Jackson Comes to the Alex


Los Angeles has maintained a long love affair with the city’s basketball coaches, developing a relationship between fans and coach that at times transcends the sport and reflects a larger philosophy. The legendary coaches – the John Woodens, the Pat Rileys, and the Phil Jacksons – connect with the players and the fans in a meaningful, lasting way.

In Phil Jackson’s case, the philosophy is deceivingly simple. His players are taught to seek a collective consciousness and mindfulness to the team characterized as “one breath.” All individual energy and focus is directed toward a single, mutual goal.

This philosophy and mindset earned Jackson the title of “Zenmaster.” It also explains the persistent chant emanating from the sold out seats of Glendale’s Alex Theatre last week. The Laker fans that gathered there wished only to see their team rise to greatness again and settled on a collective consciousness of their own to pursue.

“We want Phil.”

One breath or not, it seems unlikely that Laker fans will get their wish. However, those who came to hear Phil Jackson at the Live Talks LA event got a glimpse into the mind of one of the most successful coaches in American sports history. The evening was conducted by former player John Salley who played for Jackson with both the Bulls and Lakers and lived up to his reputation as a fan favorite sports personality and interviewer.

Much of the evening was dedicated to Jackson’s time in Los Angeles and the challenge of managing egos the size of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. The coach described the difficulty that follows success as players quickly learn that there is not enough glory to go around. Kobe and Shaq represented opposing forces and it was Jackson’s challenge to bend their wills and their egos to forge a fragile partnership that netted the team three consecutive partnerships.

The conversation alternated between both men sharing anecdotes over long NBA careers, including Shaq’s proclivity to show up to practice wearing nothing but his sneakers, and deeper exploration of Jackson’s personal philosophy and approach to basketball.

Jackson also spent a lot of time discussing the pursuit of greatness and the difficulty of turning individual talent into a team’s success. In particular he discussed the role of trust in developing a player like Michael Jordan.

It took a number of years early in Jordan’s career when he earned limitless individual accolades while being stifled by superior team play in the playoffs. By altering this mentality, Jackson developed one of the most unstoppable teams in NBA history.

On the topic of a potential position with the Lakers, the former coach responded with a tone that is simultaneously receptive and elusive. He stated that he has no imminent intent to join the front office because there is no position available with suitable influence in the organization. As for the prospect of coaching again, Jackson cited physical issues that make travel difficult and bluntly answered, “When I was done, I knew I was done.”

Photos by Alan SHAFFER