Phil Jackson, Zen Master. The Greatest Coach of All Time?
When his name is brought up, Red Auerbach’s name is not too far behind. We have heard of the MJ versus Kobe, Kobe versus Lebron, and then the inevitable MJ versus Kobe AND Lebron debates (those have been done to death) making this argument sitting in the back.
P. Jax did his damage with the complicated free system based on politics and money called, “Free Agency.” How can any coach achieve ten championships in such a short amount of time with free agency? This is a monumental epic feat that Red Auerbach cannot even accomplish. General Managers have difficulty keeping a core together, so when players end up leaving, it is incredibly tough to rebuild chemistry with new incoming players who could be less talented. Players back in Red’s era had a sense of loyalty. Based on this fact alone, it was easier to retain them. Today, it is obvious that players are loyal to the money and having a more significant role to feed the ego. If Red was to coach today, he probably could not handle the pressures of producing turnarounds very quickly. Simply put, things are more complex compared to the times of yesteryear. Besides, Auerbach just gives off this aura of “If he wants more than what we’re offering, let him leave. Screw it.” I remember in an interview that he had to deal with an unsatisfied player. Red told him, “Do you want to play in Siberia? I can make that happen.”
Managing players’ egos is where P. Jax shines. Auerbach is fine, too, but as I mentioned, things are more complex than ever before. Most rookies coming in now think they’re all stars already coupled with the fact that they became multimillionaires overnight. Do they feel a sense of entitlement? Sure, why the heck not? If you were picked in the top 10 of any draft, wouldn’t you feel that you were some kind of savior? Heck yes! Don’t be bashful. Would Auerbach put up with that hot mess? No. Would Phil? Yes, but he does in a subtle way. He just will not play that player many minutes. Red would just tell a player to go take a flying leap into a toxic dump. It’s interesting that both coaches are the masters of mind games.
Auerbach would be a realist about managing chemistry and roles while Jackson is the Zen Master applying Eastern philosophy and Native American spiritual practices. For any person to apply unorthodox left field tactics, that person will get my props for branching out in weird ways. He’s also the pioneer of the triangle offense. Don’t get it twisted. Both men made it work. Despite having different styles, they were great in what they did.
Auerbach actually developed talent from the ground up through the draft whereas Jackson stepped into a solid team with two superstars. The only player he actually developed was Scottie Pippen while Red developed Russell, Havlicek, Cousy, Sharman, and many others. He was also a pioneer to adopt a “No Color Barrier” motto, introducing the fast break, and inventing concepts of the role player and Sixth man. Auerbach is the man in those departments. In terms of impact on the game, Auerbach trumps Jackson. No question.
Is Phil Jackson the greatest coach of all time? To answer this, one needs to think, “Who was the better coach?”
In the end, regardless of either man, it’s about the results.
Career – Regular season 1041 – 435
Winning percentage .705
Playoffs 209 – 91
10 championships during 18 year career.
Overall: 938 – 479
Playoffs: 99 – 69
9 championships in 16 years with Boston
What do you think?