Book Review: Phil Jackson: Lord of the Rings by Peter Richmond

Phil Jackson Lord of the Rings by Peter RichmondWith all this talk about Phil Jackson moving to Manhattan to salvage the woeful Knicks, a team that coincidentally hasn’t won a title since he played for them in the 1970s, I found now to be the perfect time to review Phil Jackson: Lord of the Rings by Peter Richmond.

I wanted to read Richmond’s work because Phil just seems like a cool, collected kind of guy, the kind of guy you’d read a biography about just to see what makes him tick for inspiration’s sake.  After all, not only does he have more rings than fingers, he also found the temperament to manage the greatest egos the game has ever seen.

Imagine smoking weed (and probably good weed) in the hills of Montana, winning championships with one of the coolest teams ever assembled, then going on to coach some of the NBA’s greatest players with all of them paying nothing but the utmost respect.  Oh, and then bedding the daughter of one of the most renowned owners in NBA history.  All seems pretty storybook to me.  I mean, aside from the drawbacks of having to walk around on knobby knees all your life, who wouldn’t want to trade places with Phil Jackson?

There have been plenty of books written by Phil and about Phil but this time around Peter Richmond sets out to discover what made the Zen Master the most decorated coach in the game and more importantly, why he became that way.  Why could Jackson “never, for his entire life, stay away from the basketball court,” why he “could never put aside childish games, why a man with a BA in philosophy, psychology and religion chose instead to join a multibillion-dollar entertainment industry whose sideline-stalking supervisors generally look like coronaries waiting to happen, doing their jobs with all the joy of one who’s just swallowed gravel.”

Phil Jackson in collegeRichmond begins his tale when the young Jackson was “all kneecaps and elbows.”  Later, as a college freshman, Jackson looked to “find the ‘true’ nature of his worldly reality… searching where no one else in jockocracy had thought to look.”  Doesn’t sound like your everyday, run-of-the-mill basketball coach, does it?  That’s because Phil Jackson is anything but that.  The various accounts in this book attest to his nature.

In Lord, Richmond interviews seemingly everyone who ever associated with Jackson to provide a glimpse into his character: cerebral, deep, introspective, methodological, spiritual, everything we would expect from the one they call the Zen Master.  According to his former sharp-shooter Craig Hodges “his aura precedes him.  His energy precedes him.  There’s just a certain kind of charismatic presence.  He’s not trying to be charismatic, or knowledgeable, or a leader.  He just is.”

Jackson’s experience with the Knicks laid the foundation for his future success on the sidelines.  He was “the blue-print for coaching success: the bench player, the role player, the guy who sits and watches and listens, and knows what it means to have twelve men coalesce and win.”

Dennis Rodman Phil JacksonDespite his moments of ink-headed rebelliousness, Jackson’s former rebounder extraordinaire/circus attraction Dennis Rodman perfectly encapsulated the Jacksonesque approach to Bulls’ basketball: “Just five different human beings on a basketball floor, with five different views, but all on the same highway, all going down the same road.”  How Zen-like of him.

Here are a few things I did not know about Phil Jackson that I learned only after reading this book:

  • Both his parents were Pentecostal preachers.
  • Bill Fitch was Phil Jackson’s college coach at the University of North Dakota
  • Jackson once threw a one-hitter for UND against Arkansas State; he actually hoped for a career in baseball.  Think of a cerebral Randy Johnson with a considerably better complexion.
  • In Phil’s sophomore season, UND finished with a 22-4 regular season record, losing in the regionals to a Southern Illinois team that was led by his future teammate, Walt Frazier.  Both Frazier and Jackson would be drafted by the New York Knicks in 1967, Frazier the fifth pick in the first round, Jackson going in the second round.  Red Holzman had traveled to North Dakota to scout Jackson.  They would win two titles together less than five years later.
  • Michael Jordan was initially opposed to the triangle offense for he felt it would lead to decreased scoring opportunities for him.
  • Aside from needing a presence in the paint, another reason Phil Jackson pushed for signing John Salley in 1996 was because he was one of the few Pistons that hung around to shake their hands when the Bulls finally beat them in 1991.
  • Phil Jackson once used the scene in Friday where John Witherspoon knocks out Deebo (Tommy Lister) as inspiration when going against the Miami Heat and their “bully” Alonzo Mourning.
  • In case you had forgotten, Bulls’ owner Jerry Krauss publicly expressed his desire to win a championship without Michael Jordan.  That statement always rubbed Bulls players the wrong way.  To this day, Krauss still hasn’t done so.
  • Long time Los Angeles Laker AC Green practiced sexual abstinence until the age of 38.  (Actually, I knew that.  It’s just still fun to talk about.)
  • When going to L.A., Ron Artest chose his number 37 because, are you ready for this, 37 was the number of weeks Michael Jackson’s Thriller spent at number one.

Lord of the Rings will appeal to fans of any generation: fans of the early 70s Knicks, fans of the Chicago Bulls dynasties, fans of the Lakers championship teams that followed and anyone who cares to know more about what happened or reminisce about what they might have forgotten.

Phil and MichaelIt’s an intimate account of all Phil’s championships, from the personal to the problematic and everything in between.

Those who played for Phil revered him; those who never had the chance would unleash criticisms that were likely rooted in jealousy.  It might seem like Phil always had the best teams but in retrospect, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Getting all those teams to meld for as many championships as they did was nothing short of Zen-tastic.  Reading Lord gives us a far better appreciation of that.

The book does get a little Phil-centric at times but why wouldn’t it?  It’s a book about Phil.

I leave you with some of the author’s closing words about the Zen Master.

“Phil never relinquished the search, no matter where it took him.  By studying and sifting and wrestling with the words of the elders of so many civilizations, he leaned not only how to teach but how to be taught – out on the fringe of the pasture but still within its fences.  The natural desire to break away from a radically structured childhood, followed naturally by a self-serving few years in a Knick spotlight, gradually produced a man, not a caricature.  Along the way, he gave athletes from every walk of life, many with their own agendas, a larger sense of perspective about their places on earth.  And he will do so again.”

One can only hope.

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21 Replies to “Book Review: Phil Jackson: Lord of the Rings by Peter Richmond”

  1. Not too sure I see how the Knicks will improve dramatically next season, Al, even with Phil Jackson as their figurehead.

    He’s got his work cut out for him, that’s for sure.

  2. Hard not to atleast respect Phil. Maybe I’ll pick up the book once I’m done with my classes. He’s in a no lose situation in NY. He doesn’t have talent on the team so it’s hard to have much expectations for him to fix their problems that fast. That being said, I expect NY will want playoff appearances in the leastern conference…

  3. The only respect I now have for Phil Jackson is the very fact that he goes home and knocks the boots off Jeanie Buss . ow the hell does he have any real credibility left with the signing of Lamar Odom to the Knicks’ roster . Was he under the impression , that the rest of the Kardashians came along as a “package deal ‘ , with Bruce Jenner playing the point guard position ? What next , in order to lure in even bigger crowd at MSG , Kanye West will throw a free concert at every regular season home game next season ?

  4. Chap…

    This might be Phil’s biggest challenge to date.

    If I took anything from this book, it’s that he was hands on.

    Now he’s hands on, but more. Way more. How much influence will he have on the team they construct and how long will he stick it out? Its chemistry, its leadership, its coaching.

    As of yet, Michael Jordan has failed as a GM. We’ll see what happens with Phillip.

  5. Al…

    Are you honestly suggesting to my readers that the only respect you have for Phil Jackson is that he has slept with Jeanie Buss and not the fact that he has led eleven different teams to NBA championships?

    Inquiring minds would like to know.

  6. Let me pose this question to you , was Phil Jackson at the forefront with the acquisitions of Jordan as a Bulls’ player or that of Scottie Pippen ? The same with Bryant and O’Neal (Shaq) at the Lakers ? Just because he won those championships , while credible , ask yourself this what players has he developed over his coaching career and then nurtured their careers and turned into major stars ? As great a career as Phil Jackson has accumulated , let’s not be lost by the titles alone . As the saying goes , all that glitters isn’t necessarily gold .

    By comparison you have Gregg Popovich who cultivated and nurtured the careers of David Robinson , Tim Duncan , Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli from their very beginning and how much credibility and respect does he actually get from fans much less the NBA as a whole ?

    The death of Malcolm Glazer of the Buccaneers is a great loss to the Tampa Bay area , in spite of the lack of success of the franchise in recent years . Hopefully , this season the team play with a great deal of passion while achieving something of note within the NFC South and the conference as a whole .

    So before he’s even thrown a pass in the NFL , Johnny Football finds himself on the “wrong end” of a $25 million sexual harassment lawsuit ? The player and his agent Erik Burkhardt state that the action by this female is frivolous and without warrant , with her simply seeking notoriety and attention . No word as to whether or not she was an acquaintance of Manziel either in college or upon his entering the NFL Draft . It will be interesting to see if it’s pursued in the Florida Courts where the complaint has been filed .

  7. Chap…

    If I were Phil, which I’m not, I’d take a take no prisoners approach to staffing that team.

    But I get where he’s between a rock and a hard place with ‘Melo.

    Would you keep him and build around him or totally start from scratch?

    So far, we’ve heard no news. I just wonder if that’s necessarily good news.

  8. Al…

    If that’s what you truly believe, about the talent Jackson had and (failed to?) develop, then you should definitely read this book. You might just change your tune.

    I’m not denying Pop isn’t a fantastic coach but you may be a little biased by suggesting that he’s a superior coach to Phillip. It’s not like he’s had rosters totally devoid of talent either.

    Re: Glazer, are you having a moment of clarity? Seems to be that’s the first nice thing you’ve ever said about the family.

    And I’m gonna declare a moratorium on talking about Manziel until football season starts.

  9. Chris,
    There’s already a rift between Dolan and Jax. I wouldn’t purchase that mega million $$ home in Saddle Brook yet Mr. Zen-Master.

  10. I read one of Phil’s books years ago and probably would have better understood it had I been smoking what he obviously was while writing it during that off-season. I think most of his management style has been successful because Zen life is pretty much rooted in common sense. And he has shown enough common sense to coach only teams with mega superstars in a league that only needs a couple on a team to always be in contentom. Don’t get me wrong. I truly respect the guy for putting himself in those situations with a high chance for success and then blending in the complimentary pieces to complete each campaign undertaken. Maybe the greatest NBA coach ever…but clearly with some of the greatest talent ever. The book is of interest because I flat out miss the “old NBA.” Thanks for the review.

  11. Chris

    Am I suggesting that Popovich , is a superior coach to Jackson ? It it is dependent upon the merits one uses to judge their respective achievements . Less you forget , when Phil assumed control of the Bulls from Doug Collins he already had Jordan and Pippen in place . Granted , he then had to claw the team through the landmines of what were very good Celtics’ and Pistons’ teams . It all comes down to acumen and coaching philosophies and even you have to admit Phil Jackson has never had to build a team from the ground up , whereas Gregg Popovich has done it twice (Duncan & Robinson ers – and then the present) in order to attain his triumphs . Is that succinct enough for you ?

    With regard to passing of Malcolm Glazer , respect is due in death and it is nothing more than that ! . He has brought the area’s first major sporting title of any sort , with the Buccaneers’ Superbowl victory , but in the years since , what have the Buccaneers’ fans really seen from the franchise in terms of their t overall record ? Ask yourself that , because in reality it has been absolutely pitiful ! Then again , apathy does seem to be common place and deemed to be acceptable , when it comes to the professional teams in the Tampa Bay area !

    tophatal ……………….

  12. Bets…

    I’m kind of surprised Phil took that gig after all these years without at least having a few things firmed up, i.e., Melo, a coach, etc.

    It’s not like they’re any good.

    And what was up with that whole Pistons thing? What, did Jackson work there on a consulting basis for like two weeks?

    I don’t get it.

  13. Let’s just leave it at the fact that Pop and Phil are among the best coaches of this generation. I have to hand it to Pop, man. They are back in the Finals again. Unreal.

    I also heard that Freeman had been cut by the Giants. I wonder if another team will give him a look.

  14. Another team is more liable to break Freeman’s legs than have on his team .

    Who’s likely to come through their ordeal unscathed ? Phil Mickelson who is under joint investigation by the FED via the SEC (Securities & Exchange Commission ) for insider trading having obtained information from billionaire , e Carl Icahn over some major deals that netted the businessman in excess of $ 3 billion personally and another $ 8 billion for his holding company . If there are any legal proceedings to take placed and he’s found guilty , Mickelson would be looking at a major fine said to have profited personally) and the possibility of 4 years in prison . In the other case , it is the NBA and the likelihood of a long protracted legal proceedings now in place by Donald Sterling lodged against the NBA . The disgraced Clippers’ owner is seeking $1 billion in damages against the league and its commissioner Adam Silver .

    Scott Brooks a protege’ and former assistant to Gregg Popovich was not on the same plateau mentally , when it came to this series between the Thunder and Spurs .

  15. Phil is an interesting cat. I sometimes thinkg the Most Interesting Man in the World was inspired by Phillip.

    He gives hope to nerds everywhere that they can eventually become cool and get the hot chick with a little Zeness. Let’s not forget, the lovely Ms. Buss was also a Playboy Playmate. Props PJ.

    Actually, Craig (Ice Cube) knocks out Deebo in Friday, not his old man. Love that flick.

    AC Green – The (almost) 40 year old virgin…How he pulled that off (get it?) with Magic and Worthy banging everything with tits and a heartbeat is beyond me.

    PJ also brought Salley to the Lakers where he collected another ring.

    Krauss and the other Jerry were victims of their own ego’s. To break up that Bulls squad before it’s run was truly over was just plain retarded. Had it not been for that and MJ’s baseball stint, they might have won 8 or 10 straight. We’ll never know.

    Pop wouldn’t be who he is without Timmy. He’s a great coach, but all coaches need talent to win…Then again, talent needs coaches too. The Lakers were on the doorstep for 2-3 years before Phil showed up but couldn’t get over the hump. He signs on and they promptly win 3 straight…Coincidence? I think not.

  16. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with the Mickelson case, Al. It’s not like he needs money so. Either way, let’s just hope there wasn’t any gross wrongdoing.

    The Spurs were just the better team in that OKC series. It was a tough one for both teams.

    Let me ask you something since you brought this up. Do you think Miami would have made it out of the Western Conference playoffs?

  17. Thanks for correcting me on the Friday scene. Of course I knew that. I’m not sure why I wrote Witherspoon. I’ve only seen the movie a hundred times, I should know better.

    Either way, Deebo got knocked the fuck out.

    You’d really like the Lakers chapters in this book, man.

    And one of the biggest regrets for any long-time NBA fan has to be that those Jordan teams never got a chance to play against the back-to-back Olajuwon championship teams.

    Those would have been the best Finals of the lot.

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