We like our sports heroes to leave at the top. John Elway walking away after his second Super Bowl win. Michael Jordan walking away after that sixth title with the Bulls. (What is that you say, something about Washington? I have no memory of that. Must have blocked it out.)
Will Phil Jackson do the same? He has reached what was clearly a goal by winning his 10th title, making him the winningest coach of all time. Anyone who has been around the Lakers this year can see the physical struggle he's been dealing with after two hip replacement surgeries. The man is fighting through pain. His friend and mentor Tex Winter had a stroke and is no longer hanging around. And bottom line Jackson would be just as happy fishing at his ranch in Montana and taking some trips with Luc Longley to Australia.
Kobe Bryant, the leader of the Lakers, has no clue what Jackson will do.
“I don’t know, I don’t have a sense either way,” Bryant said. “We had one year with this group, it’s a pretty easy group for him to navigate through. So I think it mainly depends on how he feels physically, because it’s been a struggle for him. Physically if he feels fine then he’ll come back and give it another go.”
There are $10 million reasons for Jackson to come back. Yes, sure he’s already rich. But would you leave $10 million on the table?
The other half of the equation is that Jackson is a very competitive person. You don’t get 12 NBA championship rings any other way (remember, he has two as a player with the Knicks). This is a team that, while there are some offseason questions to address, will be in the middle of the championship contention next year. And as Kobe said, this is a team he doesn’t have to push as hard as some past teams.
“They came together this year and were self motivated, and for a coach that’s always a positive sign,” Jackson said. “When a team is ready, they’re aggressive, their learning curve is high, and they wanted to win. I’ve always felt as a coach you have to push your team, and I told them they had to push themselves. I wasn’t at the stage of my life where I could get out and do the things that I had done 10 years ago or 15 years ago to push a team. And they pushed themselves, and I really feel strongly that this is about them.”
No doubt, Jackson is not going to coach all that much longer. But to walk away from $10 million and a self-motivated team that will contend again for the title? Jackson’s hips can handle one more year.