DALLAS – Phil Jackson’s five children scrambled to find plane tickets to Dallas on the chance their father’s coaching career ends Sunday. And how was the Lakers coach handling being on the brink of being swept out of the playoffs – and quite possibly the NBA – for the first time in his career? He acted no different Saturday as he would any other day in his 20 seasons as a head coach. His goal is the same as always:
Win the next game.
Jackson announced on July 1 that the 2010-11 season will be “the last stand for me, and I hope a grand one.” A little more than 10 months later, the Lakers would hardly describe their current predicament as “grand.” They trail the Dallas Mavericks 0-3 in their best-of-seven second-round series. No NBA team has ever overcome an 0-3 deficit.
“I have five kids that think that the playoffs is a party for them to have, so they end up coming to all these games in the playoffs and most of the time in the Finals,” Jackson said Saturday. “They have all been through various lives as adults, and they think they have to hustle just in case this is the last game I coach. That’s a drag and I don’t need that to happen, but they’re coming anyway because they’re insistent on it.
“But that’s not there for me. I’m not that kind of a guy. I’m right here. I’m about making adjustments to being a better team tomorrow.”
Jackson has won a record 11 championships during his years as coach of the Chicago Bulls and Lakers. He has coached Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone and at least two other players who will someday be in the Hall: Kobe Bryant(notes) and Shaquille O’Neal(notes). He’s the only coach in NBA history to win more than 70 percent of his games, and is first in playoff victories with 225.
“His legacy is obvious and speaks for itself,” Lakers forward Lamar Odom(notes) said. “He’s won championships. He’s coached some of the best players in the world. Obviously, in the basketball world he should always be remembered and he’s a good person as well.”
Jackson watched the Game 3 loss to the Mavericks with his coaching staff at the team hotel Saturday morning. Two of his assistant coaches, Brian Shaw and Jim Cleamons, said Jackson showed no signs of being sentimental. Shaw, who is a candidate to replace Jackson, said he thinks Jackson isn’t nervous because he believes the Lakers will win Game 4.
“When the team seems down and out, he shows no emotion,” Shaw said.
Said Cleamons: “He’s just about going to work and trying to find a way to, at this point in time, pump some life into winning a game.”
Jackson said he talked to his players about focusing only on winning Game 4. The players also didn’t seem overly concerned about being a loss away from the season – and Jackson’s career – ending.
“For myself and Derek [Fisher] it means more to us than anyone else on the team because of the history that we had,” Bryant said. “I’m not trying to think about that. I’m trying to think about winning this game.”
Jackson won’t be the only Lakers employee leaving after this season. The Los Angeles Times reported on April 27 that the Lakers will not offer new contracts to about 20 key staffers on their player-personnel side, preferring to instead go with skeleton crews with a possible lockout looming. Jackson’s coaching staff also does not have contracts past this season.
Jackson said he stayed another season in large part to ensure his coaching staff and other employees could get another year with the Lakers.
“I have to be very careful how I talk about this, as you guys know, but I came back to continue the staff and the people here,” Jackson said. “I can’t do it continually. At some place, it’s got to end. It seemed like a perfect ending spot.”