The biggest question heading into this offseason for the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers is the status of Phil Jackson. The Zen Master, who now owns 11 rings, is contemplating retirement, largely due to health concerns.
No one — not even the folks deep within the organization — seems to have a clue as to what Phil will ultimately decide to do.
Jackson’s daughter, Chelsea, may have some insight on her father’s big decision. She tells Sports Illustrated that she believes Jackson has coached his final NBA game:
As the clock ticked down on the 83–79 win, every Laker stood except Jackson. Finally, he rose and ambled toward midcourt, exchanging a few embraces. Usually when a coach wins a title he can’t get an inch of personal space. But the 64-year-old Jackson stood alone for a solid 10 seconds, staring into the upper bowl, savoring what he had wrought. He recognizes, even after 11 of these things, that each one could be his last.
“I think this is it,” Chelsea says. “I think he’s done now.”
Really, what is the difference between 11 championships and 12, between three threepeats and a fourth? Jackson eclipsed Red Auerbach’s record of nine titles last year. He could walk away on his two artificial hips and his bum left knee and be thankful the damage from a career spent in the gym was not worse. This seems like the time, with his contract up and owner Jerry Buss threatening to slice his $12 million salary.
“If you asked me last February if I was going to continue to coach, I’d have given you a long look and said, ‘Probably not.’” Those were Jackson’s words, to this magazine, more than 14 years ago, before his second threepeat with the Bulls. He claimed then that he would retire within two seasons, and go off to another career, possibly in politics. Growing up, he assumed he would be a minister. Friends in college pegged him for a philosophy professor.
Phil Jackson has told the media that he’ll have a decision made within a week on whether or not to coach the Lakers next season.