Last week at a signing for his new book, Eleven Rings, The Soul of Success, a fan asked legendary Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson for a prediction in this year's NBA finals. The NBA's "Zen Master" didn't miss a beat: "The San Antonio Spurs will beat the Miami Heat," he said.
Then he added, with typical self-deprecation, "At least, that's what I think." The Spurs beat the Heat 113-77 last night to take a 2-1 lead in the series—so if the momentum continues, he could be right. And who would bet against the NBA Finals prediction of a man who's won 11 Finals titles of his own?
Well, until recently, I might have. Like many basketball fans, particularly those of us on the cynical Eastern seaboard, I'd always had trouble understanding why some people regarded Phil Jackson as one of the greatest coaches—maybe the greatest—in pro basketball history. Red Auerbach, who took the Boston Celtics to nine championships, and Pat Riley, who won four with the LA Lakers and Miami Heat—those guys were coaches: tough, relentless, foul-mouthed (the TV cameras never did close-ups on them when they were angry, but you could still read their lips), old-school fundamentalist disciplinarians.
But Phil Jackson? He was a big cosmic muffin, an air-brained hippie spouting pop-Zen nonsense, who had an ego as big as those of the movie stars sitting courtside at Lakers games.
Or, that's what I thought until I actually read Jackson's book. What should have been evident just from his record was that he knew the game at least as well as any of his rivals, and even if his methods were, let's say, unorthodox, Eleven Rings makes clear that Jackson's unwavering commitment to basketball excellence—and its results—can't be denied.