From 1989 to 2010, Phil Jackson enjoyed one of the most successful coaching stints in NBA history. He won six titles with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, and five more with the Los Angeles Lakers, totaling a historic 11 championships. Now, Jackson has finally returned to Manhattan and to the New York Knicks, where he won two championships as a player. The 68-year-old, newly minted Knicks president will have the challenge of turning around one of the most dysfunctional franchises in all of professional sports. In the course of doing that, he may have to tap into his Zen qualities.
Over the course of his career, Jackson has acquired the nickname "The Zen Master." Here are six reasons he deserves it.
He understands the power of visualization.
During the 2001 NBA Finals, Jackson had reserve Lakers guard Tyronn Lue wear a sleeve during practice. The idea was to simulate for his players what it looked and felt like to defend against Philadelphia 76ers superstar guard Allen Iverson, who always wore a sleeve during games.
This is classic Phil Jackson: Lue barely ever played, but he still found a role for him even amid the highest stakes possible -- the NBA Finals. By emulating Iverson's sleeve, perhaps the Lakers entered the series with a slight psychological edge that otherwise wouldn't have been there -- helping secure their victory.
He knows meditation can supercharge his players' bodies and minds.
Some may think of the NBA as having a macho culture, but Jackson has brought his players together through meditation.
During a 2013 interview with Oprah for "Super Soul Sunday," Jackson said he explained his approach to team meditation when he was coaching the Chicago Bulls. "[I] taught them how to hold their hands, where their shoulders had to be, the whole process of being in an upright situation so you're not slouched ... and they bought into it."
The NBA season is 82 games long, not including the preseason and playoffs. Jackson has long believed that the state of the mind is just as important -- and often times more important -- than the body itself.
He knows the value of taking players out of their normal comfort zones.
When the Bulls needed a little extra push, Jackson would turn off the lights in a room to help provide a sense of renewal.
"It wasn't totally dark, but I wanted them to get the idea of being able to do things that are just out of the ordinary, like silence day -- have a day of just silence," he also told Oprah.
Basketball players tend to practice what they do best. A great shooter, however, should practice more than just shooting. Playing in the dark might have helped Jackson's team break out of their usual mindset.
He understands the value of compassion and unity within a team.
The NBA is big business, and millions of dollars are at stake every season. However, Jackson has worked to create a closeness within his squad that's worth more than just money.
"More than anything else, what allowed the Bulls to sustain a high level of excellence was the players’ compassion for each other," Jackson wrote in his 1995 book Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior.
A team is only as good as the sum of its parts. With his coaching, Jackson creates a sense of unity so that all five guys on the floor will trust each other. If someone gets beat, a help defender will be there to cover. If a guy falls to the floor, a teammate will be there to pick him up.
He's not afraid of talking about love.
Jackson believes that if you don't love your team, you'll never be willing to give 100 percent.
"Love is the force that ignites the spirit and binds teams together," he wrote in Sacred Hoops.
Losses can drive a team apart. But if you have love for your teammates, they can also be a binding force. You don't want to let your teammate down, both on and off the court.
He swears by the power of inner quiet.
"Awareness is everything," Jackson wrote in Sacred Hoops. "The secret is not thinking. That doesn't mean being stupid. It means quieting the endless jabbering of thoughts so that your body can do instinctively what it's been trained to do without the mind getting in the way."
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