Photo: President of the New York Knicks, Phil Jackson, speaks at a press conference before the game against the Charlotte Hornets on January 10, 2015 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
When it comes to former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers head coach Philip Douglas “Phil” Jackson, 69, there is very little that one can add unless the source is Jackson himself. In May 2013, the retired coach did just that and gave readers a look into the trials, triumphs, and resources that have shaped him throughout his life and professional career with the release his seventh book entitled Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success (with Hugh Delehanty).
Jackson’s take on Buddhism, meditation, and Native American spirituality—coupled with his success on the court as an 11-time NBA Champion coach—have made his writings a must-read for those in the fields of sports, business, and management. In fact, the wealth of “behind-the-scenes anecdotes” from his time with the Bulls and Lakers, were so enjoyable that it has catapulted Eleven Rings to the top of my personal Jackson reading list.
Here are a number of highlights:
- On Zen: “I’d been interested in learning more about Zen ever since I’d read Shunryu Suzuki’s classic, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Suzuki, a Japanese teacher who played a key role in bringing Zen Buddhism to the West, talked about learning to approach each moment with a curious mind that is free of judgment. “If your mind is empty,” he writes, “it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.” (p. 51)
- The beauty of basketball: “What I liked about basketball was how interconnected everything was. The game was a complex dance of moves and countermoves that made it much more alive than other sports I played. In addition, basketball demanded a high level of synergy. To succeed, you needed to rely upon everybody else on the floor, not just yourself. That gave the sport a certain transcendent beauty that I found deeply satisfying.” (p. 47)
- The essentiality of oneness: “Basketball is a great mystery. You can do everything right. You can have the perfect mix of talent and the best system of offense in the game. You can devise a foolproof defensive strategy and prepare your players for every possible eventuality. But if the players don’t have a sense of oneness as a group, your efforts won’t pay off. And the bond that unites a team can be so fragile, so elusive.” Jackson then goes on to say, “Oneness is not something you can turn on with a switch. You need to create the right environment for it to grow, then nurture it carefully every day.” (p. 84)
- On anger management: Jackson reflects on having to coach Kobe Bryant during his first tour of duty with the Los Angeles Lakers, “I realized there wasn’t much I could do to change (Kobe’s) behavior. But what I could do was change the way I reacted to his angry outbursts. This was an important lesson to me.” Jackson adds, “Managing anger is every coach’s most difficult task. It requires a great deal of patience and finesse because the line between the aggressive intensity needed to win games and destructive anger is often razor thin.” (p. 268)
- On superstars: When it came to the subject of superstars, Jackson quotes then New York Knicks coach William “Red” Holzman, “On a good team there are no superstars. There are great players who show they are great players by being able to play with others as a team. They have the ability to be superstars, but if they fit into a good team, they make sacrifices, they do things necessary to help the team win. What the numbers are in salaries or statistics don’t matter; how they play together does.” (p. 31)
- On having relationships with players: “I don’t pretend to be a therapist…Rather than squeeze everybody into preordained roles, my goal has always been to foster an environment where the players can grow as individuals and express themselves creatively within a team structure. I wasn’t interested in becoming best friends with the players; in fact, I think it’s important to maintain a certain distance. But I tried to develop genuine, caring relationship with each player, based on mutual respect, compassion, and trust.” Jackson adds, “Transparency is the key. The one thing players won’t stand for is a coach who won’t be honest and straightforward with them.” (p. 92)
- The importance of the bench: Jackson again draws inspiration from Holzman, “Red paid a great deal of attention to the bench players because they played such a vital role on our team, which was often weakened by injuries. In Red’s mind, it was just as important for the bench players to be actively engaged in the game as it was for the starters. To make sure the subs were prepared mentally, he’d usually give them several minutes’ warning before putting them in the game.” (p. 37)
- The key to sustained success: “The mistake that championship teams often make is to try to repeat their winning formula. But that rarely works because by the time the next season starts, your opponents have studied all the videos and figured out how to counter every move you made. The key to sustained success is to keep growing as a team. Winning is about moving into the unknown and creating something new.” (p. 251)
- Adjusting to Dennis Rodman: “I stopped pacing along the sidelines during games because I noticed that whenever I got agitated, Dennis would become hyperactive. And if I argued with a ref, it would only give him license to do the same. So I decided to become as quiet and restrained as possible. I didn’t want to set Dennis off, because once he got agitated, there was no telling what he might do.” (p. 154)
- Jackson’s most gratifying moment and the key to leadership: “The most gratifying thing of all was watching Kobe transform from a selfish, demanding player into a leader that his teammates wanted to follow. To get there, Kobe had to learn to give in order to get back in return. Leadership is not about forcing your will on others. It’s about mastering the art of letting go.” (p. 309)
More than anything, reading Eleven Rings gave me the opportunity to once again reminisce on the good old days (For those of your who grew up watching the Chicago Bulls dynasty unfold—you know exactly what I’m talking about.). Jackson’s latest memoir also reminded me how much we should value the present players and coaches who entertain us…as these moments can very quickly fade from the present and into the annals of NBA history.
Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success is available in local bookstores nationwide.
About the author: Dr. Tedi Gustilo Villasor obtained his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology (2009) and Masters of Science in Guidance and Counseling (2002) from De La Salle University-Manila (DLSU). He has also completed a Certificate in Sports Counseling (2006) from San Diego University for Integrative Studies (SDUIS). Aside from his private practice at the Makati Medical Center, Dr. Villasor was a columnist for Baby Magazine wherein his column, "Rules of Engagement" (formerly known as “Understanding Your Child”), focused on children 10 years of age and above. For more, you can visit his website at www.hankpym.com or follow him on Twitter: @tedi31