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Thursday, July 30, 2009
When You Actually Get to Talk to Phil Jackson


Growing up, watching NBA basketball, I had some notion that most basketball coaches were angry and simple-minded, cursing at their players about toughness and the like, while Phil Jackson was the polar opposite, straight from the ashram, trafficking only in meditation, koans and other-worldly inspirations.

I had some idea that he'd be constantly open to really deep conversations with strangers, particularly thoughtful young sportswriters with well-thumbed copies of "Sacred Hoops."

Then I got to spend time around all those people. Things are seldom what they seem. Many of those angry jock-seeming coaches are, of course, really thoughtful. And while you can't deny Phil Jackson any of this near-religious insights, they come caked in an inch of crust. In how he relates to strangers, Jackson has as much in common with America's crankiest coaches as he does any holy man. (And I begrudge him that none: with the public pressures on him, a shield of sorts is a must.)

Anyway, that arc of experience: From Phil Jackson in ethereal concept to. Phil Jackson in cranky reality is traced nicely in this Jimmy Kimmel anecdote by actor and screenwriter Jonah Hill: