Hey, we’ve known this was coming since opening night. Sooner or later, the meter was going to expire, depending on how far this final postseason run lasted. Of course nobody envisioned it happening quite like this, and no Laker fan can stomach what has gone down over the last week or so, which is to say you really couldnt have written a more calamitous exit for Phil then the one we got.
He deserved better.
Of course, leave it to him to cheer me up after game 4, when he provided an amazing amount of perspective in regards to the loss, appearing serene and resolved, almost relieved, in the face of defeat.
He said some stuff about it being tough to defend multiple titles, difficult to play with the same guys year after year and sustain the same level of hunger that it takes to climb to the top of the mountain over and over again. Suddenly, I went from being utterly disconsolate to strangely serene, ready to move on to thoughts of what next season will bring.
Things won’t be the same around here without him.
Honestly, I was skeptical of PJ’s brilliance before he came here, having used all of the same “but he had Michael Jordan!” platitudes that the detractors like to trot out. That is, until he came out here to coach the Lakers and I was able to observe his methods on a day-to-day basis. The humor. The intelligence. The preparation. The overwhelming sense of calm. The willingness to delegate, and the humility to surround himself with (and listen to) other smart people. Add it all up, and you almost always had the sense that he was smarter than the next guy, and thus in complete control at all times. That’s why he wasn’t up yelling and screaming, or chasing the referees all over the court. All of his work was done in preparing the guys for what they would face physically and mentally. All that was left was to go out there and do it.
He had not one, but two incredible chapters in Los Angeles, winning three titles with a team that had failed in disastrous fashion prior to his arrival. Shaq and his knuckleheads had suffered numerous literal and figurative whuppings at the hands of Utah and San Antonio to the point that there was legitimate concern that O’ Neal was actually incapable of winning the big one. Of course, Phil showed up and won three straight championships, and perhaps most amazingly, returned one year after being shown the door by Jerry Buss (and Kobe Bryant) to rebuild a team that had failed to make the playoffs in his absence. With four years and a little luck (hello Pau Gasol!), Phil would win his 10th and 11th titles, eliminating whatever doubt there could ever be about his ability to win in less than ideal circumstances.
I’m gonna miss the quotes. The Brokeback Mountain incident was Phil in a nutshell. Off-color, dry and done in a manner completely different than what you would expect from a basketball coach. Even better, the apology was a symphony of profound insincerity and smugness that is just breathtaking.
I’ll also miss Phil’s finesse when it comes to using the media for whatever purpose suits him, whether he be to call out a player, question the refereeing, or prod an opponent. I’ll always remember him calling Sacramento a cowtown and it’s residents “semi-civilized barbarians”. The Kings’ fans started bringing cowbells to the games as a result. They’ve been doing it ever since. Or the time he channelled the Bob’s from “office space” by saying he wasn’t sure exactly what is was that Robert Horry did in the course of basketball game, but that the other Laker players had assured him that Horry was indeed a good player. Can’t forget Phil’s response to the infamous Kwame Brown cake throwing incident, to which he expressed his surprise that Brown could actually hold onto the cake without dropping it. Can’t leave out the time he nicknamed Vladimir Radmanovic “my favorite martian”, shortly after the Lakers had signed him to a multi-year contract. Alas, Vlad didn’t last long in LA.
Or my favorite Phil moment in his tenure here, the story he told years ago after Kwame went down with an ankle injury. According to the PJ, he and the staff would get together before every game with the human skeleton they have in the Lakers’ training room, and each coach would pick out a body part that they thought Kwame would injure in that nights’ game, placing a small wager on that outcome. It seemed that particular night, nobody had chosen the ankle, so much to the staff’s dismay, nobody would be claiming the cash. It won’t be the same around here without moments like those. That story is that essence of Phil Jackson.
So yeah, he won 11 Championships and over 70% of his games and all that jazz, but what I’ll miss about him goes so much deeper than the numbers. In my mind, there is nowhere to go but down in the coaching department, and if we are lucky we’ll either get a guy who is entertaining or one who is actually a good coach, in the technical sense. We won’t get both. Phil was both.
I miss him already.