Phil Jackson: 2010-11 Exit Interview

Phil Jackson concluded the greatest coaching career in NBA history with the most coaching championships (11), the highest regular season winning percentage (70.4 percent), the fourth most regular season wins (1,155), the most playoff wins of all-time and the highest playoff winning percentage (68.8 percent). In 20 seasons, he went to the Finals 13 times (65 percent).

Below is a summary of Jackson’s final interview with the collected media:

- Opening Statement:

I wanted to thank the L.A. fans, the Lakers fans particularly have been generous to me. When I first came here they thanked me for coming to L.A.; I hope they thank me for leaving. Members of the press have been just about 99 and a half percent good to me to, so thank you guys for all the generous comments you made over the years. It’s been a remarkable run, everybody knows that, and it was a devastating loss. We have to accept that and move forward as a team. Players these last couple of days all have resolve to come back and finish it better. I like what I saw with the players, (who were) I think humbled. They know that they have to find a way to build that chemistry back that makes a team move in the right direction as one.

- On what the Lakers need moving forward: “It’s still a good team. It needs to build speed. It needs to have some speed and they get some easy baskets as a group. I think that’s the biggest key in basketball, you have to be able to find a way to score that’s not always in a set offense, not always in the half court offense.”

- Phil was not emotional. Perhaps his players were, but not him. He was doing just fine.

- On running the triangle offense, and if L.A. should sustain the system: “There are four or five players that really know how to work it pretty well. There were players that struggled with it … but there are always going to be players that aren’t into execution. But this is something that cost us in the end result, an inability to execute when we needed to.”

Phil on how he was able to do what he did as a coach: “I’ll sum it up (by saying) talent wins. When you have talent to coach, it makes all the difference in the world. I’ve coached some of the best talent that’s ever played the game. That’s a real fact of the matter. To be able to generate momentum so it wasn’t just one trick and it was over, has a lot to do with the staff that joined me. Tex Winter, Johnny Bach, Jim Cleamons, Jimmy Rodgers, Frank Hamblen, Brian Shaw, Kurt Rambis and Chuck Person … Bill Cartwright was there for a year, and Johnny Paxon in Chicago. So there was a combination of people that came into the staff that were dedicated to what we were doing, were interested in the execution. Tex Winter was a stalwart companion of mine as a coach for 15 years of these 20, so that was real good teamwork that we had together. It was a lot of fun, and players caught on and got with it. The strengths that I have are probably are about community, about groups, about the chemistry on a team.”

- Phil mentioned that the first time he interviewed for a head coaching job he didn’t know X’s and O’s as well as he should have, and didn’t get the gig. Figuring out how to make a last second play work wasn’t always his strength, and Jackson said that strategy elements weren’t what he was best at throughout his career.

- Phil on what he wants to do in retirement:
“Some of the musings that I have always had are adventures. I was a kid that liked to read Robinson Crusoe. The last time I had a year off I traveled to the South Pacific, but I realized on that trip I was not physically capable of that kind of adventure.” He’d like to get back to that type of thing if he’s physically capable. One thing he might like to do is travel the world east to west and north to south on a motorcycle, like he said Johnny Rogers did.

- On players putting pressure on themselves to win for him: “That’s the way I anticipated it to be. I thought they played with that on their shoulders a little bit this season, but I thought that was OK for them to do that, a good challenge. But I wanted it to be about themselves, to three-peat and go out with that kind of opportunity to finish like that would have been a special occasion.”

- Phil on what he’s learned from his players: “How to be patient and generous … they’re impetuous and impulsive kids, a lot of the times that we get here, and they’re awfully strong willed, and that’s what makes them good players. They’ve taught me a lot.”

- Jackson’s ability to build a relationship with Kobe in the second stint was rewarding to him, as was re-capturing his relationship with Derek Fisher, the two players serving as his captains. One of the reasons Jeanie Buss called him to return to the team in the first place was to build those bridges again, and create the strength of character in the organization.

- Phil doesn’t think he’ll particularly miss coaching so much after retiring, and is definitely not be interested in broadcasting.

- Jackson didn’t want to use the word “love” to describe how he felt about coaching, choosing rather to say that he was “challenged by it. Essentially, it is the next best thing to actually playing basketball for a competitor, and Jackson’s an extremely competitive person.

- Jackson was asked how he could be sure that he doesn’t want to coach again when, inevitably, another team calls him down the road: “Today I’m sure.” Then he almost slipped in: “What it’s going to be like in six months, who knows?” This was the first time he’d even hinted at something like that, but we can’t be sure if he was just suggesting he can’t predict the future, or actually wasn’t sure if he’d ever want to coach again.

- Phil said he’s always thought of himself as an outsider in the coaching community. In fact, he never wanted to be a coach in the first place, when first thinking about it as his coach Red Holtzman urged, wondering why he’d want to get involved with all the coaching “knuckleheads” he had around him. He wondered why he’d want to get himself involved in anything so difficult. Once actually looking for a job in the NBA after having successes in the CBA, Jackson didn’t really have a coaching tree to cling on to, instead just blazing his own path.