Phil Jackson Is Insidious

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of the Kentucky Wildcats during the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Rupp Arena on February 28, 2015 in Lexington, Kentucky.

One of the great truisms of sport is that winners will always be copied.  When one coach ’empowers’ his players, everyone wants to.  When one coach plays with two receivers, everyone wants to.  When one coach plays the ‘West Coast Offence’, everyone wants to. It happens in every sport, at every level.  And successful coaches often have their coaching ‘trees’ of coaches who work them, learn their lessons, and become successful coaches in their own right.

Every so often there is a successful coach who is so unique that noone can successfully copy him, nor do his assistants achieve any notable success or longevity.  The most notable of those coaches is probably Phil Jackson.  His (or his assistant Tex Winter’s) Triangle Offence won 11 NBA titles under his direction, and exactly zero under any other coach.  The few of his assistants who became head coaches, had unremarkable (and short) careers.

I can’t think of a coach in any sport whose combination of personal philosophy, character and vision is so totally unreplicable.  Plus he wrote the most important coaching book ever, Sacred Hoops.

Today is his 70th birthday and there are numerous articles celebrating that and remembering him.  Among the articles are some interesting quotes and anecdotes that I has somehow missed, despite having read all of the books about him.

Some highlights from the articles:

“The soul of success is surrendering to what is.”

“One thing I’ve learned as a coach is that you can’t force your will on people. If you want them to act differently, you need to inspire them to change themselves.”

“I had to do some disciplinary things with Dennis Rodman, but we signed off on them. Dennis, I’m gonna fine you for being late, because he’s late every day. I went to the team and I said Dennis is gonna be late, I’m gonna fine him, but we can’t act out of sorts with this and become childish because we have to make allowances for his behavior… (The Lakers) has been so childish that they keep tabs on who gets more benefits, who has more discipline, those kind of things, and it’s tough because you can’t keep tabs.”

“Phil never missed a New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle when he was coaching the Bulls and had fun with the English language. Once, he yelled at his team, ‘This is insidious,’ then followed that up with, ‘How many of you know what insidious means? I want you to go home and look it up and tell me tomorrow.'”

“Basketball is an action sport, and most people involved in it are high-energy individuals who love to do something — anything — to solve problems. However, there are occasions when the best solution is to do absolutely nothing.”

Three articles are linked here, here and here and here.


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