Showtime returns

Lakers get Jackson

$30 million package brings L.A. celebration

June 16, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Phil Jackson, former hippie, noted philosopher and one of the most successful coaches in NBA history, yesterday agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Lakers, a frazzled, former championship-level franchise in search of peace, purpose and prosperity.

After whirlwind negotiations, Jackson, who left the Chicago Bulls in 1998 after winning six championships in his final eight seasons, was scheduled to fly from his Montana home into L.A. last night, sign the deal this morning, and then be introduced as the team's new coach at a Beverly Hills news conference at noon.

"Everyone within the organization is thrilled," Lakers spokesman John Black said yesterday, after confirming that a deal had been struck. "And the sense we've gotten is the whole city of L.A. is thrilled about this as well.

"Tomorrow should be an exciting day in the history of the Lakers."

It is not an inexpensive union. Jackson, 53, agreed to a five-year deal worth about $30 million. Among the current Lakers players, only Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Glen Rice are scheduled to earn higher salaries next season.

Among other NBA coaches, Jackson's $6 million salary puts him below only Boston's Rick Pitino, who reportedly makes $7 million a year, and possibly Miami's Pat Riley, whose salary and other benefits push his yearly compensation to $8 million.

But Jackson's earned reputation as smooth handler of large egos and disparate talents made him the obvious choice.

Veteran guard Derek Harper is so excited about the move, he's putting off retirement.

"A coach makes a huge difference, a world of difference," Harper, 37, told the Orange County Register. "It's a great move by Jerry West and the organization."

Harper has acknowledged that he wasted a lot of effort trying to teach younger teammates such as O'Neal and Bryant how to win.

"People say a lot of things about our young guys, but they want a leader," Harper said. "Shaq wants somebody to push him further than he has been pushed before. Kobe is the most misunderstood guy anywhere. People have this bad picture of the kid, and all he wants is to be a great player. The guys do want to win."

The Lakers have been without a championship since 1988 and have not been to the championship round since 1991.

Jackson, who took over the Bulls in 1989, compiled a 545-193 record there -- the highest winning percentage in league history -- and was 111-41 in the postseason.

Jackson, too, has something to achieve with the Lakers, namely, proving that he can win a championship without the elevating presence of Michael Jordan, who was on all of his Chicago title teams and who retired after the lockout, in part, because Jackson had left.

In the three seasons since O'Neal came to the Lakers from Orlando, the Lakers have lost miserably in the second, third and second rounds of the Western Conference playoffs.

Pub Date: 6/16/99

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