KNUCKLEHEAD QUOTIENT; UNSLIGHTLY HOSTS

June 6, 2010

Mike Wise is continuing his Lakers public praise parade.

“There is but one argument for Phil Jackson as the greatest coach in the history of big-time pro sports in America, and surprisingly it has nothing to do with Michael or Kobe or even a record 10 NBA titles.
It has to do with what I call the “Knucklehead Quotient,” and if used properly in compiling a coach’s true overall record the formula easily puts the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers ahead of Vince Lombardi and Bill Walsh in the NFL, Joe Torre and Casey Stengel in baseball and Scotty Bowman in the NHL.
What do Ron Artest, Isaiah Rider, Dennis Rodman and the late Bison Dele have in common, other than being finalists for the Mount Rushmore of NBA
Malcontents? Jackson got every one of those coach-killers, all of whose antics and behavior at some point detonated their own careers, to play on an NBA
Finals team.
All except Artest won a championship ring under Jackson in either Chicago or Los Angeles, and Ron-Ron could be two weeks or less away from making the Knucklehead Four a perfect 4 for 4.
“Think about who he’s gotten to fit in,” said Frank Hamblen, Jackson’s longtime assistant in both cities. “The system has helped a lot of guys who couldn’t make it in other situations — let alone the league — find a place to be productive and part of a group as opposed to just staying individuals. I think that gets overlooked sometimes.”
I asked Charles Barkley, who opines on a lot of things besides basketball, if he would rank Phil No. 1 all time in the pro game (I won’t disrespect John
Wooden, who in my opinion is the greatest coach of all time in any sport).
“I’d have to say Phil or Red [Auerbach],” Chuck said. “I like Scotty Bowman. You can’t discount all those titles won in three cities [nine in Pittsburgh, Detroit and Montreal]. Lombardi, I never saw. I was too young. So when I think NFL, I think Bill Walsh. But it’s either Phil or Red in my opinion.”
Auerbach won his nine championships as the Boston Celtics coach without the help of four bench assistants, a video coordinator and all the amenities coaches of today are afforded. But Red’s NBA had less than half the teams to go through for a title back then, and the idea that only Jackson had the greatest talent to work with is dispelled by Bill Russell, Bill Sharman, Bob Cousy and numerous other Hall-of-Fame Celtics. Red had horses too, and he hoarded them in his day.
I often hear this question asked in relation to Jackson: “If Phil had Larry Brown’s players, would he have been able to win like he has?” That used to be an unanswerable question, until Jackson returned to coaching in 2005 with Smush Parker, Kwame Brown and a cast of role players around Bryant that was worse than anything Jordan had around him during any Bulls playoff season.
And in just two years, Jackson had several players from that team in the Finals. Last season, Bryant won his first championship without Shaquille O’Neal and not another bona fide Hall-of-Famer on the roster.
The question also gets at the heart of the argument against Jackson, the idea that having the two greatest wing players of the past three decades (and maybe all-time) somehow disqualifies a coach with 10 championships from the equation.
Which is almost as unfair as Jackson having won just one NBA coach of the year award in his career (Don Nelson, who’s never been to the Finals once, has won three awards.) Because it hints at an incorrect theory — that having a bona fide star on your roster automatically puts a team on top.
Like the Knucklehead Quotient, Jackson’s ability to get Kobe and Michael to bend their wills to fit the needs of a championship team is vastly underrated.
The No. 1 talent of a coach in large-revenue professional sports is the managing of egos, and no one has done it better than Jackson.
Because there are only 12 roster spots, an NBA player’s salary on an average dwarfs salaries from football, baseball and hockey. Molding a genuine team
from those players is what Rick Fox described several years ago.
“You’re basically managing 12 CEOs, who are the head of their own companies and have their ideas about how the world should work because they’ve been
given an inflated sense of their worth by their agents, their families and all that money,” Fox said. “Around all that, Phil gets people to buy into something bigger than themselves.”
As far as the NBA goes, Brown is still the best teacher in the game. And Pat Riley has got to be up there in the conversation. But where Jackson has
differentiated himself is his ability to stay contemporary and not permanently alienate himself from his star players.
The tug-of-war for Bryant’s trust in the process is one of Jackson’s greatest accomplishments. He basically convinced a player that could do everything better than his teammates that he needed them just as much they needed him.
And if Riley and Jackson have proved anything the past 30 years, it’s this: Millionaires in gym shorts actually want guidance, structure and discipline
Subconsciously, they crave it because the people who live off them rarely tell them what they need to hear.
Even players like Rodman, Dele, Rider and Artest — who might just be the defensive intangible the Lakers need to avenge their loss to the Celtics in the 2008 Finals.
Auerbach never had to deal with Sharman spitting at a heckler, or Cousy trying to open the emergency-exit door on the Pistons’ a team plane — at 30,000 feet! (Dele). Russell never wore a bridal gown while signing copies of his new book (Rodman.) And Satch Sanders never threw a roundhouse at a fan he thought tossed beer on him, igniting a melee on the road (Artest.)
Phil Jackson hasn’t just wisely directed Michael and Kobe to the heights; he’s been a guidance counselor for NBA problem children everywhere.
It’s why they are so worried he might leave Los Angeles after his contract expires this season and owner Jerry Buss won’t fork over the same $10- to
12-million figure he has the past couple of years.
“Everybody thinks I have something to do with Phil staying,” said Jeanie Buss, the Lakers’ vice president, Jerry’s daughter and, okay, Phil’s longtime girlfriend.
“I would never do that. I would not emotionally blackmail Phil so he would stay. If he needed to coach somewhere else, I would understand and we would work it out.
“I mean, if I had any control over what Phil did I would have a ring on my finger already,” Jeanie added. (She was talking about an engagement ring as
opposed to the four NBA championship rings Phil has already given her.)
Jackson would not delve into a conversation about perhaps being the greatest coach of all-time. But when asked if he would consider marriage again, he replied, “That’s only something I would do after I finished coaching again.”
Good news, Laker fans: The best coach in American pro sports is definitely coming back.”

Bob Ryan, of the Boston Globe, tells it like it is (sorry, Howard Cosell) when looking at the ugly game one in the Lakers-Celtics series (Lakers  102-89).
“Well, now we know. The Boston Celtics aren’t the only team in this series capable of winning an ugly game.
There was a serious role reversal at Staples Center last night. The Lakers were the ones who dominated inside. The Lakers were the ones making all the hustle plays, and, in fact, all the muscle plays. The Lakers were the ones bending the Celtics to their will, rather than the vice-versa of two years ago,
And the Lakers, of course, won the first game of the 2010 NBA Finals, walking off with a 102-89 decision that did very little to advance the cause of NBA
basketball.
“Well, that wasn’t the prettiest basketball game I’ve ever seen in my life,’’ said Lakers mentor Phil Jackson. “But it was a good win for us.’’
Kobe Bryant had his nightly 30 points, but he is now at such a level that it could be described as routine, almost ceremonial (the last 3 were the game’s final basket with 3.6 seconds left). Kobe was Kobe, but the Celtics could live with that Kobe for six more games. What they can’t live with is a repeat of the
dazzling performance put on by Kobe Bryant’s faithful Tonto, the estimable Pau Gasol.
The elegant Spaniard, not the fiery Kobe, was the clear Man of the Match with 23 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks, numbers that are nice on
which to hang one’s hat, but which don’t begin to explain his enormous impact on this game. It wasn’t so much that he totally outplayed Kevin Garnett, although he did. It was that he outplayed the entire Boston front line en masse, giving the Lakers a welcome inside presence that made up for any issues they might have had in this tedious game.
The game was an eyesore for any neutral observer because referees Joe Crawford, Joe DeRosa (marking his return to action after being suspended for that silly ball-tossing incident in Orlando), and Derrick Stafford apparently had cut a side deal with somebody in which they got paid by the call. It wasn’t so much favoring one team or the other. Both sides had completely legitimate beefs. Both teams had key players on the bench far too long with bogus fouls. What their tight control of the game did was eliminate any possibility of a nice flow.
In such a game, somebody has to make something happen on their own. Last night, that team was the Lakers. They were able to get the ball to Gasol, and
even when they couldn’t, he would find a way to get it himself. The Lakers had an astounding, and eye-opening, and humiliating 16-0 edge in second-chance points, and it seemed as if Gasol had a hand in all of them (which, of course, he didn’t).
“I hadn’t analyzed the box [score] before I was run out here,’’ Jackson said, “but 16-0 in second-chance points is pretty remarkable . . . that was a big part of the game.’’
For some reason (motivation?), Jackson seems reluctant to rhapsodize on his Spanish big man.
“Well, you know, I thought Pau played a big game,’’ Jackson said. “He tried a couple of things to start the game that weren’t successful, and he found a new
rhythm. Other spots in the game, I thought they did a good job on him in the post, but his movement and his activity was important.’’
As is his custom, Doc Rivers heaped praise on the foe.
“They were clearly the more physical team,’’ he said. “I thought they were more aggressive. They attacked us all night. I’ve always thought that the team that is more aggressive gets the calls.’’
What you’re now going to hear is how Jackson-coached teams are 47-0 in series in which they have won the first game. That is an amazing stat, but whether it is a harbinger or simply a fascinating statistical oddity will be determined over the next 10-14 days. There is no physical reason why that can’t end, but the Celtics will have to play a lot better than they did last night to make it 47-1.
“I wish I had it in the bank, so to speak,’’ Jackson noted. “We’ve got to play it out, and we know this is a team that’s got a multitude of changes, lineups,
activities, capabilities. So we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but it’s nice to know it’s on our side.’’
The Celtics led on the scoreboard for a total of 59 seconds. Rajon Rondo lost Bryant on a cut for a layup, and it was 2-0. Before very long they were down,
10-4. The fouls came early and often, forcing both coaches into early substitutions. By the time the Lakers had lurched into a 26-21 first-quarter lead, a total of 19 players had seen action.
The Celtics were thus forced into catch-up mode, and at no point did it seem they had anything close to an equal commitment. That’s just the way it is in this game, sometimes. About the only time it seemed as if the Celtics might find a spark came on a Bryant-like buzzer-beater by Rondo to get them in to the locker room down by 9 at 50-41. But in the end it meant nothing.
The history of this rivalry is clear: One game does not a series make. But if there was one truly disturbing element of this LA Game 1 dominance, it was the play of Garnett, who seems to have peaked in the Cleveland series and whose lackluster play included missing an uncontested layup, plus the follow-up, as well as not being able to dunk an offensive rebound with no one between him and Santa Monica. If that really is the gap between himself and Gasol — between himself and all the LA front-court people, really — then it may be necessary to rethink this whole thing.
Anyway, the Celtics as a whole can certainly play better. The problem is, so can the Lakers.”

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