Phil Jackson keeps emotions in check as he says goodbye, probably, to United Center
There won’t be a farewell tour with gifts and remembrances at select arenas throughout the country. It’s not the Phil Jackson way.
But as the Lakers get deeper into the schedule, their coach can’t help but think he might never again return to certain cities.
Chicago won’t be one of them, but Friday night marked the Lakers’ only scheduled game this season in the Windy City, where Jackson, 65, coached the Bulls to six championships.
When he decided to coach again this season, Jackson said it would be his “last stand” on the bench. As he sat on the scorer’s table after the Lakers’ shoot-around Friday afternoon, he said it was “definitely the last time” he would coach a game at United Center.
Then he softened it ever so slightly, perhaps in case the Lakers and Bulls face off in the NBA Finals.
“I really don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, but yes, I anticipate this will be the last time I coach in this building,” he said.
Jackson said he wouldn’t feel much sentiment when he walked off the court after the game, an 88-84 Lakers loss.
“I’m not a very emotional guy,” he said.
The Bulls had lost their previous seven games against the Lakers, unable to beat them since December 2006, but they kept the Lakers well in check Friday.
Ron Artest had only two points, Kobe Bryant made nine of 23 shots and the Lakers had 19 turnovers, an unsightly eight in the second quarter.
Jackson doesn’t often compare his Chicago teams with his Lakers teams, but he did Friday.
“I think we were more exact as a team, a little more precise about our execution” in Chicago, he said. “I was an up-on-the-floor type of coach. Until Dennis [Rodman] arrived here, I was pretty much on the sidelines facing the floor. I learned how to sit down and shut up and watch the team play.”
As for this likely being his last season. . . .
“I have stated it is the last stand and that means something,” he said. “We hope it’s not like Custer’s last stand.”
The logical replacement for Jackson would be assistant coach Brian Shaw, who won three championships as a Lakers player and has been a member of their coaching staff since the second half of the 2004-05 season.
Shaw, 44, gets along well with the players and also isn’t afraid to criticize them for errors. He maintained he was not thinking about his coaching future.
“Absolutely not at all,” he said. “There’s so much still up in the air next year just even in terms of the lockout. Being honest with you, and not just to say a politically correct answer, but I don’t think about it.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been on a year-to-year contract as a player and as a coach. I don’t ever think beyond trying to do the best I can do this year and hopefully they renew me for next year.”
Of course, if the opportunity arose to coach the Lakers, Shaw would be interested.
“Obviously, if there was a vacancy, I think anybody in their right mind would want it, but it’s not something that consumes my thoughts,” he said. “The way I always think is that things work out the way they’re supposed to work out, so I just kind of leave it at that.”
Then again, there are those who think it would be hard for Jackson to leave a team that has its championship-contending core under contact until 2014.
In fact, Chicago center Joakim Noah tried to playfully debunk Jackson’s talk of retirement.
“I feel like he does that a lot. Every year, he’s always saying he’s going to retire. For some reason, he always comes back,” Noah recently told Chicago reporters. “I think it’s a smart thing to try to get his contract. He’s smart with that kind of stuff. You never know.”
Noah even seemed like he would miss Jackson.
“You’re playing against the best,” he said. “I always have a lot of respect for Phil Jackson. Just being able to play against that team is special.”