Do you really want to go out like this?
The Zen Master won 1,155 career games, captured 11 championships and mentored three of the 10 greatest players in NBA history. He's proven to the world that he's the best coach the game of basketball has ever seen. He's earned our respect, our admiration, perhaps even our worship.
But if he walks away now, we'll all remember him as the guy whose Lakers got obliterated by the Mavericks in the second round of the 2011 West playoffs. Right or wrong, that's the lasting image we'll take with us as Jackson rides off into the Montana sunset.
Jackson said all along that this would be his final season. He knew it, his fans knew it, and his Lakers players knew it. And yet with their coach's legacy on the line, they let their season slip away in four brutally ugly games.
This wasn't just a sweep. It was a bad sweep. It featured Kobe Bryant at his worst, jacking up shots and failing to carry the team on his back; the Staples Center fans booing Pau Gasol, even when he was far from their biggest problem; and multiple ejections in Game 4, with Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom hitting the showers early in a 36-point blowout loss.
What do you do after you hit rock bottom?
You can't walk away, that's for sure.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle joked on Sunday night that Jackson would be back, cracking, "I don't know how long you can go to Montana and meditate and smoke peyote."
Jackson responded: "First of all, you don't smoke peyote."
But all jokes aside, the greatest coach in the game's history should know better than to let his career end with a second-round beating like this. He's got to find a way back to the game any way possible.
He could stay with the Lakers — there's one obvious option. He could return to New York, where he began his career as a player back in 1967, should an opening appear there sometime within the next year. Maybe someday down the road, there'll be a job available in Miami. He's already coached Kobe, Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Jordan — why not have a crack at LeBron James and Dwyane Wade?
Whatever the avenue, he's got to find a way back into the game. There's still plenty of time. Jackson is still only 65, believe it or not. Don Nelson walked away this season, and he's 70. Jerry Sloan and Larry Brown left their jobs this year; both men are 69. Red Auerbach was the Celtics' president until his death at 89.
Phil Jackson is still young, relatively speaking. He should still be hungry, too. He sure didn't have much to feast on in 2011.
What do you think of Phil Jackson's future? Share your thoughts below.
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