Jackson leaves Lakers for adventures outside NBA
Phil Jackson imagines himself exploring the southern tropics next winter, or maybe circumnavigating the globe on a motorcycle.
The Los Angeles Lakers' retiring coach doesn't imagine returning to an NBA bench.
At least not right now.
Jackson informally wrapped up his tenure with the Lakers on Wednesday, three days after the two-time champions were swept out of the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers have no plans to replace him imminently, but Jackson left only the slightest doubt he's done with what's likely the last chapter of his unmatched career.
The awful ending to the season did nothing to change the 11-time NBA champion coach's mind about his future. Although he still loves basketball, Jackson wants to get on with the life he imagined as a boy growing up in North Dakota.
''I have no plans to return,'' the 65-year-old Jackson said in an emotionless news conference at the Lakers' training complex. ''Today, I'm sure. What it's going to be like in six months, I'm not sure.''
Jackson's equivocation could keep the rumor mills turning for several more years, but the coach clearly relishes the prospect of his extended break from the NBA grind. He realizes that by the time he grows tired of the freedom, he could be too old to do this job - and he appears to be at peace with the prospect.
Jackson said there's a point in a coach's life at which ''you either move on or stay in it, you never break away from it, and it becomes the rest of your life. I always thought I'd like to do something beyond just the basketball coaching.''
As a boy in a religious prairie family, Jackson remembers being spellbound by ''Robinson Crusoe,'' Daniel Defoe's 18th-century novel about a castaway on a Caribbean island. He tried to explore those boyhood dreams during his first retirement from the Lakers, but six weeks in the South Pacific and a trip to the Australian Open reminded him it's tough to be footloose and fancy-free with two bad hips and swollen feet.
Although his health and mobility have improved in the past seven years after surgery on his hips, Jackson still walks with a cane at times. He's grateful to be rid of the NBA's regimented travel schedule, and he's hoping another surgery will make him mobile enough to pick up those Robinson Crusoe dreams again, wherever they might take him.
''Maybe I'll get back to those kinds of things, the adventure part that I've always liked to imagine I would do,'' Jackson said. ''One of my favorites is a guy ... who traveled the world, east to west and north to south, on a motorcycle. Those are the kinds of things that interest me, that are challenges I would have liked to have done.''
Jackson made it clear he wishes he had left the Lakers last summer, fresh from the glow of his 11th championship after a Game 7 victory over the Boston Celtics. Instead, he reluctantly returned at the behest of the Buss family and his players to go after an unprecedented fourth threepeat in his coaching career.
But the Lakers never got it together during his curtain call, foundering through long stretches of a 57-win regular season and struggling in the first round of the playoffs before the Mavericks blasted them in four straight games. Los Angeles lost 11 of its final 17 games under Jackson dating back to the regular season.
The Zen Master once harnessed the talents of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen into a championship force, and he did a similar job on Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant in his first Lakers tenure before building another title team on the shoulders of Bryant and Pau Gasol. Jackson deferred to those players when asked how he accomplished what he did.
''Talent wins, and when you have talent to coach, it makes all the difference in the world,'' said Jackson, a 1,155-game winner whose career .704 winning percentage is the best in NBA history. ''I've coached some of the best talent that's ever played the game.''
Yet Jackson acknowledges he never really reached his amply talented final team, which appeared exhausted or just plain disinterested in another championship run for long stretches of an unsatisfying season.
''This team just had an ability to get into a funk and not (get out of it),'' Jackson said. ''I never really had a team like that, that couldn't make adjustments and learn from mistakes.''
Bryant also checked out of the Lakers' training complex Wednesday, defining the season as ''a wasted year of my life.'' The MVP of the past two NBA finals agrees the Lakers were mentally and physically exhausted after playing 77 playoff games in the past four seasons, and he acknowledges his absence from most practices hurt the team.
''Guys felt like they could take days off because I'm not there,'' said Bryant, who rested various injuries by rarely practicing. ''It's like your big brother not being around. You feel like you can go around the house and do all these things with the toys and other stuff, because I'm not on the court with you, and it's upsetting to me.''
Bryant has been vocal in his support of assistant coach and former teammate Brian Shaw as the Lakers' next coach, yet he realizes the Buss family has just begun to mull its options. General manager Mitch Kupchak said the Lakers will be ''deliberate'' in choosing Jackson's successor.
''In Los Angeles, typically we hire coaches and they stick with us for a long time, and hopefully win championships,'' Kupchak said. ''We think this team can still win, so we're going to get a coach that can help us contend for championships in the foreseeable future.''
Kupchak and Bryant weren't interested in starting what's sure to be an eventful offseason for the Lakers. They wanted one last day to appreciate the inspirational - and sometimes exasperating - Hall of Fame coach before he was gone for good.
''I'll always talk to Phil,'' Bryant said. ''In our meeting upstairs, he was like, 'Goodbye, enjoy the summer,' but really I'm going to talk to him in a couple of weeks.''