The most prominent takeaway from the first four episodes of ESPN’s doc, The Last Dance, is that Phil Jackson was a true players’ coach of the Chicago Bulls.
Phil Jackson has had a dynamic NBA career. He was a two-time NBA Finals champion as a role player with the New York Knicks. He then became an 11-time NBA Finals Championship as a head coach between the Chicago Bulls (6 rings) and the Los Angeles Lakers (5 rings). After retiring in 2011. he came out of retirement in 2014 when James Dolan threw him the bag to run the Knicks.
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Sadly, his tenure with the Knicks ended with an 80-166 record. Although he was released after fulfilling three years of his five-year contract, his overall legacy is significant and memorialized in ESPN’s “The Last Dance.”
In the released episodes of the documentary, his rise to fame and success seems like a fairy tale.
As depicted in episode four of the series, Jackson was an eccentric individual. From being described as too caring and a hippy, none of those traits seem for the making of head coach during that time period.
Yet, because of his coaching experiences in Puerto Rico, to the Albany Patroons (and winning a title with them), and as an assistant coach of the Bulls, he was able to combine his experiences with his personality to become a true players’ coach–someone who can truly connect with players on a personal level and is in their corner. This philosophy ultimately led him to become one of the most influential coaches in sports history.
As Steve Kerr stated in episode four, “I have never met a coach who was that different and genuine when it came to bringing the group together.”
As we watch the series and continuously wonder how this team did not fall apart at the seams, Jackson somehow was able to hold it all together.
Let’s look at some of the ways that Jackson was able to cater his coaching skills to three very different men and bring them together.