“What moves me is watching young men bond together and tap into the magic that arises when they focus – with their whole heart and soul – on something greater than themselves. Once you’ve experienced that, it’s something you never forget.” ~ Phil Jackson
It has been three weeks since the release of his latest book, two months since the promotional tour, two and a half months since he joined Twitter, eight months since his almost-but-not-really return to coaching, two years since he last coached an NBA game, three years since he won his eleventh title, 22 years since he won his first. If there’s anything to be gained from the writings of the winningest coach in NBA history, it is this: Phil Jackson’s imprint on the game of basketball is not merely this incredible, unmatched tally of championship hardware. It was/is his unique philosophy and spirituality that influenced his immense respect for the game, and allowed him to achieve success and longevity in a challenging profession, where coaching turnover is often the rule and not the exception.
Eleven Rings, at its chassis, is an account of Jackson’s journey in attaining each of his championship rings. He recounts incidents and conversations like they happened yesterday – from discussions with his mentor and former coach, Red Holzman; to private office dialogue with Bulls then general manager, Jerry Krause; to on-court exchanges with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
Much has been made about Jackson’s comparisons of Jordan and Bryant. He has spent the majority of his coaching career mentoring both players so it’s no surprise that such a large part of the book provides insight into two of the best that he has ever coached. These comparisons, however, don’t serve to reveal Jackson’s preference for either player (otherwise, it might’ve been called Jordan vs. Bryant: Whose Side Are You On?).
At its core, the book is more than the Bulls and the Lakers, Jordan or Bryant; and it’s more than a timeline of events. It is an insider’s look into the mind of one of the greatest coaches in sports. Jackson’s methodology goes way beyond x’s and o’s on a dry eraser board. For him, the experience was so much more than that. “The essence of coaching is to get the players to wholeheartedly agree to being coached,” he wrote. “…then offer them a sense of their destiny as a team.” Jackson didn’t push the Chicago Bulls or the Los Angeles Lakers to the top of the league; he guided by providing the players the opportunity to reach the zenith in their own, best way.
His desire to communicate effectively with his coaching staff and players was the foundation on which Jackson built his community of trust. And under that groundwork was something even more grand, and that is his belief in living a mindful life. For those concerned about the Zen Master getting all sorts of existential in this book, I’d say, don’t be afraid to hear him out. His philosophy combined with his spirituality is what makes Phil Jackson, Phil Jackson. (Sidenote: For an even deeper look into how he welcomed mindfulness into his life, see one of his previous works, Sacred Hoops).
Eleven Rings is too specific topic-wise to be an autobiography and it covers too large a span of life to be a memoir. It is, in simplest terms, Phil Jackson sitting on his porch in Montana, telling anyone who’ll listen, the story of how he got all his bling. If you’re a Bulls fan, a Laker fan, a basketball aficionado, or if you’re just curious about the inner workings of a basketball coach nicknamed the Zen Master, give these pages a read…and then, perhaps, give mindfulness a shot.