Reporting from Portland, Ore. — Phil Jackson settled deeply into a leather sofa, entirely comfortable with his decision to leave the Lakers in two months, and began to talk.
He spoke of Michael Jordan meeting Kobe Bryant a decade ago, laughing as he recalled the younger Bryant immediately challenging Jordan with, “I can take you one on one.”
He talked readily about retirement after this season, saying he would split his time 60-40 in Montana and L.A. — or maybe 60-40 L.A./Montana, seeing how four of his five adult children are in California, as is longtime companion Jeanie Buss.
At the same time, he seemed to understand the pains that awaited him after 20 years as an NBA coach.
“There’s no doubt that’s a big empty hole in your life,” he said knowingly of his immediate future, having already gone through a one-year sabbatical from coaching before returning to the Lakers in 2005.
A book named “Retrospect” was one of the many offerings nestled in the dark wooden bookshelves behind him Thursday evening, the perfect title for the interview with a handful of reporters in a hidden room with a pool table ready to be used at a luxury hotel.
Jackson, 65, is definitely not coming back to the Lakers. One particular quote made it hard to imagine him ever coaching again in the NBA. He has always hated the traveling, the uncomfortable beds in unfamiliar hotels, the bad food at late hours, the weather changes. All of it.
“It’s a really unhealthy lifestyle,” he said. “I think that’s a good reason to get out of the game in some ways too.”
He recounted with great sincerity how hard it was to return this season, period.
“I thought I was going to retire last July,” he said, remembering a conversation with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak. “I told Mitch, ‘I don’t think I’m going to come back. You better plan on something besides this.’ ”
But the urge to chase a “three-peat,” not to mention phone calls from Bryant and Derek Fisher, drove him to return for what he called “the last stand.”
“I knew that if I went back this time, this is it,” he said Thursday. “I never wanted to coach after I was 60. I thought there was going to be a communication gap. I felt kind of like an obligation to come back … to fulfill this and complete a chapter.”
Of the championships he has won as a coach, he called the last one in Chicago (1998) his most memorable, along with 2001 and 2002 with the Lakers and their “very talented” teams that were “almost two deep at every position.”
He also shared a vignette about Jordan and Bryant, two of the best ever.
“I wanted Michael to get Kobe to understand that he didn’t have to stray outside the offense,” Jackson said of the meeting he arranged in 2000. “I prepped Michael a little bit that this kid was just learning the offense. They sat down and talked and the first thing Kobe said to Mike was, ‘I can take you one on one.’
“Mike said, ‘You probably can. I’m 39 and you’re 21,’ or something like that. He [then] just conveyed to Kobe that there was a time in the game to do that and how to wait ‘til the game presents itself. They’ve had a lot of conversations.”
Jackson will be leaving the Lakers but not Los Angeles, continuing to spend winters in his Playa del Rey home because of the reports that trickle down from his lakeside address in Montana when his kids — and grandkids — ski in the area.
“It’s too dangerous, not the bears and everything else that go through my yard, the moose,” he said. “Simply because of the weather. It’s pretty inclement out there.”
He was also unsure about the NBA’s looming lockout, not that he would miss coaching.
“Who knows what the NBA’s going to look like after this year?” he said ominously. “I think there’s some people pretty convinced there’s not going to be a year next year.”
And with that, the interview was done.
“Thank you, guys,” he said as he turned to leave and ducked under the doorway. “It’s been a pleasure.”