Phil Jackson’s Legacy as an NBA Coaching Legend

There is one name that comes to mind when I think about the greatest coach in basketball history: Phil Jackson.  Jackson has eleven rings from his coaching stints with the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers.  As his retirement from coaching looms in the very near future, we are all reminded of just how much Jackson’s leadership has impacted the Lakers, the Chicago Bulls, the NBA, his players, and other coaches.

Legendary UCLA coach John Wooden famously preached to his players that “Success may result in winning, but winning does not necessarily make you a success.  Success, as I define it, is harder to achieve.”*  Coach Wooden loved to win and so does Jackson.  But what separates these two admired leaders from the rest of the pack is their belief that simply winning doesn’t make you a success.  Wooden strived to get every ounce of effort out of his players so they can perform to their highest capability and therefore leave their impact on the game.  That is just what Jackson has done his entire coaching career.  Look at Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant’s imprints that they have left to basketball.  Jordan and Bryant’s legacy has been highly influenced by their coach, mentor, and leader: Phil Jackson.

Jackson’s coaching style is so unique, out-of-the-box, and successful that no other coach can seem to emulate his style.  Although, that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been contacted for advise, which he has on several occasions.  Current manager of the New York Yankees, Joe Girardi is one of those who has reached out to Jackson.  Jackson’s rumored replacement, Brian Shaw, will be fully prepared for next season.  Shaw has studied and learned from Jackson’s leadership and influence that he has developed with his team.  This will able a smoother transition for the players, coaching staff, and the Laker organization.

Jackson believes for a player to perform at his highest level, he has to be connected mind, body, and soul.  To illustrate his meaning behind this teaching, the “Zen Master” will make his players practice Tai Chi, pass out uniquely themed novels to players, and even show video clips from films as a visualization tool for his players.  For example, Jackson will show clips from The Wizard of Oz to demonstrate the need to play with a brain, heart, and courage to achieve long-term success.  He will also show clips from The Green Mile to exemplify the result of proper teamwork.

Jackson possesses the sought after ability to truly connect with his players.  He applies his own “triangle offense” towards his players: coaching, mentoring, and leading.  The majority of coaches can draw up the right plays, put the right players in the right positions, and motivate their players to perform.  There are a few coaches who can establish a team’s identity and bring out the best of their players .  Then there is Phil.  His leadership and teachings affect how his players approach the game.  His leadership influences his players’ attitudes and performance on and off the court.  The new and improved Ron Artest is an incredible example of success from Jackson’s teachings.

Maybe the most influential concept that Jackson preaches is self-control.  His ability to control his emotions on the bench allows his players to focus on the game, one play at a time.  His practice of self-control spills over to his belief to not call a timeout to bailout the team’s time of struggle during the game.  Jackson relies on his trust that he has with his players to be able to get themselves out of trouble.  Jackson’s self-control can also be seen with his “look” at a player to show his dismay rather than yelling at the player.

Laker co-captains, Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant, have said that they want to win the 2011 Finals not only to achieve their goal to win another title but to also end Jackson’s tenure with the Lakers in “the right way.”  It will be interesting to see if the Lakers will go up against the Bulls in the Finals.  Jackson could possibly match his six ring count with Chicago, by capturing his sixth ring with the Lakers.  Jackson’s eleven championships makes him the most decorated coach in NBA history.  Yet, it is his achievements with his players that makes him one of the greatest leaders and success stories in sports.

*Source: Coach Wooden’s Leadership Game Plan for Success

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