How does one go about becoming known as perhaps the greatest coach in NBA history?
Many have aspired to this, but unfortunately there is no book on how to do it. Perhaps Phil Jackson should write one, because it would be impossible to script such a thing any better than what his experience has been.
First you inherit a vastly improving team that has just reached the conference finals. On it you have a young player who is tearing up the league and set to enter his prime years who goes by the name of Michael Jordan.
You also have a dynamo named Scottie Pippin who is about to stake his claim as the most versatile player in the game and one of the fifty greatest of all-time.
You then add to the potpourri a coach already in the team’s employ named Tex Winter, who happens to be the architect of a little known offensive system called "the Triangle".
When speaking to reporters about your players, you use words like “angularity” and “personal actions”. You continually wax philosophical and hand out books about Gandhi and Zen Oneness for your players to read.
After winning six championships with the best duo in the league’s history, an offensive scheme created by an inherited assistant and a whole lot of capable role players, you take a year off.
You decide to return to the league with a team which had finished the previous season with a .620 winning percentage. On it happens to be a player who is as close to unstoppable as anyone who has ever played the game. His name is Shaquille O’Neil. Then add a budding superstar named Kobe Bryant to the mix. Oh yeah, and call your old pal Tex Winter to sit beside you on your fold-up throne.
You snag a few more rings, and after two consecutive years of failing to win another you get run out of town by the team’s superstar.
A year later you’re called back into service with the same team that had hurled you into the alley just 362 days prior. After two seasons of playing barely above .500 your team is in disarray with your superstar player going viral on YouTube where he can be found screaming and pleading to be saved from drowning in the Lake(ers).
Just over halfway through the next season your team is in fifth-place in the conference. You wake up one morning and find Pau Gasol stuffed into your resident Goodwill box and realize that whoever donated him has also hauled away and assumed the nine-million dollar lease on your trash can. You know, the one with the words Kwame Brown stenciled on it.
You go 28-9 the rest of the way, finish with the best record in the conference and once again find yourself in the NBA finals.
So there you have it. Sort of an “Idiot’s Guide to Becoming Known as the Greatest Coach in NBA History” outline.
I live in Chicago and my greatest experiences as a sports fan revolved around the Bulls’ dynasty of the nineties. I’m really not against the Zenmeister. I actually like the guy.
Is it his fault that he was hired to coach the Bulls when he was? Or that the Lakers came calling when they did? What coach in his right mind is going to turn down either one of those gigs?
My point is that to measure him based on his ring collection and career win-loss record is misleading. Does anyone honestly believe that the Bulls would not have won those championships anyway?
And if he had coached any other team during that period, he, in all likelihood, would not have gotten the tap on the shoulder to take over the L.A. Shaqkobes either.
He’s certainly not a bad coach. He does seem to be able to win when he has the best talent to work with and I suppose there is some merit to that. But how much can be told about the skill of a driver who tends to win races when he has the fastest car?
That being said, Red Auerbach had some nice talent to work with as well, although he was a strategic pioneer who changed the way the game is played.
The bottom line is that no coach is going to win without outstanding talent. The best measure of a coach is whether he can make the whole of his team greater than the sum of its parts.
Maybe the best a coach can do in today’s world is to somehow convince his players to play as a team. He seems to have generally been able to do that, Kobe Bryant’s occasional periods of one-on-five play notwithstanding.
He may not be the most overrated coach in sports history but he certainly has lived a charmed life as one.
And don’t look now but his Lakers have the best record in the league.
Whether they have the most talent is debatable.