To begin our discussion, this quote from the Los Angeles Times:
Still, Jackson was asked again if he could see himself taking some time off and coming back to coach.
“No,” Jackson responded quickly.
Why not? he was asked.
“I think I’ve put in my service time,” Jackson, 65, said. “I think I’ve done my due diligence that I set out to do, especially with this organization.”
Phil’s been running out of steam for a while. He’s never been the fiery, yelling, constantly teaching coach, more the “laid back, point out to you what you did wrong in a sidemouthed way while motivating you to as many championships as possible” coach. He’s been leaning towards walking away for years, and has decided this it. He’s going to win his twelfth coaching championship, his fourth three-peat, and call it a career.
So the question is: What if he doesn’t win that twelfth ring?
BIG GIGANTIC HUGE PREFACE THAT I WANT YOU TO READ FIRST: I have every confidence that the Lakers will win the NBA championship this season, earning Phil that twelfth ring and fourth three-peat. I think that while Boston is currently the best team in the NBA and has clearly been so this season thus far, that Boston still relies on a core of bigs who are older than LA’s sequoia fleet, outside of Kendrick Perkins who is recovering from severe knee injury and Glen Davis who plays like a drunken seal who knows kung-fu. The Lakers employ Lamar Odom as their sixth man, for crying out loud. Matt Barnes is a small-minutes rotation guy. Steve Blake is their backup point guard. The level to which they have immense talent dripping from their corners is absurd. Phil Jackson wins titles, that’s what he does. So I still have every reason to believe that when the time comes, Kobe Bryant’s shot will fall, Pau Gasol will play at an elite level, and Andrew Bynum will manage to stay just healthy enough, and work just hard enough to earn that ring for LA. This isn’t mean to suggest that the Lakers are not the favorites. So put your spears down, Lakers fans. This is a theoretical exercise.
Let’s say that for whatever reason, the Lakers don’t win the championship. Kobe Bryant gets injured to the point where he can’t play (I’m pretty sure at this point that would have to involve amputation, but again, use your imagination). Pau Gasol goes down with a non-beard related injury. The Thunder go bonkers. The Spurs manage to escape with one. The Celtics rise to the challenge and down the champs in a rubber-match. Or, God Forbid in the eyes of Laker fans, the Heat really do get to that level and overwhelm all challengers.
Does Phil Jackson return? He’d be 66 next season, after promising himself he was done. But there would be Kobe Bryant, who has given him so much success, still trying to achieve that sixth ring to tie Jordan, Jackson’s other product. Pau Gasol who many say is Jackson’s academic comrade. Ron Artest who has asked for and gained so much from Jackson, a true redemption story (try not to look at his field goal percentage this season when you’re writing the Lifetime movie). And there would be Andrew Bynum, who… okay, Bynum seems to kind of annoy Jackson. But still. He’d be walking away with eleven (coaching), not twelve. Five with LA, not six. Odd numbers. Incomplete. three and two-thirds three-peats doesn’t have the same ring to it (pardon the pun).
What would it mean for Jackson, though? He’s a well-rounded philosopher, who enjoys the simpler things in life, like Montana and the company of his boss’ daughter. Does he need that ring to validate himself? Or instead, could he walk away and know that he’d done a great job, cemented his legacy, and earned more championships than most coaches dream of.
It would be a terrible decision for Jackson, one that would likely be answered by his health, in the negative. A shame for a career to go out like that, a veritable sports disappointment bordering on, but not touching, tragedy.
Doesn’t really sound like an LA Lakers-type narrative does it?
And so the alternative is clear. The championship must be won for the narrative to complete itself. Bryant must rise to the challenge as he has so often, and Pau must play the part. Life is seldom perfect and fitting and storybook. But then, the NBA is the Lakers’ kingdom, and they rule as they see fit.
Does Jackson return if he doesn’t win the last one this season?