In order to be a great team in the NBA, having great players isn’t enough. You must have the right head coach to bring the best out of his players and get everyone focused on working towards the same goal.
There is arguably no one better at doing that than Phil Jackson. The ‘Zen Master’ came to the Lakers in 1999 and immediately set about doing what he does best, win games, and win championships.
Jackson had a number of great moments during his run in Los Angeles that brought the team five championships, but we here at Lakers Nation narrowed it down to his top five. Check out our video above for a compilation of Jackson’s best moments as a Laker, or read about each one below. Enjoy.
5. Fastest To Get His 1000th Career Win
Only eight coaches in the history of the NBA have amassed 1,000 wins in their career. It is truly one of the most exclusive clubs in the NBA and only the best of the best make it to this platform. You just don’t win 1,000 games by accident.
On December 25, 2008 Jackson became the sixth coach to join that exclusive fraternity as the Lakers defeated their rival Boston Celtics in a rematch of the previous year’s NBA Finals.
Beating the Celtics to reach that honor had to make it extra sweet for Jackson, but just as impressive as getting to that landmark is the fact that Jackson was the fastest coach ever to reach that plateau, needing 11 fewer games than fellow Lakers legend Pat Riley.
Jackson would have many milestones throughout his career, but joining a club as exclusive as this one is something that will forever be remembered in history.
4. First Season (1999-2000)
After taking a season away from coaching, Phil Jackson decided to return to the sidelines, agreeing to take over a Lakers team that had a solid core, but failed to get over the hump.
Jackson brought his championship pedigree and the legendary triangle offense to Los Angeles and it paid immediate dividends as the powerful duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal began their journey in becoming one of the greatest forces in NBA history.
The Lakers dominated throughout the regular season. Their 67-15 record is tied for the sixth best record in NBA history. They finished 11 games ahead of the rest of the league and had separate winning streaks of 11, 16, and 19 games.
The playoffs produced some tough tests as both the Sacramento Kings and, most notably, the Portland Trail Blazers pushed the Lakers to their limit, but in the end, nothing could stop their run.
The Lakers dispatched of the Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals to win their first championship in 12 years, and Phil Jackson laid the foundation for what would be one of the best dynasties of the modern era.
3. 2001 Dominant Playoff Run
The 2001 regular season didn’t go quite as well as the previous year. Coming off their first championship, the Lakers were not nearly as dominant as Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal each missed some time with injuries, allowing the Lakers to concede the West’s best record to the San Antonio Spurs.
But that is where Phil Jackson’s greatness came in as he made sure his team was fully prepared for the playoffs. What transpired was arguably the greatest playoff run in NBA history.
Jackson would lead the Lakers to a 15-1 playoff record as the team swept each of its toughest Western Conference rivals, the Trail Blazers, Kings, and Spurs. Only a legendary performance from Allen Iverson in Game 1 of the NBA Finals prevented the Lakers from becoming the first team to sweep through the entire playoffs.
This Lakers team is considered by many to be one of the greatest of all-time, but it also showed how great Jackson is at preparing his team. What could have been a struggle after a somewhat disappointing regular season became an unstoppable team when it matters the most. That is the sign of great coaching.
2. Winningest Coach In Lakers History
The Lakers legacy stretches back to the beginning of the NBA as the Lakers were the first dominant franchise professional basketball. As is the case there have been a number of legendary coaches to be a part of this Lakers organization.
John Kundla led the team to five championships in Minneapolis while Bill Sharman led the Lakers to their first championship in LA with the legendary 1971-72 team. Of course Pat Riley was in charge during the ‘Showtime’ era that brought the franchise five more rings.
But on February 3, 2010 Phil Jackson placed himself at the top of the list when he won his 534th game as head coach of the Lakers, once again passing Riley for another record.
Overall, Jackson would win 610 total games with the Lakers, a record that is likely to stand for a very long time. It is this success that has Lakers fans still chanting for Phil to come back to this day and shows just how amazing he was.
1. Final NBA Championship
For everything that Phil Jackson accomplished, one thing that always stood out was that he never had to go to a Game 7 in the NBA Finals. Every single championship, even during his Chicago days was finished in six or fewer games.
But it those games when everything is on the line that the greats have to rise to the occasion and Jackson did just that in the 2010 NBA Finals.
The Lakers and Celtics met in a physical Finals full of emotion and Jackson and the Lakers were on the ropes as they came back to Los Angeles trailing the Celtics 3-2 and needing to win both games to dispatch of their demons from 2008.
Like any great coach would, Jackson got his troops on the same page as they blew out the Celtics in Game 6 before a tense Game 7 that would decide everything.
Despite an atrocious shooting performance from Kobe Bryant, Jackson would make sure that the team stayed locked in on defense and keep the game close as the Lakers would eventually overtake the Celtics to win their fifth championship in 10 years and give Jackson his 11th of his career.
There may have been teams better than the 2010 version, but pressure brings out the true colors of everyone, and Jackson was able to keep his team together just enough in his toughest Finals test as a coach. That is a sign of greatness, and why he is the greatest coach in the history of the NBA.