the KOAN method

Reading List

112 – Phil Jackson: Zen Master Timeline

“Phil Jackson: Zen Master Timeline.” (September 7, 2007).

Long before he started collecting NBA title rings, Jackson got accustomed to leading high school teams to titles.

Jackson scored 35 points in the North Dakota state championship game and set a tournament record with 96 points to lead his team to the 1963 state title.

Jackson’s high school yearbook entry in Williston, N.D.:

Philip D. Jackson
“He stoops only for a door, and all look up to him.” Phi Thetta 4; Pep Club 4; Letterman’s Club 2, 3, 4; Coyote-on-the-air 4; Playmaker’s 3, 4; Boys’ State 3; Junior Class Play, Senior Class Play; Sophomore Class Offices; Capers 2, 3, 4; Varsity Football 4; “B” Football 2; Varsity Basketball 2, 3, 4; Track 2.

At 6-foot-8, Jackson didn’t have a stylish game, but his incredible wingspan made him effective nonetheless for North Dakota.

He holds the Division II record for field goals in an NCAA tournament game with 22, and he averaged 27.4 points in his All-American senior season.

Jackson also developed his future NBA coaching skills while playing for the Fighting Sioux.

The North Dakota coach was future NBA coach Bill Fitch (above, left), and Fitch’s assistant was future Celtics and Timberwolves coach Jimmy Rodgers (right). Fitch finished his NBA coaching career with a 944-1,106 record, which leaves him 97 regular-season wins behind Jackson.

Jackson was drafted in 1967 — the New York Knicks took Jackson with the fifth pick of the second round, 17th overall (the NBA had only 12 teams in the 1967-68 season).

The Knicks won the NBA title in 1970, but Jackson missed the entire season with a back injury. The Knicks lost the 1972 title to the Lakers, but Jackson had better luck in 1973 as the Knicks polished off the Lakers in five games.

Jackson played 10 seasons with the Knicks. In 1978, he joined the New Jersey Nets as a player-assistant coach for two seasons before finishing his playing career in 1980.

Jackson’s 1973 Topps card (above, right) provides this upbeat report:

“Phil is underrated in a lot of ways. He’s very important to the Knicks’ defense and he’s a good shooter. He helps his team with intangibles such as boxing his man out under the boards, scrambling for loose balls, setting picks, depriving his opponent of his favorite shooting spot on the floor.”

“Action Jackson,” listed as a 6-8 forward, averaged 6.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 17.6 minutes per game during his 12 NBA seasons.

In 1982, after stints with the New Jersey Nets as an assistant coach and as a broadcaster, Jackson became coach of the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association.

Jackson joined the CBA already known for his countercultural ways as a player (in his 1975 book “Maverick,” he wrote of gaining insight into basketball from taking LSD), and in Albany he showed he was also a coach of a different stripe. He had unusual success getting the Patroons to cooperate, even to share wages and playing time.

Albany won the CBA title in 1984, Jackson’s second season.

In 1987, Chicago Bulls general manager Jerry Krause and Bulls coach Doug Collins hired Jackson as an assistant, and he served in that role for two years.

Then in July 1989, Collins was fired … and the stage was set for the greatest ascension in NBA coaching history. The 1990-91 season would end with the first of his six NBA titles with the Bulls, thanks to Michael Jordan, the triangle offense and his unusual coaching methods. The Zen Master had arrived.

As the Lakers and then the Pistons receded, Jackson’s Chicago Bulls, led by one Michael Jordan, took over the basketball world, winning their first of six NBA titles in June 1991.

In the 1995-96 season, the Bulls posted the best regular-season record in NBA history by going 72-10. Jackson was named coach of the year.

Jackson even became a best-selling author in the ’90s, with “Sacred Hoops.”

The book was something quite unusual, especially for NBA fans.

Library Journal said: “Jackson demonstrates how he adapts the precepts of Zen Buddhism, the ways of the Lakota Sioux, and other alternative styles to the task of coaching. They range from group meditation sessions, to hanging Lakota warrior items on the locker room shelf, to splicing segments of the movie ‘Wizard of Oz’ into game films to make a point.”

Oh, by the way … it had some entertaining stories about the Chicago Bulls, too.

Jackson left the Chicago Bulls in 1998 after winning his sixth NBA title as coach. He seemed to be burned out, and he took a year off, going on a sabbatical to Montana that some thought might last.

But when the 1999-2000 season came and he had the opportunity to coach Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, he jumped at the chance. Three seasons later, he had his third three-peat, and the Lakers were back on top of the NBA.

After a one-year hiatus from coaching, Jackson rejoined Kobe and the Lakers for the 2005-2006 season, with Shaq having moved on to the Heat.

Jackson and Kobe’s relationship was a bit frosty at first, after the Zen Master penned a book that criticized Kobe. But the duo eventually got back on the same page in time for another title run. Led by Bryant and Pau Gasol (acquired at the 2007-08 trade deadline), the Lakers made three straight NBA Finals and won two, in 2009 and 2010.

The Lakers appeared primed for another run in 2010-11, but were swept by the Mavericks in the second round of the playoffs. Jackson retired from coaching after the season as the league leader in career playoff victories and playoff winning percentage, and won a total of 11 championships as a coach.

In 2012, after a year away, Jackson was interested in returning to the sideline to coach the Lakers, but the team decided to hire Mike D’Antoni.

Two years later, after expressing interest in taking on a management role with a team, Jackson returned to the NBA — in the city where it all started for him. On March 18, 2014, the New York Knicks named Jackson president of basketball operations, signing him to a five-year, $60 million contract. Jackson, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, is now faced with perhaps the biggest challenge of his career: making the Knicks winners again.