Phil Jackson Is So Great, He Coached the ‘89 Pistons

How do you write a preview column about an NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Celtics, the least novel matchup there could be? The Washington Post’s Mike Wise decided to go with a piece observing that Phil Jackson—coach of NBA championship teams in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2009—is a good basketball coach . But! Wise comes up with a new twist. And “surprisingly it has nothing to do with…a record 10 NBA titles”: 

What do Ron Artest, Isaiah Rider, Dennis Rodman and the late Bison Dele have in common, other than being finalists for the Mount Rushmore of NBA Malcontents? Jackson got every one of those coach-killers, all of whose antics and behavior at some point detonated their own careers, to play on an NBA Finals team.


“Think about who he’s gotten to fit in,” said Frank Hamblen, Jackson’s longtime assistant in both cities. “The system has helped a lot of guys who couldn’t make it in other situations – let alone the league – find a place to be productive and part of a group as opposed to just staying individuals.

Depends partly on what you mean by “play”— Isaiah Rider averaged 18 minutes per game off the bench for the 2000-2001 Lakers, then got left off the playoff roster . Not too impressive as redemption-through-coaching goes.

The name that jumps out, though, is that of Dennis Rodman . Yes, Rodman once ” wore a bridal gown while signing copies of his new book,” as Wise recalls. But Wise skips over a few other parts of Rodman’s history, before the power forward’s life became an ongoing freak show .

When Rodman joined Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls in 1995, for instance, he had just led the league in rebounding for the fourth straight year and had been named to the NBA All-Defensive first team for the sixth time. His San Antonio Spurs team had won 62 games the year before, going to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the eventual champion Houston Rockets.

Oh, and before he joined the Spurs, Rodman had already won two NBA championships with the Detroit Pistons.

So according to Mike Wise, the little-known secret of Phil Jackson’s success is that he was also Chuck Daly .

Or you can stick with the boring conventional theory that Jackson knows how to take great players and fit them into his system.