This year’s NBA championship was wrapped in irony and the history of yesterday and today. Many people (including Jackson himself) consider coach Phil Jackson of the LA Lakers to be the greatest coach the NBA has seen. I don’t believe that to be the case. I reluctantly acknowledge now that Phil Jackson has to be mentioned in any list of the greatest NBA coaches. Nine NBA championships (tied with Red Auerbach for most titles), the highest winning percentage in playoffs history by far, the most playoff wins, the 9th highest regular season victory total, and on three different occasions he won 3 titles in a row. The strongest criticism against Jackson is one that I have agreed with. Red Auerback said of Jackson that “he picks his spots.” He has totally had his teams built and developed for him. He has never been responsible for building players or building a team. In Chicago, he had Jordan, Grant, and Pippen in place before he arrived. In LA he had Kobe and Shaq in place before he arrived. Another fair remark tempering his greatness is that every season he has won the championship, he has had the best player in the league on his team, and for the three titles in LA he had arguably the best two players on his team. No other coach can say that.
The Celtics won their 17th World Championship in a blow out last night. In doing so, the Celtics protected the legacy of Red Auerbach for at least one more season. Red is tied with Jackson for #1 all time with 9 championships. Red had serious talent with Russell, Cousy, Havlicek, and many other all time greats. But none of those players were the best player in the league by consensus. And each one of those 9 titles were built by Red, the players were developed by Red, and those teams were undoubtedly Red’s teams. Even the other 7 titles were with Red in the front office with players built by Red and the Celtics organization.
Now here is the irony. This Celtics team is built on talented stars who (other than Pierce) were developed elsewhere. And for the first time, Jackson’s run at the title this year was with a Lakers team that he developed and built himself. Other than Kobe, these guys in LA were brought up or pieced together by Jackson. Red Auerbach passed away in 2006, and I wonder what he would have said about this year’s championship series. I know he would have been happy through and through that his Celtics stopped Jackson from taking sole possession of the lead in titles. But don’t you think he may have to finally acknowledge that even in defeat, coach Jackson (whose arrogance could only be matched by Red’s) has to be named among the greats?