Zenmaster more like Dynasty Extender

31 07 2009

There’s been a surge of debate the last couple days on ESPN Radio regarding a Sporting News list that came out listing the top 50 coaches of all-time. Eric Kuselias, filling in for Colin Cowherd on his show today, derided Phil Jackson’s listing as No. 4 on the historic list.

His point of contention was that Jackson never provided a moment where he made you or I say, “Damn, Phil really coached the hell out of the team to a win.” Of course, it’s a silly argument because I’m sure if any of us were to give up everything in our lives and dive into Phil Jackson Research, we’d be able to find at least one or two moments in the 10 seasons he won a championship where his coaching provided the basis for a win. How about Jackson’s ability to coax 55 wins out of a Michael Jordan-less Chicago Bulls team in the 1993-94 season? That was a hell of a coaching job Jackson did that year.

Yet what I find most people under-estimate in Jackson has been his ability to string together titles. All his naysayers, like Kuselias today, like to point out that Jackson couldn’t possibly be the only coach who could’ve won a title with Jordan/Pippen or Shaq/Kobe. They’d be right. They are right. But Jackson is the only coach who could’ve kept the focus, drive and determination to win back-to-back-to-back titles with three different squads. 

The ability to win two or three straight titles in any sport never gets enough credit. That’s an incredible amount of focus and discipline, not to mention selflessness, that a team must have. What coach has ever been more successful in implementing that motivating mindset after a team has already experienced its greatest success? Of course, John Wooden deserves credit for his 10 titles in 12 years, but NBA ball goes through much longer seasons with at a much higher skill level.

The fact Jackson was able to extract basically all the talent out of each of his dynasties is what his legacy should be. The argument about Jackson shouldn’t be whether any coach could’ve won a title with the dynamic players he’s coached. It should be about who else could’ve maintained the level of focus and discipline to win three titles in a row — with three teams.

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