In the NBA, it’s easy to forget about coaches. Players have always had the fanfare, as they’re the ones putting in the work on the court. Still, most great teams have a great coach calling the shots. That was definitely true of any team under Phil Jackson.
In total, Phil Jackson has 13 NBA rings, 2 of them (1970, 1973) are from his time as a player with the New York Knicks and 11 are as a head coach (6 with Chicago Bulls and 5 with Los Angeles Lakers).
There have been many incredible coaches in NBA history, but few of them have Jackson’s pedigree. This article will explain his style, how he balanced some of the greatest stars ever, and the different ways his style led to multiple championship runs.
A Decent Player
As with so many NBA coaches, Jackson began his basketball career as a player. While not extremely high profile, he got picked up by the Knicks in the second round of the 1967 draft. He was a strong athlete with long arms, but never fully blossomed due to injuries.
Even so, he still managed to have a largely successful run during his thirteen years in the league. He spent almost all of his time with the Knicks, where he earned two titles. He got the first in 1970, and then won his second in 1973.
Those both came quickly in his career. He spent the final eight years without ever getting back to the big game, but the two titles under his belt are more than most players ever get.
Sticking With the Game
Where some players retire and stay away from the game, Jackson dove headfirst into coaching. He led different teams across numerous leagues, including both the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) and National Superior Basketball (BSN).
Turns out, he had a knack for leadership. He led the Albany Patroons to a CBA title in 1984 (earning coach of the year in 1985) and thrived in the BSN as well. He tried for years to move to the NBA, but it wasn’t until 1987 that he got his first shot back in the big leagues.
Jackson entered the NBA as an assistant coach for the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls in 1987, and then moved up to head coach in 1989. After a little bit of a learning period, he adopted Tex Winter’s triangle offense and used it in a brand new way.
The new scheme, alongside Jackon’s innate ability to work with high-profile stars like MJ, Dennis Rodman, and Scottie Pippen, allowed him to succeed where so many other coaches faltered. In fact, it turned him into one of the winningest coaches of all time.
During his ten year stint with the Bulls, Jackson won six titles through two three-peats. Though a lot of those wins came from having a squad full of hall of fame players (including the G.O.A.T) there’s no doubt they would have been worse off without Jackson calling the shots.
He knew how to balance egos, did a great job of making sure everyone got included, and kept the entire team focused on winning. After sitting on the bench for his first two player rings, he got to be right in the center of the action for the next six.
A Change of Scenery
Very few coaches get a chance to lead multiple hall of famers, especially ones as high profile and as successful as the Michael Jordan Bulls. Jackson is unique in that, he didn’t just get to lead one all-time team, he got to lead two.
After Jordan retired and Chicago decided to enter a rebuild, Jackson switched to the west coast. He joined up with the Lakers and got to go from Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin to Kobe Bryant and Shaq.
Just as he’d done with the Bulls, Jackson turned the squad into winners. He once again kept everyone in line and focused on the prize, enabling the Lakers to take home three straight titles from 2000 to 2002. That gave Jackson eleven total. However, he wasn’t done yet.
The mid-2000’s were not kind to Los Angeles. Kobe played well and Jackson did a good job coaching, but they struggled in putting together a coherent squad. That changed in the final years of the decade when they teamed Kobe up with Pau Gasol.
Finally united with another superstar duo, Jackson coached the Lakers to two more Finals wins in 2009 and 2010. That gave him thirteen rings, which is the most of anyone to ever play or coach in NBA history.
Almost all hall of fame coaches worked with great players, but few worked with as many different legends as Phil Jackson. Not only that, but nobody has ever been able to collect rings in the way he did. He didn’t just win, he won big time and time again.
Jackson is one of the few people to take home titles both on the court and as a coach. He led two of the most iconic players ever, and had an illustrious career that nobody will likely ever match again.