Learning Something From Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson of the Lakers still plans on retiring after the season. Prior to the start of the season, Phil called the season his "last stand," presumably because he intends to be attacked by Indians on his way to his Montana home where he spends his off-seasons fly fishing.

Jackson -- or "JackZen,'' as our man Fish calls him -- has always been something of a thorn in the side of the Dallas Mavericks and not just because of his multiple championships with the Lakers and the Bulls. He also had a way of being somewhat prickly ... especially in dealing with Mark Cuban, who has referred to Jackson as the "boy-toy" of girlfriend Jeanie Buss, the Lakers' executive vice president of business operations and daughter of owner Jerry Buss.

There is something to be learned from Jackson as he makes his last circuit through the league, hopefully ending in dismal failure in this year's playoffs. He has always had a somewhat unique approach to the game, employing Tex Winter's triangle offense as well as what it termed a "holistic" approach to coaching. He bases a lot of his coaching on Easter philosophy, citing Robert Pirsig and his book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'' for being an important inspiration to him. He also penned a book about Native American spiritual practices as applied to basketball, which is entitled "Sacred Hoops.'' Critics claim that the spirituality material is just used to create an air of mystery, and that the presence of Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kobe Bryant had a lot more to do with his success than meditation and chanting. His critics are probably right. Still, there is something to be said for maintaining an evenness or balance in your life that can mitigate the ups and downs of a basketball season, and the calmness that comes from a spiritual approach to the game might be a way of reeling in some of the huge personalities in the NBA.

Even if the approach was a success for the Zen Master, there is no reason to assume another coach could adopt the same Zen approach to coaching. It is not something that you can fake your way through. As Pirsig said, "The only Zen you will find on the mountain top is the Zen you bring with you."

The problem with the thinking of some of the so-called experts in sports is it is very difficult to separate the things that truly made a team, a player, or a coach successful, because it probably was not one thing, but rather a confluence, of things coming together at the right time.

Attitude certainly has a lot to do with success. Every winner wins in large part because they expect to win. The winner of a 100-meter sprint at the Olympic level is often the same person race after race, by fractions of a second, and frequently the only thing that separates first and second place is attitude, the expectancy of winning.

That is something we could learn from Phil Jackson. Expect to win; don't even contemplate the alternative. The Zen approach has suited Phil, to the point where, he is beginning to actually look like the Buddha, balding and putting on a few pounds. It does appear that he is serious about retirement. Not coincidentally some 12,000 year old fishing gear was recently found in California, so apparently Phil's been fishing quite a while.

Here's hoping this spring's Lakers expedition doesn't quite go Phil's way ... for a change. ... and that despite his expectation of winning, the Mavs force him contemplate the alternative.

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