Phil Jackson: Greatest Coach Ever?

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Phil Jackson: Greatest Coach Ever?
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

With the Lakers winning their 15th championship in franchise history, coach Phil Jackson won his 10th career title setting not only NBA records for most titles by a coach, but in any sport. Jackson passed the late Red Auerbach, who won nine titles with the Celtics in the '50s and '60s, including an unprecedented eight in a row, a feat that will never be repeated.

Now the question becomes whether Phil is the greatest coach of all time. Going on winning alone (which is the most important thing when you boil it all down), Phil has  beaten him, but only by one title. Phil has gotten some criticism because he always had the best talent. Yes, he did have MJ, Shaq, and Kobe on all of his title teams, but Auerbach had Russell on every one of his title teams.

Both Jackson and Auerbach were great managers of talent. It’s not always the easiest thing to win when you have the best players. You have to manage all of the star players and keep them in check, and you always have a target on your back. But they both managed to keep their respective teams together and lead them to championships, especially Phil, who managed to keep Shaq and Kobe happy enough together en route to three championships and also control Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen in Chicago.

Phil won his ten championships with two different teams (Lakers and Bulls). Even though he had great players on both teams, it still much harder to win with two different teams than to do it with just one. Also, if the whole MJ retirement fiasco never happened, we would likely not even be having this argument as Phil and the Bulls would have more than likely won in '94 and '95, which would have given Phil eight in a row, matching Red’s streak. The Bulls still advanced to the conference semifinals both seasons without Jordan, but could have had an eight peat instead of the two three peats.

Russell was every bit as dominant back in the day as MJ was recently, and the competition was not nearly the level it is today. When Auerbach won his titles, there were either eight or nine teams in the league and almost every time the Celtics only had to win two rounds in the playoffs to win the title. When Jackson won, there were at least 27 other teams in the league every season and four rounds in the playoffs. Now you tell me which path seems harder.

I also saw a stat today about Bill Russell that stunned me. In his career, he played in 21 win or go home games including college, the pros, and the Olympics, and his record in all of those games was 21-0. I was shocked when I heard it and thought I misheard but I did not. It certainly helps your chances when you have a player like that on your team.

I’m not trying to diminish what Red Auerbach accomplished. Winning eight consecutive is a remarkable accomplishment. All I’m saying is that Phil's accomplishments in this era of basketball (which includes free agency), you have to give him the nod as the greatest coach of all time.

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