A complete timeline of Phil Jackson’s career
Phil Jackson has the most championships (11) and highest winning-percentage (.704) of any coach in NBA history (min. 500 games) and the most playoff victories (229) over 20 seasons as an NBA head coach. He inherited teams laden with young superstars, but extracting the utmost production from stars is a) hard and b) a good way to win titles.
His troubled tenure as New York Knicks president and the out-of-touch nature of both his beloved Triangle offense and his tweets/comments have obscured his legacy as possibly the greatest basketball coach in history who won everywhere he went.
With that said, let’s take look back on the Zen Master’s brilliant and exhilarating basketball career.
Playing Days (1967-1980)
The Knicks drafted Jackson in with the no. 17 overall pick out of North Dakota State in 1967. He was a lanky and scrappy power forward who provided defense and smarts. Jackson missed the team’s 1969-70 championship run due to spine surgery, but he became a key reserve on the 1972-73 title-winning squad and a long-term contributor for Red Holzman.
His best individual campaign came in 1974-75 (10.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game). He averaged 6.7 points over 10 seasons in New York and then played two years across the Hudson for the New Jersey Nets before retiring in 1980.
Early Coaching Career (1982-1989)
Jackson quickly entered into coaching and began paying his dues. From 1984-87, he endured stints coaching the Piratas de Quebreadillas and Gallitos de Isabela of Puerto Rico’s National Superior Basketball (BSN). In 1984, his Albany Patroons won the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) championship.
His CBA success earned him a gig as an assistant for Chicago Bulls head coach Doug Collins. Despite Jordan’s affinity for Collins and the team’s increasing success, Bulls GM Jerry Krause — a good friend of Tex Winter — hired Jackson to replace Collins and implement the Triangle before the 1990 season.
Bulls Head Coach (1989-98)
Jackson oversaw two three-peats (1991-93, 1996-98). The Triangle and his Zen (and Vegas-friendly) leadership got the most out of Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and others over the course of nine seasons. In 1995-96, Jackson won his only NBA Coach of Year Award after leading the Bulls to 72 wins.
Krause declared the 1997-98 season to be Jackson’s last in Chicago, and Jordan’s loyalty to Phil resulted in a premature breakup of the dynasty — and Jordan’s second retirement.
Lakers Head Coach (1999-04, 2005-11)
After a one-year sabbatical, Jackson returned to the sideline in 1999 as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Like the early Bulls he inherited, the Purple and Gold were led by a dynamic duo and on the cusp of contention.
Again, Jackson proved to be the final ingredient. The Zen Master handled the friction between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and navigated the Lakers to his third three-peat in his first three seasons in Hollywood.
In 2004, the Lakers were blitzkrieged by the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals. Three days later, Jackson resigned and later published a book about the tumultuous season in which he called Bryant un-coachable.
Hard feelings aside, Jackson returned to the Lakers after a 34-win 2004-05 season in the post-Shaq. L.A. He and the team made the playoffs in 2006 (blowing a 3-1 lead to the Phoenix Suns in the first round) and returned to the Finals by 2008, falling to the Boston Celtics.
Phil’s group won back-to-back rings in 2009 and 2010, cementing Kobe and Phil’s legacies.
Jackson returned for a forgettable 2011 season then retired after an ugly second-round sweep at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks.
Knicks President (2014-17)
Phil Jackson apparently stayed out of front office affairs as a coach, and his inexperience was evident after Dolan gave him $60 million(!) to rescue the franchise he once played for. Predictably, his best qualities as a coach — day-to-day player management, and, for previous eras, direct control of the Triangle — didn’t translate to the front office.
Jackson wasn’t known for being the most hands-on executive either, yet he found time to make plenty of head-scratching moves. He traded Tyson Chandler for nothing, hired Derek Fisher and Jeff Hornacek in misguided attempts to implement some form of Triangle, drafted Frank Ntilikina no. 8 overall in 2017, and feuded with Carmelo Anthony after regretting offering Melo an extension.
Jackson’s best move was drafting Kristaps Porzingis no. 4 overall in 2015, but it ended up costing him his job. After publicly clashing with KP and threatening to trade him in 2017, Jackson and the Knicks parted ways after three seasons and an 80-166 record.