Executive Times






2005 Book Reviews


The Last Season by Phil Jackson


Rating: (Recommended)




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It appears to have to pass that what was to have been The Last Season for Phil Jackson won’t be. When his contract was not renewed following the Lakers failure to win the 2003-4 season, Jackson retired and wrote a book about that last season. He’s since been rehired, and what he wrote about Kobe Bryant in The Last Season will make for an interesting relationship over the coming year. Basically, Jackson portrayed Bryant as selfish and callous. Most of the book is written with a detachment that many readers will find calm. Here’s an excerpt, from the end of Chapter 3, “An Opening Statement,” pp. 58-63:



Los Angeles


The Indiana Pacers came into Staples last night with the best record (14—2) in the league, including 7—0 on the road. We told the play­ers that if we take care of business, this is a team we may very well meet in June. The not-so-subtle message: make a statement. For this team there is no more powerful, deflating statement to the opposition than to pound the ball inside to Shaquille. There’s a rea­son he leads the league almost every year in shooting percentage— most of his field-goal attempts are four or five feet away from the basket. Indiana, like most victims, has no answer except, obviously, to foul him. Feeding the ball to Shaq is not as elementary a matter as the experts tend to assume, especially with rules that sanction double-teams. I’m always irritated when the Lakers are criticized for forgetting about Shaquille for long stretches of a game. Let me clear this up right now: we rarely forget about Shaquille! The op­position often is able to dictate what you can do offensively, and can make it enormously difficult to get Shaq the ball in prime post-UP position. Many teams will hound the player trying to make the entry pass, attacking his arms, putting a hand in his chest, anything to force him to turn and pivot away from the passing angle. There is an art to the entry pass, which is why we work on it over and over in drills. There are very few people on this team who throw it prop­erly, and nobody better than Rick Fox. When the passing angle isn’t there, he proceeds with the next best option, resetting the of­fense with a replacement dribble away from the basket. On many occasions, after Shaq receives the ball in the lane, he passes it back once the inevitable double-team arrives. The second entry pass in the same possession, once he has maneuvered closer to the hoop, is the one that often leads to a score.


Against Indiana, in only two minutes, their center, Jeff Foster, picked up two fouls. Early in the third, their coach, Rick Carlisle, called two timeouts within two minutes of each other. Carlisle sub­scribes to the Lenny Wilkens philosophy of using timeouts as a de­fensive weapon to halt the opponent’s momentum. I don’t subscribe to that philosophy and I know it’s one of my unconventional ten­dencies that infuriates my critics to no end. They see a run by the other team, and figure I’m the one who ought to stop it. I figure that my players are the ones who ought to stop it. Only by stewing in the mess that they created can they be subjected to its full, embar­rassing outcome, and only by discovering on their own how to ex­tricate themselves can they be adequately prepared for the next time they lose their rhythm. I suppose the situation is akin to the father who refuses to bail his son out of jail, teaching him a valu­able lesson. I’ve coached players—Fish and Ron Harper come to mind—who took the initiative to call timeout on their own. If they want to submit and call a truce, I’m fine with that, but I am not going to save their hides. Of course, once the playoffs get under way, I call timeouts more readily. Winning games takes precedence over teaching lessons. I save one timeout to stop the clock in the last five or ten seconds of the game.


We won easily, which only provided more ammunition to those who harp on about the wide discrepancy in talent level, both among individuals and teams, between the two conferences. I’m not about to dispute that fact, not when the West can boast the likes of Shaquille, Kobe, Tim Duncan, Chris Webber, Steve Nash, Kevin Garnett, and others. Nonetheless I don’t view this gap as a sign of the apocalypse. I actually view it as a wonderful opportunity for teams in the East, who can exploit the underdog status to their ad­vantage. In theory I would be in favor of reseeding the teams after the first round of the playoffs, but I recognize what a logistical nightmare that would create. The playoffs already last long enough. Besides, everything is cyclical. Not too long ago, the Pistons and Bulls won every title.



Open skies


We’re cruising in our chartered plane at roughly 35,000 feet, some­where over the Southwest, not far from the journey I took on my bike in July, when I visited Tuba City and Monument Valley in Ari­zona on the way to Flathead Lake. So much is clearer now on this other journey, the victories piling up, the doubts diminishing, the troops sacrificing just as they promised in Hawaii. The triangle comes and goes—Gary prefers a faster pace—and Kobe’s game, with all his distractions, also comes and goes. But we’re 16—3, fresh from back-to-back road wins in San Antonio and Dallas, two of the league’s toughest foes, and I’m confident that over time, Gary will learn the system.


Two nights ago in San Antonio, we dispatched the team we ex­pect to face again come May, outscoring them 28—15 in the fourth to prevail by four. Shaq was awesome, with fifteen points, sixteen boards, and nine blocks. Most significantly, with Karl’s aggressive­ness, we held Tim Duncan without a field goal in the fourth. Be­fore that performance, I hadn’t seen a way we could beat the Spurs. Hours ago in Dallas, our effort was even more outstanding, espe­cially coming on the second night of a back-to-back sequence. When I received my first copy of this year’s schedule, one of the ini­tial things I checked out were the back-to-back dates. We’re slated for nineteen, which is on the high end. Usually in the first game, I try to squeeze ten minutes out of the reserves in the second quar­ter, as opposed to six or seven. In the second half, I adhere more to my traditional rotation, taking whatever steps necessary to win that game. I can’t afford to worry about the next game. Fortunately, only Kobe played more than forty minutes against the Spurs, leav­ing us sufficiently fresh to keep up with the high-energy Mavs. We won handily, benefiting from the absence of their dangerous big man, Dirk Nowitzki. Up here in the clouds, I’m still savoring the victory, although there is one tiny dark cloud on the horizon. Karl, I’m certain, will be suspended for an incident involving Steve Nash.


Early in the third quarter, trying to knock a rebound out of Karl’s hands, Nash was met with an elbow to the chops. I leaped off the bench immediately, which for me in a regular season con­test is about as frequent an occurrence as a Shaquille three-pointer. I was screaming for a foul on Nash, so when the official called it on Karl, I picked up a technical foul, my second of the year, nor­mally about my limit for an entire season. I used to acquire Ts more routinely but then it dawned on me that all I was doing was giving free points to the opposition. Sure, maybe you’ll get a call at some point later in the game, and I can see occasions when a tech­nical might send an important message to your team, but there’s a manipulative aspect to such outbursts that offends an old-fashioned purist like myself. I will argue for calls that should have gone our way, but there is a line I will not cross. The game, whatever else it may signify, is just that, a game. Many coaches adopt a much dif­ferent view. Nellie, for instance, when his team was stinking up the joint, used to tell the refs: “Throw me out of this game. I’m going to call you a cocksucker and a motherfucker. Now throw me out. I can’t stand my team.” The refs didn’t always submit. “I’m not throwing you out,” one might say. “You’re going to have to stay and watch this shit yourself.” Nellie would still find a way to get thrown out, jump in a cab, and be in his hotel room before the game was over.


For me the turning point came in 1995, when Dennis Rodman joined the Bulls. I noticed that whenever I became animated, Den­nis, who did not need much to be provoked, would almost dupli­cate my reactions. He was dealing with enough authority problems already without being further incited. I started to behave more sto­ically, which did not mean I wasn’t as involved in the game. If there is any major misconception about me, or any coach, for that mat­ter, it’s that we’re not as engaged if we don’t scream at the refs or pace along the sidelines. Such antics only serve to distract the team from the game plan. I also believe the majority of coaching is done before the game. Timeouts and substitutions obviously play an ex­tremely important role, but the strategy, which principles should be followed, is put in place many hours before tip-off.



Los Angeles


We escaped with the “W” tonight, but escaping is not exactly what I had in mind with this unique collection of talent, even without Karl, who was indeed suspended for one game. Karl did nothing wrong. According to the rules, a player is allowed to pivot with the ball “chinned” and the elbows extended. If contact is made, he’s not in violation unless he swings his elbows. Nash is the one who ini­tiated the contact. We took a fifteen-point lead at the half but al­lowed the Jazz to outscore us 28—27 in the third quarter, which, given our sizable advantage, may not seem like such a big deal. But winning a quarter, even by a point, is a very big deal on the psy­chological front. Teams often start to control a game long before it is reflected on the scoreboard. In the huddle before starting the fourth quarter, I exhorted my guys: “Get back the momentum.” Apparently my exhortation did little good. The Jazz, picked by many to be among the worst teams in the conference, kept clawing away, finally assuming the lead in the last minute of the game. We prevailed when Devean George hit a three-pointer with twenty­-four seconds left for our ninth straight win, our longest streak in two years. The fans were thrilled. I was not. Our familiar inability to display, pardon the cliché, a killer instinct is very troubling. We must find one, and soon.


Basketball fans will enjoy this day by day, play by play perspective from one of the greatest coaches of the sport. The Last Season also describes the challenges of all relationships, especially of those who can be considered “unmanageable.”


Steve Hopkins, September 25, 2005



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