Phil Jackson is unquestionably one of the greatest coaches of all time, but he didn’t get there by placating people or considering the feelings of others — especially those with seniority or who were holding down a higher-level position within the organization.
Speaking at an event last week where Jackson was plugging his latest book, he recalled the time he asked then Lakers general manager Jerry West — also one of the franchise’s all-time great players — to leave the locker room so Jackson and the team could be alone to dissect the night’s troubles in private.
“The Lakers were really struggling, not enjoying playing together,” said Jackson. “The last five minutes of the game were arduous and painful — so I kicked everybody out of the locker room.
“Jerry and [then-assistant general manager] Mitch Kupchak would come into the locker room afterward … but I wanted it to be just us,” continued Jackson. “So I asked everybody to leave and then I addressed the team and asked them what happened out there on the floor.”
“In the process, I know Jerry was hurt by me asking him to leave the room,” Jackson said. “It has always been what I’ve done any time it got intimate or personal, to ask people that were outside, trainers and ball boys in particular.”
This is believed to have occurred during the Lakers’ first run to a title under Jackson, in the Western Conference Finals back in 2000.
West is the farthest thing from a ballboy, obviously, and was right to have been offended at being excluded from the inner workings of the team. But that’s part of what made Jackson great, the ability to do what he thought was best for the teams he coached no matter who else stood in his way, or may have disagreed with his process in the slightest.
It’s also what made it so tough for the organization to consider bringing him back once they corrected the Mike Brown mistake early last season.