'Long strange trip' puts Bulls' Jackson among NBA's coaching elite

June 16, 1992|By Ed Sherman | Ed Sherman,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- To the fraternity of coaches that includes Red Auerbach, Pat Riley and Chuck Daly, make room for the Chicago Bulls' Phil Jackson.

Jackson now joins an elite group of coaches who have won back-to-back titles.

Jackson, though, will forever be cut from a different cloth than the other group. He showed it in his post-game remarks.

The former hippie, child of the '60s, went back to his former generation to describe the feeling.

"John Paxson turned to me in the locker room and said, 'What a long, strange trip it has been,' " Jackson said, "and he wasn't just quoting the Grateful Dead. It has been a long strange trip. Last year was the honeymoon. This year was an odyssey."

Nothing was stranger than Jackson's lineup in the fourth quarter when the Bulls made a 14-2 run. Down by 15, Jackson felt he could afford to gamble and inserted Bobby Hansen and Stacey King, along with B.J. Armstrong and Scott Williams.

"We needed a different matchup," Jackson said. "That's what we got from those young guys. They had fresh legs. Either it's daring or stupid, depending on which way it comes out."

It turned out to be genius, which is why Jackson now joins select company. The run continues to get better for the South Dakota native. In three years as head coach of the Bulls, Jackson has posted a glitzy 183-63 regular-season mark, 40-15 in the playoffs.

"I think we have the best coaching staff in the world," Bulls general manager Jerry Krause said. "Phil is a brainpicker. Those two old guys [assistants John Bach and Tex Winter] pump information at him.

"Phil has done a great job. It's so hard to repeat. We've had our share of distractions. [Red] Auerbach won, but back then there was no free agency and the top player was making $100,000. It's a whole different game."

Jackson, though, did it this year by not changing his game. He did the same things as last year when the Bulls ran to their first title.

He managed to keep the players focused, and they rose to even greater heights, winning a franchise-record 67 games during the regular season.

"We do the same thing every day," said Paxson. "The routine always stays the same. That's why we're so stable.

"When he has to, he can make you work. He makes us watch a lot of video. Players don't like to do that because that's where you see the mistakes. But Phil never demeans you. He never makes it feel like he's using you.

"He hasn't changed. He's the same guy every day."

Center Bill Cartwright agreed. "Phil is very realistic. He knows we have a good team," said Cartwright. "We know we have a chance to win basketball games if we play like we should. He told us we didn't have to come up with an exceptional effort. We didn't need to be supermen."

It's Jackson's ability to relate to players that has enabled him to be successful with the Bulls. Krause says he can relate to all people.

"Phil is a wide-ranging person," Krause said. "He's cerebral. He can touch people in the $100 seats, and he can touch the game in the second balcony. The same thing holds true in the locker room. He can touch the players with the problems or not. He touches all levels of society."

Paxson credits Jackson for knowing his players both mentally and physically. If there was a time when the title may have been lost, it was after Game 2. The Bulls flew all day to Portland and were scheduled to practice.

Jackson, though, saw how tired and down they were and canceled the drills. Mentally, that was the tonic they needed.

"Phil knows when to push and at other times, when to pull away," Paxson said. "Every ex-player who was a coach understands how the body feels. Another coach would have had us in the gym the next day after a loss like that."

Now Jackson and the Bulls are in the enviable position of being able to three-peat.

"The anticipation is that we'll get it done next year," Jackson said. "We've got the same guys back and the same chemistry."

And the same coach to make sure the mix is right.

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