Friday, May 20, 2011

Phil Jackson: Really Great or Really Lucky?

Legendary coach Vince Lombardi once stated that “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Although Charlie Sheen would agree and most sports are predicated on this adage, it appears that in the art of coaching even those with the most impressive of track  records may be met with forceful  skepticism  that their merits do not warrant an
anointment of greatness. Phil Jackson, the “Zen Master” himself, has developed an impeccable resume of winning throughout his twenty years as a head coach for the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. Winning eleven championships during this two decade time period, this means that Jackson has won an NBA Title in an incredible fifty-five percent of the seasons that he has been a head coach. To put this in perspective, when coaching an NBA team, Phil Jackson is roughly 10 percent more likely to win a championship that year than Ben Wallace is to make a free throw. Despite this unparalleled success, Jackson (right) has not gone without his fair share of criticism. Blessed with the commonly accepted (although Bill Russell should be) greatest player of all-time for his first six-pack of championships, Jackson followed up this first act by fortuitously stumbling upon two arguably top ten players of all-time enabling him to win five more rings and reach his currently dauntingly impressive eleven championship rings. There is no doubt that this string of luck is quite possibly the greatest in all of the history of coaching. But how great of a coach was Jackson? Hit the jump to take a look.

The only equivalent comparison that I can think of would be to get with Megan Fox for six years of her prime only to dump her and then directly after hook up with Brooklyn Decker and Scarlett Johannsen simultaneously. No, Phil didn’t get too raw of a deal. But how should Jackson be historically evaluated? Was he a fantastic coach that was simply blessed with top-line players? Or was he simply an average coach who hit the gold-mine and was able to “coach” future hall of famers left and right? Fortunately for you the reader, I have the answer to this question and more in the paragraphs to come.

14 for 26. This is the incredible ratio in which Jackson churned out championships vs. total seasons with the fantastic trio of Jordan, Bryant, and O’Neal. 1 for 25. This is the incredibly unspectacular rate that these same three delivered rings in all of their seasons without the Zen Master. It’s obvious to anyone that Jackson had tremendous players in all 11 of his championship seasons, but how can you explain these startling statistics? Sure, Jackson inherited these players at the peak of their stardom after they had undergone significant growth during their first several years in the league, but nonetheless, only Shaq with D-Wade basically carrying his back the whole way was able to achieve a championship without Phil by his respective side. It doesn’t take a math genius to recognize that a 54% rate with Phil vs. a 4% rate without Phil is without a doubt statistically significant.

Cohesion is something that is extremely important in all of sports, and especially basketball when all 5 men need to be working simultaneously to achieve the same goal in order for a team to be successful. In lieu of this, it is all the more impressive that Phil Jackson was able to mold the likes of Dennis Rodman and Ron Artest, perennial knuckleheads into seemingly first class citizens during their time with him by the side. It is said that NBA coaches most important job may be to manage egos of off kilter personalities, and this is something that Jackson has without a doubt mastered. If you can win with someone who drinks half-pints at half-time starting, you can win with anyone.

Overall, winning is what defines the greatness of those involved in sports. John Wooden once said that the best coach is “the one with the best players.” Nearly all coaches considered great were blessed with an incredible amount of talent. Is Red Auerbach’s career diminished because he coached Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and John Havlicek? Is Pat Riley really a terrible coach because he had Magic and Kareem? I simply don’t buy it. Phil Jackson won for a reason and he shouldn’t be marginalized because he had talented players. Just be prepared to see many in the basketball community roll their eyes when after next season Jackson comes to New York to pair up with the Chris Paul, Carmelo, Amare led Knicks.

5 Other Random Thoughts from 2011 Playoffs

1. If I were to take part in an NBA Fantasy Draft right now I would definitely take Marc Gasol over Pau.

2. Dirk Nowitzki’s 48 points on 15 shots is easily one of the most remarkable playoff performances in NBA history. You could make 15 out of 15 3’s and still not reach that point total. Simply unreal.

3. Derrick Rose is a transcendent point guard and may be the only shoot first point guard that I think can succeed.

4. James Harden’s beard makes him a 10% better player.

5. LeBron is still a tool.

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