Could Phil Jackson replace Doc Rivers at the Clippers? All about the legendary coach

Samantha McGarry September 29, 2020
Could Phil Jackson replace Doc Rivers at the Clippers? All about the legendary coach
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Coaches Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers have been in the news recently regarding the Rivers’ leaving the Clippers. Could former Bulls and Lakers supremo Jackson replace him at the helm of the team? Here’s a look at the legendary coach Jackson’s quirky route to success.

Coach Phil Jackson

Photo by Tommaso Boddi/WireImage

He’s one of the longer shots out there – Jackson has been out of the game for three years and last led a team to the title ten years ago. Even so, he remains one of the most successful coaches in the NBA and you could argue there are similarities between where the Clippers are now and where the Bulls were in 1982.

Here’s a look at the man known as the Zen Master and his quirky route to success.

The early years

Unlike most of those who reach the top in the NBA, Jackson didn’t hail from a basketball family at all. The son of Pentecostal ministers, Jackson’s upbringing in a remote area of Montana is reported to have been supportive but spartan, with television and dancing not allowed.

Despite, and perhaps because of, this Jackson threw himself into sport, leading his varsity basketball team to a state title. His energy also saw him try football, baseball and discus. 

He continued to play basketball and in 1967 was drafted by the New York Knicks. Perhaps his greatest asset on the court was his intelligence and hard work and he was a top reserve in the title-winning team of 1973.

Despite his quiet upbringing, Jackson shared the lead for the most personal fouls the following season. Michael Jordan and others have said it was never good news to be on the wrong side of him.

However, he has been described as the “team hippie” and an intellectual one at that. Team-mate Walt Frazier said: “He could have been a better player if he had applied himself to it as much as he applied himself to his books.”

This analytical and spiritual approach was perhaps why he felt so at home coaching and he went on to write several books on the subject.

The Zen Master: Coach Jackson’s philosophy

Photo by Faye Cornish on Unsplash

Having coached the Bulls to a record six NBA titles and the Lakers to five in teams featuring two of the all-time greats, Jordan and Kobe Bryant, Jackson was always keen to help his players improve and get the best out of themselves. 

One key was encouraging a team of exceptional players with huge egos to work as one unit. 

‘The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome. The ride is a lot more fun that way’

Phil Jackson, Eleven Rings: The Soul Of Success

Mindfulness and Zen meditation were central to his approach, as well as Native American teachings. He has said a key concept was “one breath, one mind”.

He reasoned: “As much as we pump iron and run to build our strength, we need to build our mental strength so we can be in concert with one another.”

With this approach he became known as the Zen Master. Jackson has cited Robert Pirsig’s Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance as a major guiding force in his life.

‘What matters most is playing the game the right way and having the courage to grow as human beings as well as basketball players. When you do that, the ring takes care of itself’

Phil Jackson, Eleven Rings: The Soul Of Success

After Jordan’s temporary retirement, Jackson began to introduce meditation and mindfulness sessions to training to reinvigorate the team’s self-belief.

Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

As recounted in Beyond The Last Dance, when Jordan returned and was introduced to a meditation session he was initially convinced it was a prank. Once he realised it was genuine, he made full use of the experience and the team said it boosted team spirit.  

Jackson said: “At the start of every season I always encouraged players to focus on the journey rather than the goal.”

This approach clearly served the Bulls and Lakers very well. While it remains to be seen who’ll take over the Clippers, Jackson would certainly bring something new to the team.

Have something to tell us about this article?
Let us know