Aug 11, 2020

The end of an era

Not even the Zen Master could have envisioned a final game from the sidelines going so uncharacteristically awful, embarrassing and horrible.

But in the waning moments of easily the biggest lopsided contest of an otherwise fantastic NBA Playoffs, I, the epitome of the anti-Laker, couldn’t help but tip my cap to what is almost certainly the end of the Phil Jackson era as we know it.

Never mind Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom losing their head worse than the Lakers themselves closed out their season by 36 points. The two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers embarrassing fail at a three-peat bid doesn’t do justice to what Jackson has brought to professional basketball.

You would be hard pressed to not put Jackson’s name in the same breath as the likes of Red Auerbach and John Wooden as one of the greatest all-time basketball leaders, amateur, college or professional.

Sure, Jackson has had his cringe-worthy moments, with Sunday afternoon peaking somewhere near the top of the list. The power trip feud with his superstar Kobe Bryant is up there too.

But what is brilliant in the ever-changing world of sports is that one thing remains constant: winning trumps all. Make no mistake, 11 championships (13 if you include as a player) and a 70-percent career winning percentage will drown out any blemishes on a coaching background check.

Critics can argue that Jackson’s supporting cast did the work and he simply oversaw the operation. Jackson was very fortunate to coach the likes of Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Scottie Pippen and a guy named Jordan.

But no matter the sport, there have been all-time greats that have zero rings to Jackson’s 11. Dan Marino was coached by Don Shula, one of the all-time greats in professional football. No rings. Elgin Baylor, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and John Stockton combined for three NBA Most Valuable Player Awards and 46 NBA All-Star selections. No rings. Ty Cobb, one of the first players ever selected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame passed away at the age of 74 ringless.

Jackson and Laker-haters alike will surely congregate for the remainder of the NBA Playoffs in celebration that a king was dethroned. But without Jackson prowling the Staples Center sideline, the NBA Playoffs now has seven teams remaining that have head coaches with a combined one NBA Championship among themselves. Thanks Doc Rivers.

It was a strange feeling watching Jackson take the post-game press conference podium referring to the 2011-12 Lakers as “the Lakers” as opposed to “we.” But in traditional Phil Jackson sarcasm lore, the engineer of the famed triangle offense offered a quote from former President Richard Nixon regarding in apparent future as the Zen Master.

“You won’t be able to kick this guy around anymore,” Jackson said, leaving the Jackson critics to kick themselves for years to come.

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