Phil Jackson: Stranger Than Fiction

Just two years after being hired as a low-level assistant coach in Chicago, Phil Jackson was promoted. Much skepticism surrounded the hire, as few expected a man with so little head coaching experience to do what Doug Collins could not, take Jordan and the Bulls to the top. Jackson’s impact was immediate. While failing to take the Bulls to the NBA Finals in his first year at the helm, Jackson had established a rapport with his team that was undeniable. Entering the 1990-91 season, the Bulls were expected to make the leap from good to great, and they didn’t disappoint. Jackson led his Bulls to a 61-21 record in the regular season, and the Bulls ended the season as NBA champions for the first time in franchise history. After the Finals, which ironically had Chicago beating the Los Angeles Lakers, Jackson called the feeling ‘unreal.’ But as most people would learn about Phil Jackson, many things seem stranger than fiction. The Bulls went on to win the NBA championship the next two years as well. Phil Jackson became the first coach to lead a team to three consecutive titles since the great Red Auerbach. It was the first of many comparisons between Jackson and Auerbach, and their careers would begin to intertwine as the future unfolded. Following Michael Jordan’s much publicized retirement in 1993, Jackson was suddenly left with a team lacking a leader. The next two seasons the Bulls clearly missed Jordan. Jackson’s coaching tactics and ability to maximize his players’ potential still allowed them to stay near the top of the Eastern Conference. Both years, however, the Bulls struggled in the playoffs and were eliminated in the second round. This would not be the first time Jackson was questioned. Jackson’s pundits have been as numerous as his supporters throughout the years, and that is not shocking when you consider the talent Jackson has had the privilege of working with. Still, Jackson was able to do something with the Bulls that Doug Collins could not. Maximizing value is something that very few coaches have been able to do consistently in sports. Not only has Jackson done it consistently, he’s done it masterfully. Next: The Repeat Three-Peat

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