When Mike Brown was fired as the Lakers’ head coach after just five games, the collective sense around Los Angeles was that Phil Jackson would return once again. Not only did fans chant, “We want Phil!” at Lakers home games, but there was also, as Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times put it, “a 95% chance Phil Jackson will return.” Around midnight of November 11th, those hopeful for a Jackson return were disheartened as Mike D’Antoni was hired as the 24th coach in Lakers history.
According to sources, after an interview with the Lakers’ front office Saturday morning, Jackson undoubtedly felt the Lakers’ coaching vacancy was his for the taking. Jackson had informed the Lakers he would take the weekend to mull over the opportunity and be ready with a decision the following Monday.
Instead, the Lakers quickly made their decision before that Monday deadline and passed on the eleven-time champion coach in favor of the more “up-tempo style” of D’Antoni. The following is Jackson’s side of the story as told by HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel correspondent Andrea Kremer in an exchange with host Bryant Gumbel:
Bryant Gumbel: “Back in June we aired a profile of Phil Jackson done by our Andrea Kremer who spent some time in Montana with him. Phil has been in the news of late because he was going to get, then didn’t get, the LA Lakers job. What happened?”
Andrea Kremer: “Well, I spoke to [Jackson] several times after Mike Brown got fired. A firing that he said was surprising and impulsive to him. At midnight on Sunday night he received a call from Mitch Kupchak, saying we’ve hired Mike D’Antoni and we just finished a contract with him 20 minutes ago. So I said, what was your reaction when you hung up the phone?
Jackson replied, ‘I started laughing. In my mind’s eye it never occurred to me that someone else would be a better coach for this team than me.’ ”
Gumbel: “Can we allow that Phil Jackson is a big man, physically, and he has an ego that is commensurate with his size?”
Kremer: “No doubt, when you have 11 championship rings I think you can probably earn that. I mean you follow what goes on in LA. I mean the clamoring for him was amazing with the fans. There’s no question about that. He said that he felt he could do the job with this team. He maintained to me that he had not talked contract terms with them.”
Kremer continues: “The only personnel power that he wanted was what he had when he left the team two years ago, which was to have input in the decisions. He was fully prepared to coach 77 games this season. He said that he had not discussed an ownership stake. Who do you believe? But I will tell you the one thing in talking to people in LA, this was a decision by Dr. Jerry Buss, ultimately.”
So now, as the days wear on for the underachieving Lakers, we will never know what could have been with Phil Jackson at the helm. After the D’Antoni-led Lakers fell to the Indiana Pacers last night by a score of 79-77, questions are again beginning to emerge about whether or not this current coach is, in fact, the right man for the job. The frustration of the ever-impatient Lakers fans seems to also be mounting, as the losses continue to accumulate.
Phil Jackson is clear, however, that he himself should have been chosen for job. In his own words, with his radiant ego, Jackson, and only Jackson, would have been the right fit for this caliber of “super team.”