How Many Rings Until Phil Jackson Isn't Eccentric Anymore?

June, 13, 2009
6/13/09
11:08
AM ET

Eric Neel's tremendous profile of Phil Jackson includes a pertinent question:

He looks down at the floor as he talks, and I step closer, and I'm listening to him, and I can hear the echoes of "Sacred Hoops," and I'm calling up the stories of gathering players in a circle for "om" chants, and of recommended readings and inspirational film clips. I know on some level I'm supposed to listen with an ironic ear at a moment like this. That's Phil's shtick, I'm supposed to think.

But that's not what I'm thinking at all. I'm thinking, what if the operative shtick here is ours, not his? What if there's some part of us, some cautious, analog part of our hearts that still clings to the idea that coaches are only coaching when they draw up plays on the chalkboard or stir up players with Gipper speeches?

I'm thinking this cat has stayed true to his school on this stuff, talking about energy, connectedness, intuition and not being a stranger to the moment as you've imagined it, from the jump, for two decades now.

At what point do we stop thinking of him as the eccentric? Will 10 rings do the trick? At what point do we consider the possibility, in earnest, with nary a wink or a nod, that the guy might be on to something? That over and above the X's and O's (which pretty much everyone knows cold anyway), in this era, in conjunction with truly elite talents such as Michael, Scottie, Shaq, Kobe and Gasol, at this level of competition, Jackson might be practicing just the sort of alchemy and philosophical framing that makes the difference between a team's being good and being great, between simply making the playoffs and making the playoffs your plaything.

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