There’s something strange in the neighborhood. Who you gonna call? Phil Jackson?
Relax folks, the "Zen Master" hasn’t signed on to appear on the silver screen alongside Bill Murray (at least as far as I know), but he could come out of retirement to bust the ghosts of championships past (or rather passed) if Miami Heat team President Pat Riley were so inclined to make the call.
The sports universe has been on fire over the past 48 hours or so, with no shortage of theories being tossed around about why the Heat are failing to meet expectations—yet again—and what should happen to the team if this season ends without a title.
We’ve heard everything from firing coach Erik Spoelstra to trading Dwyane Wade and/or Chris Bosh. Any of those possibilities may work, but it ultimately falls on Riley to fix the broken team that he put together.
It’s hard to argue that Jackson couldn’t come in and win right away with Miami’s current group of players. The Heat’s roster looks eerily similar to the Michael Jordan-led Chicago teams that dominated the 90s, with only one or two small tweaks needed to make it run like a well-oiled machine.
This article by Bleacher Report featured columnist Jeremy Sickel provides a more detailed explanation for why the former Lakers and Bulls coach could cure what ails the Heat.
As the grand architect of this Miami experiment (via Sports Illustrated), Riley will stop at nothing to make sure this story ends with at least one NBA title. But calling in Jackson would represent a loud cry for help, a humbling move that a man of Riley’s stature may be loath to even consider. In fact, the long-time rivalry between the two makes it more likely that Jackson would be the last person he’d call on to save this sinking ship.
The Pat versus Phil drama goes back as far as 1991 (read this 2010 ESPN.com article for a complete history of their feud), when Riley returned to the NBA as head coach of the New York Knicks just as Jackson was leading the bulls to the first of their six NBA Championships during the 90s.
Back then, Riley had a sizable advantage over Jackson when it came to championship pedigree, something that Riley was quick to point out when responding to Jackson’s critique of the Knicks’ brand of basketball during their Eastern Conference semifinals battle in the 1992 playoffs.
I think what he is doing is insulting us, basically. I was part of six championship teams and I've been to the Finals 13 times. I know what a championship demeanor is all about. The fact that he is whining and whimpering about the officiating is an insult to how hard our guys are playing and how much our guys want to win. All we want is what they have. We are like they were a year ago. It's an insult because he is not respecting the fact that this team is playing with as much heart as any team has ever played with. That's what championship teams are about. They've got to take on all comers. They can't whine about it.
Twenty years and 10 more NBA titles later, it seems preposterous that Riley was ever in a position to challenge Jackson’s credibility, but at that time, Phil wasn’t yet the "Zen Master," let alone the winningest coach in NBA history (as far as championships are concerned). But now? It wouldn’t shock me in the least if Phil pulled out a laminated copy of that quote and used it as leverage during contract negotiations.
Not that we’d ever get to that point of course…or could we?
It’s been nearly 15 years since those bitter Bulls-Knicks battles, and even Riley himself seemed to have let bygones be bygones as far back as 2005, telling ESPN’s Chris Sheridan the following regarding his “feud” with Jackson:
He's too old to worry about it and I'm too old to worry about it -- too old and too wise to worry about any bickering that went on a long time ago because both of us were probably foolish, but I haven't given it one thought…
And that was seven years ago. So while a Riley-Jackson union may seem as improbable as a Flashdance remake (oh wait, that actually happened) they may both be at a point in their basketball lives where they need each other.
Riley needs a coach that can immediately get the most out of his All-Star trio (I think we can safely put the Chris Bosh jokes in the can), and Jackson—if you believe CBS Sports reports that he’s caught the coaching itch again—needs a championship-caliber team to call his own.
Sounds like a match made in heaven, and from what I’ve heard, South Florida has a great retirement community.