Stunned silence was the general reaction to the Dallas Maverick’s 4-0 sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in their second round playoff series earlier this week. Even more interesting than the demise of the two-time defending world champions, however, is the speculation surrounding their legendary coach.
Phil Jackson is, without substantial room for argument, the greatest professional basketball coach to have ever touched a clipboard. Jackson holds the most NBA titles ever for a coach, having won six with the Chicago Bulls in the Jordan era —’89-’98 — and five more with the Lakers over the past 10 years. A hall-of-famer since his induction in 2007, Jackson’s career winning percentage as a coach is an astounding 66 percent. Out of the five NBA teams to ever achieve a three-peat — or more consecutive championships — three have been coached by Jackson. His tactics are both innovative and inspired. This is exactly why I don’t believe he’s truly leaving the NBA.
Jackson has retired before and returned to the game. The obvious comparison to be made here is that of Jackson to Brett Favre. Favre and Jackson both became iconic figures in their respective fields. Favre, of course, did not have the ability to let go of the game and instead insulted the city that gave birth to his illustrious career through signing with the rival Minnesota Vikings. Ultimately he went out in a shameful manner by letting his career fade into sad mediocrity.
It should be hoped, for the sake of his legacy, that Jackson will learn from Favre’s mistakes and end his career now with the most dignity possible. It is simply impossible to imagine, however, the 2011-2012 NBA season beginning without Jackson’s dry humor and Zen coaching flooding ESPN.
Of course, rumors have already begun to spread regarding Jackson’s possible return to coaching. His statements regarding his future following the end of the L.A.-Dallas series were ambiguous enough to allow for this. One of the most notable scenarios being talked about depicts Jackson moving to the newly-talented Knicks in an attempt to restore basketball glory to New York. Others imagine that he would surely return to L.A. if he were to return at all.
Despite all that Jackson stands to lose by returning to the game, I simply refuse to believe that he won’t be back. The NBA would not be the same without the magic that he brings to it. I firmly believe that Jackson won’t be able to walk away from the potential to win one last championship. Of course, speculation at this point is just that — speculation. There is no true way to tell what’s going on inside Jackson’s head, there never has been.
That’s exactly what has made him into such a legend: his unpredictability. For now all we can do is follow the rumor mills closely and celebrate the wonder that Jackson has brought to a generation of basketball fans. Of course, Jackson may never return to the NBA, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the bench in either Los Angeles or New York next season.