Was Phil Jackson the most important piece in the Chicago Bulls dynasty?

In sports, it’s hard for fans, pundits and players to agree on a consensus GOAT.

But if there were ever a guy who fits the GOAT mold when it comes to the NBA, it was the consensus GOAT’s coach.

Phil Jackson coached Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to six championships in the early to late 1990s. Over the course of his nine seasons as Bulls head coach – Jordan played in about 7.25 of those seasons – he amassed a regular season record of 545-193 and a postseason record of 111-41.

Under Jackson, not only did the Bulls win six titles, Jordan won six Finals MVPs, 5 regular season MVPs, was named to the All-NBA First Team a bunch of times and won a bunch of scoring titles, among other accolades.

With that said, it’s evident why Jordan was so loyal to Jackson and refused to return to the Bulls for the 1998-99 season if Jackson was not the coach, even though we learned last night that MJ wanted a crack at a seventh ring.

Still, Jordan stuck by his word, and when Jackson left Chicago after the 1997-98 season, MJ entered his second retirement.

Just how important was Jackson to the Bulls dynasty? Was he equal to Jordan in terms of creating and maintaining Chicago’s success during the 90s?

Considering Jordan left the game – even with a desire to defend the Bulls’ sixth championship – rather than play for another coach speaks volumes.

On Monday, Nick Wright said that Jackson was the greatest coach in NBA history, considering he took Jordan and others who had never won and made them repeat champions.

“[Phil Jackson] is the greatest basketball coach of all-time and it’s not close. With respect to [Gregg Popovich], it’s not close … His ability to control each situation I thought was so critical given the cauldron that those Bulls teams were in.”

Indeed, there were several situations that were in-need of Jackson’s control while overseeing the Bulls squad for nearly a decade, including a few involving eclectic star forward Dennis Rodman.

On the final night of The Last Dance, we were reminded that before Game 4 of the 1998 NBA Finals, Rodman skipped town to make an appearance with Hulk Hogan on a WCW show.

So, what punishment did Jackson bestow on Rodman upon his return?

None, really.

At the next practice, Jackson addressed Rodman in front of the team, quoted as saying, “He brought us fame and disreputation. We were dishonored.” Then, a few teammates teased “Rodzilla,” and Rodman would play in Game 4, finishing with 6 points and 14 rebounds, including two clutch free throws with 43 seconds left that helped secure a Bulls win.

That “hot streak” was a product of Jackson’s understanding of how to reach each player and control each situation.

It must be noted that Jackson was a 2-time NBA champion as a player with the New York Knicks in 1970 and 1973. And after his six titles with the Bulls, he went on to win five more titles with Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and others.

Chris Broussard said Monday that Jackson was indeed the game’s greatest coach, mainly because many of the game’s greats, including Jordan and Bryant, never won titles without Jackson at the helm, and Jackson found success without Jordan.

“The year Jordan was gone, they won 55 games and played well in the playoffs without Michael.”

However, despite Phil’s greatness as a coach, not all were happy with his Jackson’s journey, including Skip Bayless.

Bayless went as far as to say that Jackson “conned” Jordan into retirement.

Bayless elaborated on Monday morning, saying that Jackson actually broke up the Bulls dynasty, not general manager Jerry Krause or owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

“Phil Jackson was the real villain of ‘The Last Dance.’ He called it ‘The Last Dance’ because it was his last dance and it should not have been Michael Jeffrey Jordan’s last dance. Everybody in Chicago called Phil the ‘Zen Master,’ but even late in the ’98 season, I referred to him as the ‘Spinmaster.’

Krause was the Bulls general manager from 1985-2004, responsible for hiring Phil Jackson as the Bulls assistant coach in 1987 and ultimately making him the head coach in 1989.

Krause and Jackson developed a tenuous relationship during Jackson’s time as head coach, and coming into the 1997-98 season, Krause told Jackson that season would be his last, regardless of Chicago’s success. However, on Sunday, we heard learned for the first time that Reinsdorf went above Krause’s head and offered Jackson a chance to return as Bulls coach for the 1998-99 season.

According to Reinsdorf, Jackson declined.

“I asked Phil to come back,” Reinsdorf said. “And he says, ‘No, it’s time.’ That was the expression he used, ‘It’s time.'”

Apparently, the discord between Jackson and Krause was too much to overcome.

Could Jackson have saved this thing? Quite possibly.

But did he want to? No.

Wrote Chicago Sun Times columnist Rick Morrissey:

Reinsdorf reiterated Sunday night that he had given Jackson the chance to come back after the sixth title, despite Krause’s pronouncement before the season. But Jackson said in the final moments of “The Last Dance’’ that he had declined the chairman’s offer. He had had it physically and emotionally. He was done. Let’s be clear about that: Phil would not have returned for one more season even if Jordan and everyone else had.

That means the scenario that Jordan had proposed in Episode 10, the one where the gang stays together for one more shot at a title, was a fairy tale. Because Jordan wasn’t coming back without Jackson.

In one of the most interesting turns of the 10-part series, it became clear that Chicago’s success relied as much on Jackson as it did on Jordan, considering Jordan relied solely on Jackson.

Essentially, it was one GOAT leading another.

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