Bulls, Billy Donovan savor visit from Phil Jackson

Bulls, Billy Donovan savor visit from Phil Jackson originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

LOS ANGELES --- The Chicago Bulls didn’t practice Friday, but they still received a basketball education.

Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson, who guided the Bulls to six championships in the 1990s and the Los Angeles Lakers to five after that, met with management, Billy Donovan and his staff and also talked to and fielded questions from the players over a lengthy visit.

“It was dope. It was a learning experience. He gave us some great insight. I was excited. It’s always good to meet a legend,” Coby White said following Saturday’s practice at UCLA. “He just has that aura about him that you feel his presence. Obviously, he has a lot of knowledge for the game. It was a great experience for me.”

The visit, set up in part by Chip Schaefer, Jackson’s longtime athletic trainer and now the Bulls’ Director of Performance Health, was originally scheduled for the Bulls’ Ring of Honor festivities. But a snowstorm canceled the team’s morning shootaround that game day against the Golden State Warriors.

So the visit moved to here, where Jackson has a home.

“Obviously being a fan of him, being from here, being a fan of the Lakers growing up and my knowledge of the championships in the 90s, it’s amazing just to see greatness in your presence,” DeMar DeRozan said.

DeRozan has more experience with Jackson than most---Donovan met him for the first time---simply because he played against him for two seasons and also has run into him occasionally during offseasons at Los Angeles-area restaurants. DeRozan also shared a powerful anecdote about running into Jackson at Kobe Bryant’s funeral.

“I’ll give you all a little thought that was amazing to me, especially with (Friday) being the passing of Kobe. I remember when we went to the funeral. Me, Pop (Spurs coach Gregg Popovich), (Manu) Ginobili, Tim (Duncan), Rudy (Gay) and Tony (Parker), we all flew from San Antonio to LA together. When we got to Staples Center, the first person we run into was Phil.

“I remember just standing right there seeing Phil and Pop talk. I was in awe. Just knowing the battles they went through, the success, the championships, the greatness, just to be right there in your presence, seeing them having a conversation and interacting with one another, it was one of the highlights of my career to be able to be in the midst of those two greats talking and me being a fan of the game. I just remember that moment. It felt so surreal to see it.

“So it was definitely cool to see him come speak to us directly and for us to ask him questions.”

DeRozan asked about how Jackson’s Lakers flipped the script against the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals after losing the matchup with roughly the same teams two years earlier. White asked about any differences between Bryant and Michael Jordan.

“Because I know Kobe really tried to emulate Mike, MJ,” White said. “The main thing he said was that Kobe didn’t have a conscience and Michael Jordan did. Basically he said if after the game Mike wasn’t 50 percent from the field, he would kind of be disappointed. Kobe could go 7-for-25 and he really didn’t care.”

White joked he didn’t realize how big the 6-foot-8-inch Jackson is.

“He’s huge,” White said.

And the Bulls said such an experience can serve as an inspiration during the dog days before the All-Star break.

“If you love the game of basketball, it should inspire you. He has 11 championships. He’s a legend, a Hall of Fame coach, if not the best coach of all time,” White said. “So for us, it should motivate us as a unit and a team to grow.

“And he gave us some insight on our team. Gotta take better care of the ball and play with the same intensity every night. I also asked if he watched our games and he said yes.”

Donovan, who grew up on Long Island, NY, enjoyed Jackson going deep into his history by talking about playing for Red Holzman on the great New York Knicks teams. When Jackson met with the coaching staff, the dynamics of team sports talk stood out more than Xs and Os.

“I’ve always had great respect and admiration for him as a coach, what he’s achieved and the teams he’s been around. I always enjoy talking to people like that,” Donovan said. “There’s certain things in the game that just don’t change. There’s certain things you have to do, whether it was 50 years ago or today. . . . I really appreciated how gracious he was with his time.”

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