By: Rob Botts
It’s tough not to go all “old man” when you have become, well, an old man. But Mr. Phil Jackson couldn’t help himself recently. The Zen Master kicked his feet up, shoved away one of those NBA championship trophies off the top of the cooler that sat right next to his rocking chair, that sat on his trophy cluttered porch and he grabbed a cold one. As he opened the beverage he shot a calm, yet assertive stare that let those in attendance know that they were very lucky to have their butt cheeks resting on his stairs with their phones set to record the wisdom that was about to be unleashed.
As Phil leaned forward to begin speaking, the group noticed there was not one single item representing the New York Knicks to be seen anywhere on his porch. Sure, there was his own jersey prominently displayed from the Knicks way back in the day wen he was a player under Red Holzman, but absolutely nothing in terms of the current organization he cashes a paycheck for. On the other hand, there couldn’t have been more Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers gear. So, amidst this Phil Jackson memorabilia porch front store, he began to pontificate.
Here is Phil in his own words.
“The game actually has some beauty to it, and we’ve kind of taken some of that out of it to make it individualized,” Jackson said. “It’s a lot of who we are as a country, individualized stuff.” Did you see what he did there? Phil used basketball to make a bigger more collective social observation. He NEVER does that right?(winking heavily) I’m sure those kinds of statements worked great on the practice floor to have all the big egos get along enough to hoist a bunch of trophies, but saying that America is all about individuals? There is some truth to that statement obviously, but it should never be one individualized blanket thrown over the whole country. Did you see what I did there?
“When I watch some of these playoff games, and I look at what’s being run out there, as what people call an offense, it’s really quite remarkable to see how far our game has fallen from a team game,” Jackson said. “Four guys stand around watching one guy dribble a basketball.” Again, true to a certain extent on certain teams but not entirely the case. I think some people in San Antonio might have a different view on if they play just pick and roll and don’t emphasize the team game on offense. I remember a distinct sequence during the finals last year when the Spurs were blitzing the Miami Heat. During this particular possession, the ball didn’t touch the hardwood as all five guys handled the leather before somebody put it in the basket. I also seem to recall in THIS year’s finals that the Golden State Warriors had some pretty nice inbounds plays and moved the ball around the horn on offense with some really nice efficiency. But, as Phil mentioned there are teams that have gotten less inventive with their offensive design and that is true to an extent as well. Coaches have been hurt by the inability of a lot of young guys coming out of college early that really don’t have a great grasp of the game and their skills just aren’t polished enough yet to run complex sets or make open mid range shots.(this is an article for another day) He described four guys just standing around watching one guy dribble the basketball. Funny, he just described the EXACT play that won the Zen Master his sixth and final ring with the Chicago Bulls as Michael Jordan broke down Byron Russell and hit a pull up shot for the win. What were the other four Bulls doing on that play? Oh, that’s right. Coach Jackson had them just standing in the corner watching one guy dribble a basketball. Memory can be a funny thing.
“I watch LeBron James, for example,” he said. “He might [travel] every other time he catches the basketball if he’s off the ball. He catches the ball, moves both his feet. You see it happen all the time. There’s no structure, there’s no discipline, there’s no ‘How do we play this game’ type of attitude. And it goes all the way through the game. To the point where now guys don’t screen—they push guys off with their hands.” Again, there is some truth. Dudes shuffle their feet and take extra steps all the time in the NBA and you know what? It’s been going on for a very long time. You know who got the foot shuffling party started? Mr. Michael Jeffrey Jordan. I’m sure Knicks fans from the 1990s can remind Phil just how many steps Michael was allowed to take on his fake one way and pick up his pivot foot and go the other way baseline moves. As many as he wanted. Guys don’t screen anymore? Sue they do Phil. Not all guys screen properly but again, this too has been going on for a long time. Was Shaq sticking his large behind out to knock a dude backwards setting a proper screen? Also, I do recall just a few times when Superman would shove guys out of the way en route to getting good post position. It’s amazing that Phil can see these details with today’s lads but lacked the sight back then. Hmmmmm.
“It struck me: How can we get so far away from the real truth of what we’re trying to do? And if you give people structure, just like a jazz musician—he’s gotta learn melody, and he’s gotta learn the basic parts of music—and then he can learn how to improvise. And that’s basically what team play is all about.” The real truth or Phil’s truth? What Phil is trying to tell us is that his triangle brand of offensive basketball is the truth and what is being done today is just an outright slap in the face to the greatest offensive strategy ever run on a basketball floor. I think the greatest teams of any generation would argue that they played a pretty strong brand of team basketball that involved sharing the rock, recognizing mismatches when they would happen, playing hard and working as one unit while applying the defensive strategies. Move the ball. Go inside out. Be clutch. Good thing Phil didn’t have to play that 2 time mid 1990’s champion Houston Rockets team huh? I think they had a pretty food offensive strategy: When all else fails, go to the best player on the floor and let them do their thing. The triangle is one hell of a nice shape when it is formed by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen right? How about when Shaq and Kobe were running it? Or, when Pau Gasol(an extremely talented passing big man) and Kobe were running it? Now, how did it look this past year for New York when Melo and 4 other dudes were running it? The triangle can be a fickle shape.
That was it. Phil finished off his cold one, then slowly but confidently stood up from his rocking chair and signaled everybody to get going. The show was over. Enough knowledge had been bestowed upon the commoners and it was time to go back in and meticulously go over scouting and pre-draft reports to get the New York Knicks and the citizens of the city back on the winning track.
Yeah right. A 2015 playoff hockey re-run game was about to come on the lit up rectangle in his living room.