Listening to Jackson, It Seems Like Farewell

Times Staff Writer

Red Auerbach can breathe easier.

Phil Jackson did not break the record of nine NBA coaching championships he shares with the Boston Celtic patriarch and said Tuesday night that there was only a slim chance that he would be back to coach the Lakers next season.

His postgame news conference seemed like a farewell -- Jackson was joined on the podium by his four grown children, his two daughters’ eyes rimmed in red as he took questions from reporters -- but Jackson wouldn’t go quite that far.

“They would love to have me say this is it, this is the last,” Jackson said of his children, “but I’m not giving you guys that satisfaction right here now.”


His girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, in a radio interview last week put the chances for Jackson’s return at 95%, but Jackson sounded a lot less optimistic.

“My timetable is to meet with the management of the Lakers after the season, discuss some things that we have to discuss as an organization,” he said. “And then we’ll make a decision from there.

“But right now I would say that it’s a pretty slim chance that I’ll be back coaching next year. It’s a pretty slim chance. I’ve had a lot of persuasion given to me by these kids; they were hoping I would win the 10th and retire. But maybe losing this one, this opportunity is enough for me to say that it’s time to give it up.

“But right now, I’m not going to make that decision or give that statement.”

Jackson’s first three seasons with the Lakers ended with championship parades, his fifth with a trip to the NBA Finals. But four months ago the Lakers broke off contract negotiations with the coach who also won six titles with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

His five-year contract is up.

If the Phil Jackson era in Los Angeles has ended, it staggered to its conclusion, the injury-riddled Lakers having been overpowered by the Detroit Pistons, 100-87, in Game 5 of the championship series at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Laker owner Jerry Buss, entourage in tow, declined to answer questions as he beat a hasty retreat out of the building before the fourth quarter.


“Not tonight,” he said.

And so the Lakers’ future -- and Jackson’s -- remained murky.

“This summer is going to be a different summer for a lot of people,” Shaquille O’Neal said. “Everyone is going to take care of their own business and everyone is going to do what’s best for them, including me.”

Kobe Bryant, whose differences with Jackson have been well documented, said he “loved playing for Phil,” but also reiterated that he would opt out of his contract.

“I learned so much from playing for Phil and playing with Shaquille too,” he said. “I think we got a lot of great things accomplished despite our differences that we’ve had in the past. We’ve played extremely well together.

“We’ve had an incredible run.”

Is it over?

“Now it’s decision time for this team and what direction they are going to move,” Jackson said, sounding very much as if he believed the Lakers were in his past. “Obviously, it’s going to be a big statement that’s going to be made in July. And [General Manager] Mitch Kupchak has done a very good job. They will make a move in August to rebuild this basketball club. I think they will be fine.”

They? Not We?

“Well,” he said, smiling, “that’s yet to be determined, OK?”