CHICAGO – Phil Jackson has been hitting it hard on his book tour this week, talking up his latest work on late-night TV and national radio broadcasts. Still, in a spate of appearances in the city where his unparalleled NBA coaching success began, the talk invariably has veered back to the one that got away.
The book is titled “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success” (Penguin Press, 2013). People in Chicago, where rings are hard to come by, still wonder about that missing 12th.
Oh, there wasn’t much Jackson or anyone else with the Bulls could do about the 1994 and ’95 NBA titles seized by Houston during the first of Michael Jordan‘s three NBA retirements. And no one in the audience Thursday night at the Palmer House Hilton, where Jackson appeared as part of the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row literary series, cared much about the Lakers’ failure to win again in 2011 and finish off what would have been Jackson’s fourth three-peat.
But many in the Windy City crowd of about 750 wanted to know: What about 1999? That was the NBA’s first lockout-shortened season, a schedule that seemed perfect for a veteran-laden team like the Bulls.
And yet, they didn’t even try. The band broke up, the run was over. Jackson famously rode off on a fat motorcycle and Chicago’s NBA team all but went dark for the next half dozen seasons.
“I know how hard it is, so many people in Chicago say, ‘You could have continued to win,’ ” Jackson told the audience. “Yes – maybe.”
Ultimately it was Jerry Krause, the Bulls’ determined general manager, who brought that run to its end, the Hall of Fame former coach said.
As stubborn as Jackson or Jordan (and often butting heads with both), Krause had made it clear to the Bulls coach that his run there was over. Team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf asked him to return but Jackson declined. “I just felt our relationship had deteriorated such that, for me to come back, it would be too difficult for Jerry Krause.”
That was the first domino. Jordan didn’t want to play for another coach and, besides, he cut his finger – with a cigar cutter, the story went – badly enough to need surgery. Dennis Rodman essentially was done as an NBA player. Scottie Pippen, Luc Longley and Steve Kerr went elsewhere to get paid better than in their Chicago stays.
It’s doubtful Krause would fill a downtown ballroom on a night the NHL Blackhawks were active in the Stanley Cup playoffs, touting a book titled “Organizations Win Rings” or something like that.
“Right up until the end, we worked well together,” Jackson said, after acknowledging their different temperaments. “We had a wonderful time as a team for three years and we really appreciated it.” (more…)