Phil Jackson: Another Third Straight NBA Finals Appearance

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Phil Jackson: Another Third Straight NBA Finals Appearance
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers won the Western Conference Finals by defeating the Phoenix Suns in six games. They will play in the NBA Finals for the third consecutive season (2008-2010).

This is a great accomplishment, because reaching the NBA Finals is very difficult, so doing it for three straight seasons is even more difficult.

I believe this accomplishment could not be possible without the coaching of the great Phil Jackson. In my opinion, Jackson is the greatest coach in NBA history and these past five seasons with the Lakers have helped remove any doubts otherwise.

Phil Jackson returned to coach the Lakers in 2005 after leaving the team in 2004. For the first time in his coaching career, Jackson accepted the task of coaching a team that was currently in a rebuilding phase.

The Lakers won just 34 games in the 2004-05 season prior to Jackson’s return and missed the playoffs, so this helped his career by proving that he didn’t always coach a talented team.

During this rebuilding period (2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons), the Lakers, with Jackson’s help, reached the playoffs but were eliminated in the first round. The rebuilding phase ended when the “Gasol trade” happened on February 1, 2008.

Now it was up to Phil to prove he can still coach a team to a championship, but this time was special because he was part of the team's rebuilding phase.

With the addition of Pau Gasol in the 2007-08 season, Jackson coached the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference. They won 57 games that season in a Conference, which for the very first time in NBA history, every playoff team won at least 50 games in the regular season.

The 57 games the Lakers won that season were the third most wins in the entire league (Boston Celtics won 66 games and the Detroit Pistons won 59 games).

Believe it or not, the Lakers had more regular season wins than teams like the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, the rising New Orleans Hornets, and of course, the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.

They reached the NBA Finals that season by defeating the Spurs in 5 games in the Western Conference Finals. They lost in the Finals to the Boston Celtics in 6 games. Although they didn’t win the title that season, a Finals appearance for this team was surprising enough.

We all know about the humiliating defeat the Lakers received at the hands of the Celtics, and we also know it is extremely difficult to recover from such defeat. With Jackson as their coach, the Lakers were able to recover and didn’t refuse on winning a title in the future.

This proved to be true when in the following season (2008-09), Jackson again coached the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference with 65 wins.

This time, the Lakers had the second best record in the league, behind Cleveland Cavaliers’ 66 wins. They reached the NBA Finals again and defeated the Orlando Magic in five games, which earned Jackson his 10th (most all-time) NBA Championship as a coach.

Then, in the 2009-10 season, he, for the third consecutive season, coached the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference with 57 wins, and third best in the NBA, behind Cleveland Cavaliers’ 61 and Orlando Magic’s 59. For the second time in NBA history, every playoff team in the Western Conference won at least 50 games with the Lakers as the 1st seed.

The Lakers again won the Western Conference Finals and reached the NBA Finals for the third consecutive season. They will face the Boston Celtics in a rematch of the 2008 NBA Finals.

Few people realize that this is the fourth time Jackson has coached a team to three straight NBA Finals appearances. Throughout his 19 NBA seasons as a head coach, Jackson has reached the Finals 13 times, which is the NBA record. In other words, Jackson has 4 “three-peat” Conference titles:

 

1991, 1992, 1993 – Chicago Bulls

1996, 1997, 1998 – Chicago Bulls

2000, 2001, 2002 – Los Angeles Lakers

2008, 2009, 2010 – Los Angeles Lakers

The only Finals appearance in his coaching career that wasn’t part of a “three-peat” Conference title was in 2004. In the history of the NBA, 12 teams have reached the Finals at least three consecutive seasons; four were coached by Jackson.

No other coach in NBA history has coached a team to at least three straight Finals appearance in 3 separate occasions (Pat Riley is the only other coach to do it two times, 1982-1985 and 1987-1989).

Just imagine about every great coach, player and team that failed to reach the Finals in consecutive seasons. But let’s go back to 30 years ago. Since the 1979-80 season, 23 teams have repeated a Finals appearance. Of those teams, eight were coached by Jackson.

If reaching the Finals for two consecutive seasons is difficult enough, just imagine how difficult it is to reach it for three consecutive seasons. During this time (1980-2010), eight teams have done this; four were coached by Jackson and he is the only coach to do this since the 1989-90 season.

He is one of three coaches (Byron Scott and Larry Brown are the 2 other coaches) to reach the Finals in consecutive seasons since the 1999-00 season.

But what makes these three consecutive Finals appearances even more impressive is that every time his team reached the Finals, they also had the best record in the Western Conference.

His Lakers team (2008-2010) is one of two teams to have the best record in a Conference for three straight seasons since the 1989-90 season (excluding the 1999 lockout season). The other team is the Chicago Bulls (1996-1998), who were also coached by, you guessed it, Phil Jackson (they won the title in those three seasons).

Jackson's Lakers are also the only team to have the best record in the Western Conference in consecutive seasons since the Utah Jazz did it in the 1997-98 season.

What the Zen Master has done in these past three seasons with the Lakers is amazing, especially when the Lakers are currently in a very competitive Western Conference.

He doesn’t need to prove he is the greatest ever; he just adds to it. His teams are known for their consistency. When they start winning, it’s very difficult to stop them.

The fact that two of his teams had the best record in their respective Conference for three straight seasons, his four Conference title “three-peats ” and his three NBA title “three-peats ” are proof of that.

If L.A. beat Boston in the upcoming Finals, he will have a shot at a fourth NBA title “three-peat” in the 2010-11 season, earning him a total of 12 NBA titles as a coach. If that happens, I can’t think of anyone saying he isn’t the greatest coach in NBA history.

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