The Irony of Green and Red

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?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Irony of Green and Red

  1. I’m not going to disagree about the “good fortune” that Phil Jackson has had in his career. However, all of those teams that he had WERE put together before he arrived. But none of them had accomplished squat without him. He also did some exceptional work in the year-and-a-half that Jordan was on hiatus and in the last two years with a Shaq-less and undermanned Lakers crew. The Zen Master definitely brought something to the table, and you also have to consider that in the Media Madness that we live in today, Jackson had much more pressure on him in the last 20 years than any of the classic, old-time great coaches did. And that one’s not even close.

  2. To say that the teams he inherited did nothing is totally incorrect. The Bulls went farther (Conference finals loss to Detroit) under Doug Collins the year before he took over than they did in his first season (they lost in the Conference Semi’s). The year before he took over in LA was the strike shortened season. The year before that, the Lakers won 61 games and lost to the Jazz in the conference finals under Dell Harris. That 1997/98 Lakers team would have been whooped by the Bulls anyway with Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and company that squeaked out the title that year anyway.

    The fact is that Phil Jackson, until the past couple of seasons, has never faced adversity, has never NOT had the NBA’s best player, and has never had to build or rebuild one single team.

    I agree with your point about media scrutiny, but the short of it is that when Jordan quit, Jackson quit. When Shaq left, Jackson left. Jackson’s career regular season, playoff, and championship numbers are seriously skewed. That’s not to say he isn’t a good coach. I just don’t buy the “greatest of all time” lable that some people have tagged him with.

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