‘Zen Master’ admits good fortune

Phil Jackson has won nine NBA titles with two franchises, but some question his coaching greatness

? The arguments from the other side are weak.

Despite Phil Jackson’s having won nine NBA titles with two different franchises and despite his having the highest winning percentage in regular season (.738) and playoff history (.743), some cynics still insist he isn’t an all-time great coach.

Perhaps it’s because of his hyped “Zen master” image or occasional lack of humility in victory, but some say he doesn’t belong up there with the ranks of Red Auerbach, Pat Riley, Lenny Wilkens and Larry Brown.

Even Auerbach, the legendary architect of the Boston Celtics who also won nine NBA titles, has taken digs at Jackson’s coaching achievement.

It seems that because Jackson was blessed to have had Michael Jordan with the Chicago Bulls when he won his first six titles and has had Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant for his last three with the Los Angeles Lakers, some people think Jackson has done little more than roll out a ball and ride his players’ coattails.

The argument goes that Jackson has coached only teams primed to win championships and never proved he could build a team from the ground up.

“I’m not put off at all by those type of statements,” said Jackson, who will become the all-time championship coach if the Lakers win a fourth straight title this season. “One of my assistant coaches and mentor, Tex Winter, always says I’m the luckiest guy he’s ever known.

“I don’t know if that means anything, but as a coach, I’ve had a lot of great fortune.”

Jackson, who has a 156-54 record in the playoffs, is the first to concede he has benefited from having such great players as Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Chicago and O’Neal and Bryant in Los Angeles.

“Opportunities show up, and I’ve been in places where there have been opportunities,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to step into situations where teams have been ready to win.

“There haven’t been that many coaches who had that kind of opportunity, maybe Billy Cunningham in Philadelphia after Gene Shue left, K.C. Jones in Boston after Bill Fitch. . .and Pat Riley here in Los Angeles during the 1980s. . .

“People get those opportunities, but then have to make the most of them. Obviously, K.C., Billy Cunningham and Pat Riley became coaches of great champions. I’m sure that crew and I would obviously say that if the opportunity is there and you have the success, it’s a wonderful opportunity to have.”

Having Jordan, Pippen, O’Neal and Bryant made it easier for him to win titles, but to say Jackson had little to do with it is ridiculous.

Jordan had been in Chicago for six seasons without having reached the Finals before Jackson took over for Doug Collins in 1989-90. In Jackson’s first season, the Bulls won 55 games, up from 47 the season before. In his second season, they won the first of three straight titles; they went on to win six in eight seasons.

O’Neal and Bryant had been in Los Angeles together for three seasons, with no trips to the Finals, before Jackson arrived in 1999. The Lakers, who hadn’t been to the Finals since losing to the Bulls in 1991, immediately won the first of their three straight titles. He can coach, folks, no question about it.