to commit to anything. He stated that he’s enjoying his peaceful retirement, and that he isn’t a fan of what the league has turned into.

“Watching the NBA is not that easy for me. There’s very little passing offense that goes into the NBA anymore. Everything is off the dribble and screen/roll, screen/roll. I find myself watching [NHL] playoffs over the NBA playoffs. There are less commercials, more action, and more fun.”

This is a telling sign from a man who knows more about basketball than most people on the planet. So what if Jackson never comes back to the NBA? What if his final memory of being on the court was the embarrassing beating his Lakers received at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Western Conference Semi-Finals? It certainly isn’t the way Jackson would have liked to go out, but he doesn’t let that cloud the countless moments prior to it that turned him into the most successful coach in NBA history.

So what’s next for Jackson? If he doesn’t return to the NBA what will he do with his remaining years? It seems he already has it all figured out, and the answer is very Phil Jackson.

“I’ve been thinking of getting a mini-van and a poodle and traveling the country,” he said with a smile.


To see the complete interview with Jackson, tune into HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on Tuesday, June 19, at 10:00 ET/PST.

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