LOS ANGELES -- It's not often that you see naked toes on a basketball court. So when Phil Jackson comes to the Lakers' practice center in El Segundo, Calif., wearing sandals for the team's run-through before a three-game road trip, it's hard not to notice his choice of footwear.
That's Jackson for you. All about team and ever the individual, his ensemble of sandals, track pants and NBA Finals 2008 polo shirt fits the dress code of a college student, not the head coach of the Lakers, maybe the NBA's most high-profile franchise.
There is, as there is with almost everything that Jackson does, a thought process behind his laissez-faire look. The man has 11 championship rings -- two as a player with New York, six as a coach in Chicago and three coaching here in L.A. -- yet when his team is going to work he keeps the jewelry at home and wears a shirt that is an in-your-face reminder of his team's failure in last years Finals loss to Boston.
"That's why I wear it," Jackson says. "To let them know."
Jackson, 63, has the highest winning percentage of any coach in the history of the league (.705), was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, is tied with the late Red Auerbach for the most championships as a coach (with nine) and, earlier this season, became just the sixth NBA coach to reach 1,000 wins. But what keeps him going in his 18th NBA season is the awareness that the Lakers' two most recent trips to the Finals came up empty.
"Very hauntingly [aware], yes," Jackson says about his 3-8 record in losses to the Pistons in 2004 and the Celtics last season. "It's not so much as chasing it, it's about the feel of defeat after you're there. You always pride yourself in getting there and taking the challenge and winning the big matchup. It's not so much about [winning championship No.] 10 [as a coach] as it is about getting rid of that dishonor."