Phil Jackson: Walking away with a smile

There was no limp to the finish line. No regrets, no struggle, and, most importantly, no anti-climax.

Fakhir Ullah May 23, 2011
In sports, politics or otherwise, there is nothing as disappointing as an anti-climax.

As they walk away, sports legends are susceptible to a letdown since they rely more on tools that fade with age: speed, strength, reflexes, nerves and vision. Sooner or later, mentally and physically, there is always a given breaking point.

Having already crossed their peaks, their last few paces to the exit often betray the impact they had over the years. It even threatens to overshadow their achievements.

While it is painful to watch an over-the-hill legend struggle at the end, the embarrassment of a sudden fall is equally excruciating. There is also the option of walking away while you’re still enjoying success. But that is like leaving a story unfinished and no sportsperson worth his salt will consider that option. Even if they do, they will ultimately return only to wish they hadn’t.

And so it was last week. Phil Jackson, basketball’s greatest and the National Basketball Association’s most successful, coach, bowed out.

Eleven NBA championship rings in 20 seasons and unparalleled winning consistency, with three ‘three-peats’ — and six titles in a row, Jackson was a coaching legend not only in basketball, but all sports. To boot, he also had two championships as a player.

He coached two of the greatest players to play the game, any game: Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. He ensured that their unparalleled talent translated into tangible success: All Jordan’s and Bryant’s titles were with him holding the reins.

And that is the greatest measure of a coach. For many, he was not only a coach on the court, but off it too. Known as the ‘Zen Master’, his approach to coaching was unprecedented and innovative. Jackson preached meditation, enlightenment and spiritualism to his players, strange given that sports is usually filled with raw emotion and physicality.

Many have attempted to follow in his footsteps but with mixed results. Because, at the end of the day, as Jordan, Bryant and all those ‘lesser’ players, who were so pivotal in helping the two superstars achieve greatness will testify, no one did it quite like Jackson.

He epitomised his own philosophy. And he would have needed every ounce of that Zen last week. Because the end, when it came, was brutal.

The Los Angeles Lakers suffered a 4-0 sweep in the second round of the playoffs by the perennial underachievers the Dallas Mavericks. The end was even more unexpected, more brutal, because the Lakers were not fading or aging. They were two-time defending champs.

Last year, when Jackson won his 13th championship ring, he was in the last year of his contract. There was plenty of speculation and debate whether he should or should not return. Afterall, he had achieved it all. Jackson mused that he didn’t want to regret leaving anything on the table by retiring too soon. His team was, after all, one of the favourites to win it all again.

For lesser mortals, this end may have been an anti-climax. But not for Jackson, who smiled through the last minutes of his team’s systematic dismantling.

It was always win or go home for him. If there were any lingering doubts about whether or not he should come back again, they were answered emphatically.

There was no limp to the finish line. No regrets, no struggle, and, most importantly, no anti-climax.

Published in The Express Tribune.
Fakhir Ullah A columnist for the sports pages of The Express Tribune.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Said Chaudhry | 12 years ago | Reply Black Mamba will be coaching the Lakers next year.
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