How Phil Jackson is influencing today’s NBA coaches

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“Can you imagine?” Rivers asked on the twice-weekly Zoom call he has been having with his LA Clippers coaching staff since the NBA season was postponed on March 11. “Can you imagine being told before the year that you’re going to get fired?”

As the 10-part docuseries details, the Bulls had just won back-to-back championships, and their fifth championship in seven years, but general manager Jerry Krause had decided that no matter what the team did that season, it was time to rebuild — and Jackson wouldn’t be the head jerseys from china

“Can you imagine having the right mindset to teach?” Rivers lamented. “To get guys to buy into their role and do the right thing? I can’t even imagine the patience and serenity he had to have to be able to do that.”

Rivers has been thinking about Jackson a lot in recent days. He watched “The Last Dance.” Then he rewatched the battles his Boston Celtics had with Jackson’s Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals, when they re-aired on ESPN last week. And it made him realize he hasn’t connected with the Hall of Fame coach in a while.

“You’re making me want to call him,” Rivers said.2

At first glance, Rivers and Jackson would seem to be longtime rivals. But Rivers said they used to talk on the phone and text a fair amount, coach to coach, about all sorts of things. A few years ago, Rivers even invited Jackson to speak at a clinic he was hosting at the Clippers’ practice facility, and Jackson accepted without hesitation.

“We had a good relationship,” Rivers said. “It’s funny, no one has a great one unless you’re in his circle, but we had a good one.”

For a coach of his stature, Jackson’s circle has always seemed relatively small. Only a few of his former players — Steve Kerr and Luke Walton — are current head coaches in the NBA. Most of his coaching contemporaries were too consumed with trying to beat the man who won 11 titles in his 20 years on the bench, to befriend him. Front-office executives were mostly annoyed he thought he would succeed in that type of role, without doing it the way they did.

So when Jackson retired from coaching in 2011, and stepped down after an unsuccessful run as president of the New York Knicks in 2017, there wasn’t a loud chorus singing his praises. If anything, there was a loud chorus airing out three decades of gripes and jealousies.

Those who found him aloof or arrogant while he was on top of the NBA world almost seemed to delight in seeing his triangle offense belittled by analytics wonks and pace-and-space devotees.

Those who ascribed his success to the good fortune of coaching all-time greats like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, loved to point out how poorly squabbles with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis turned out.

This is a familiar comeuppance for those who have succeeded at the highest level. Those you beat on your way to the top exact their revenge once you’ve been humbled. It was to be expected, and yet Jackson has done little to quiet or combat those who would besmirch his reputation.

He has made few public appearances and given even fewer interviews since he retired to his home in Montana. Even his previously engaging Twitter feed has gone quiet — last posting an article about meditation in June 2018.