But the eleventh?
Lakers coach Phil Jackson has now entered Bill Russell territory, joining the very exclusive club for men with more rings than fingers. After six titles with Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, three upon arriving in Los Angeles, and two more in 2009 and ’10, the Zen Master is on top of the world.
Now, winning championships can never truly be boring, but there’s something a little monotonous about 11 in 20 years. The first title is unbelievable; the second is pretty amazing. The third? Not bad at all.
He’s just cranking them out, one after another after another. He’s no longer a man — he’s a machine.
He sort of talks like one, too.
“Well, it’s done,” Jackson said after the Lakers defeated the Celtics in Game 7. “It wasn’t well done, but it was done. And we did it with perseverance. I thought our defense was terrific. We were able to step in and play the kind of defense that we’ve established as kind of a calling for this team, and we found a way to generate some points. And it certainly was that, generating points.”
This was his opening statement to the media after winning the NBA Finals. So bland. So simple. So matter of fact. And really, truly, completely emotionless.
Jackson has been catching some flak lately from media members who have called him out for his lack of passion. All postseason long, he avoided the personal, sentimental questions, focusing strictly on the X’s and O’s. Then when he finally won, nothing changed. He was asked point-blank whether this win over the Celtics had any emotional value to him, and he quickly shot that notion down.
“No, it’s not,” he said. “There’s no residual as far as beating Boston or anything like that. Of course, it’s always great to have an opportunity to play against a highly‑watched team and a popular team like that in a series that is as difficult as this one is. But emotionally, no, it was not. I thought there was ‑‑ the closing stanza at Chicago was perhaps as high emotionally, and also running through the series in 2001 was the most perfect ball that I ever saw a team play that I’ve had in the playoffs.”
So there you have it. A decade ago, this all meant something to him. Now, he’s just churning out titles.
“I frequently cry, I really do,” he joked. “But not tonight. It’s really about my inner being, it’s about the joy for this group of guys that put so much work out. I mean, we tax these guys. We make them go through all kinds of difficult things during the course of a year, ask them to play injured, ask them to play with injuries, and they’re a willing group. I’m very proud of them and very happy for them. I think that’s really the joy. To have put in 114 games and coming out this way at the end, there’s a certain sense of gratification, and that’s what I have to believe in.”
But it’s not about him. Jackson has passed the point where he coaches to empower his own ego, or bolster his own resume. After the first 10 titles, you grow numb to it.
At this point, you have to wonder how he still finds the motivation to coach. Money? He’s got as much as he’ll ever need. Fame? He’s got plenty of that. Rings? More than anyone.
We don’t know yet whether Jackson will be back next season. He says that the title “does improve [his] chances” of coming back for another season or perhaps more. But it’s hard to take his word for it on that one.
The Zen Master is almost too zen. He’s not as invested in the game as he once was, and if he decides to walk away, then now’s probably the time. There’s no better way to go out than on top.
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