The NBA After Phil Jackson Will Be Very, Very Boring

The most successful coach in league history retired at the end of this season, taking his creative playing style and colorful personality with him



It was the best of seasons. It was the worst of seasons.

The best because the team-oriented Dallas Mavericks beat the individualistic brilliance of the Miami Heat for the NBA championship. The worst because the 2010-11 NBA season ended the career of Phil Jackson, the most successful coach in the history of the league.

In leading the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers to a combined 11 championships, Jackson's modus operandi was so unique that his absence leaves a void that cannot be filled by any of his peers. Indeed, his retirement will result in the dumbing-down of the NBA's coaches and players, as well as the game itself.

Here's why:

First of all, Jackson was the last remaining champion of triangle offense. The ball-and player movements in the triangle offense are totally dictated by the defense. The premise is that it's impossible to overplay and deny passes directed at all of the four players who do not have the ball without getting burned by backdoor cuts. So the Triangle offense is initiated by the ball-handler passing to whichever of his teammates that must necessarily be open. All of the ensuing passes and cuts depend on who catches the first pass, which makes the Triangle strictly a reactive offense. The triangle's mantra, then, is "Take what the defense gives."

The triangle was developed by long-time assistant coach Tex Winter and refitted for NBA competition by Jackson and is actually an overall philosophy rather than an Xs and Os game plan. While a full commitment to discipline and coordination among the players is essential, the very foundation of the Triangle is nothing less than the systemization of unselfishness. This is precisely why the vast majority of statistics-oriented players resist being triangularized, and why only Jackson, with his double-handful of championship rings, can convince his players to trust him and also one another.

Other coaches have used portions of the triangle, but that's like an individual's embracing the highest moral behavior only while attending religious services once every week. With Jackson gone, there are no full-time practitioners of the Triangle. The unfortunate result is that literally every team will perform slight variations on the same offensive themes: Screen/rolls, isolations, and drive-and-kicks. (You can read more about those in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Basketball by Walt Frazier.) In Jackson's absence, color the NBA game repetitious and ultimately boring.

While all coaches deem themselves the primary leaders of their teams, Jackson understood that someone who wears a business suit during games cannot be a ballclub's primary motivating force. That's why he created an environment wherein players had to work out their own on- and off-court problems. For example, by not calling time-outs when opponents were on scoring binges, Jackson trusted his players to figure out what was going wrong and what corrections were necessary.

Moreover, on May 13, 1994, the Bulls were down 0-2 to the Knicks in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the score was tied at 102, and there were only 1.8 seconds left on the game clock. In Chicago's huddle, Jackson designed the ensuing play for rookie Toni Kukoc with Scottie Pippen designated to make the inbounds pass. But Pippen was incensed that he was to be a mere facilitator and not the potential hero, so he refused to re-enter the fray. Turned out that Kukoc bagged a fadeaway jumper at the buzzer for the dramatic win.

Instead of berating Pippen in the post-game locker room, Jackson paused in the hallway to allow his players to chastise Pippen. Which they did with a fury and sense of betrayal that Jackson never could have approached.

With Jackson walking away from the command seat, the my-way-or-the-highway will be the most prevalent coaching methodology. Although their ability to banish recalcitrant players is limited by guaranteed contracts, recent and current coaches who are partial to this style include Larry Brown, Doug Collins, Mike D'Antoni, Nate McMillan, Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Scott Skiles, and Jerry Sloan.

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Charley Rosen is an NBA analyst and writer for From 1983 to 1986, he was an assistant to Phil Jackson with the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association.

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