Whether or not Los Angeles wins the 2010 NBA Finals, Phil Jackson has certainly secured his place in NBA history. Whether he walks away after this season or coaches for another decade, he will no doubt be remembered as one of the best in the business. And, in time, the shabbier aspects of his behavior will be marginalized or forgotten.
Jackson’s legacy will be one of championships, tied to a series of legendary players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal. As time marches on, history will blur, details will fade. Few will recall Jackson’s attitude or the sound bites he delivered, remembering only the weight of the jewelry on his hands.
That is unfortunate, because what people should remember is that the man lacks class.
With the recent passing of John Wooden, one of the best and most professional coaches that the game of basketball has ever known, it’s easy to spot flaws in his colleagues. Even so, Jackson’s petty antics stand out as especially tiresome. Not only are they beneath someone of his stature, no self-respecting coach in any sport should rely on such mudslinging as a strategy to victory.
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Prior to the first round of the NBA playoffs, Jackson criticized Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, saying that his success was due in large part to favoritism on the court. Jackson talked about how the refs gave Durant overly-generous foul calls and helped him to the line, treating him “like a superstar”. Nevermind the obvious fact that Durant is a superstar, Jackson’s comments were needlessly inflammatory and resulted in a league-mandated fine. They were merely another bush-league move in a long line of attempted mind games by a coach who seems to fancy himself a psychological mastermind.
But with every incendiary comment, Jackson proves to be less master and more mouthpiece.
After the Lakers dispatched the Thunder, Jackson picked his next target – the Suns’ Steve Nash. The Zen master went on record stating that Nash carried the ball and got away with it, more or less calling him out as a cheater. It was another blatant effort to get inside the head of the opponent’s best player.
Upon advancing to the finals he turned his sights on Kevin Garnett, implying overly-physical (bordering on dirty) play. Jackson criticized KG’s defensive style in an effort to rattle and rile the Boston big man.
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Three rounds, three team leaders under wheedling verbal assaults.
His post-game comments have been no better. Following a game 4 loss in Boston, Jackson claimed the Celtics only won because “their backs were against the wall”. He said that they “played desperate” and got away with it. He cited his own team’s struggles, including “over-dribbling”, all the while ignoring the reality that his Lakers were dumped by a group of bench players.
Where’s the class? Where’s the acknowledgement of a game well-played? What about giving some credit to the other guy - the most basic lesson of how to be a good loser or gracious winner. Jackson forgoes sportsmanship for gamesmanship, and in doing so comes across as spoiled and immature.
This is nothing new; those who have followed Jackson’s career have come to expect his poor behavior. Constant criticism of the refs, whining about the play of opponents. Instead of appreciating his successes and the luck of having elite player after elite player to help him achieve them, the man is always on the prowl, seeking out new ways to insult and belittle the game.
I don’t know which is sadder. That Jackson stoops to such pathetic shenanigans in the first place, or that he actually believes they work. Either way, such unworthy comments should be remembered. No matter how many rings he wears.