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Phil Jackson is not the Greatest NBA Coach of All Time

Updated on June 16, 2014

Phil Jackson


Phil Jackson Stats

Ah, yes, how dare I question the almighty Phil Jackson? Some critics may even ask, is this really a relevant question? I mean, Phil Jackson has acquired 11 NBA Championship rings, 6 with the Chicago Bulls, 5 with the L.A. Lakers. He also has over 1100 regular season wins and is about to surpass the record for most playoff wins of any NBA head coach. Certainly, there is no question that Phil Jackson's accomplishments are astounding.

My question is legitimacy. Is Phil Jackson really a great head coach? Certainly if one goes by statistics alone, then yes, he's one of the greatest coaches of all time. However, I'm not all about the stats. If all you want is a laundry list of great names then become a Miami Heat fan.

Heck, if stats and records are what you enjoy, then just sit back and watch the NY Yankees or the Philadelphia Phillies hoard in great players and observe great record breaking numbers. And why do I bring up baseball? What does the success of the Yankees, Red Sox, and the Phillies have to do with Phil Jackson or the NBA for that matter? Well, I'm pointing out a common characteristic. Simply put, Phil Jackson's success is attributed to acquiring great players NOT great coaching.

Jackson's Early Head Coaching Career

Phil Jackson is an enigma. He certainly didn't become a NBA head coach overnight. He paid his dues overseas.

Before his destined lightning-in-the-bottle pairing with Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson was on the outskirts of the NBA. From 1984-1987, Jackson coached in odd-end venues such as the CBA and the Puerto Rico's National Superior Basketball League. The experience was an overall success including a CBA title in 1984.

From there, Jackson was hired as an assistant coach for the Chicago Bulls. In 1989, Jackson became head coach, thus sending his NBA coaching career on a new path.

Jackson with Jordan


Chicago Bulls

While coaching the Chicago Bulls, Phil Jackson was able to gobble up one NBA championship after another. In fact under Phil's reign, the Bulls not only attained 3 nba championships in a row (from 91' - 93'), but they were able to repeat this performance with another NBA championship 3-peat (from 96'-98').

Now, the question is...was Phil Jackson the mastermind behind these championships? Can you legitimately nullify Jackson's involvement of 6 NBA championships? Physically, no, Phil Jackson was the head coach of the Chicago Bulls during the specified time frame. However, I'm here to argue that Phil Jackson is a good coach and NOT a great head coach. And he certainly, isn't one of the greastes coaches of all time.

How can I say this? Well, let's look at the facts, shall we? (Oh before we get started here, I will address Jackson's tenure in Los Angeles as well. Be patient!)

Michael Jordan

Life with Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan is arguably the best NBA player of all time. To this day, nearly a decade after Jordan's retirement, NBA players are constantly being compared to MJ, the legend. From Allen Iverson to Vince Carter, to Kobe Bryant to Lebron James, we as spectators continually make the Jordan comparison. Yet, somehow, none of these basketball players ever live up to Jordan's legacy. Jordan not only dwarfs all of them in overall statistics, but he also has not 4, not 5, but 6 NBA championships. Sorry, Lebron, you don't even have one championship.

Keeping this in mind, I am here to address the notion that Phil Jackson is one of the best NBA head coaches of all time. Simply put, Jackson is/was over-rated. Now, for all those Lakers/Bulls/Phil Jackson fans out there, let me explain the term over-rated. The term doesn't mean he is a bad coach. All it means is that someone or somebody doesn't live up to the hype or expectation.

Phil Jackson had the best NBA player of all time on his team! Shouldn't you win some championships if you have such a transcending player? Additionally, they didn't start winning championships until the arrival of Scottie Pippen, who by the way is in the top 50 NBA players of all-time. In essence, the Bulls had 2 NBA Hall of Famers, and a great ensemble to support them.

Still not convinced that Phil Jackson was merely a good coach who fell into one great circumstance after the next? Well, let's take a look at the Los Angeles Lakers shall we?

LA Lakers

When Phil Jackson took over the controls as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, he fell into yet another great cast of NBA players. With players like Kobe Bryant (who is often the closest comparison to Michael Jordan) and Shaquille O'Neal, the Lakers most likely had the best 2 players in the NBA at that time. Shaq was certainly the best center in the game and Kobe was young and on his way to greatness.

Granted, the Lakers were unable to capture any championships before the arrival of Phil Jackson. However, the Lakers were a championship contender when Jackson arrived on the scene and, let's face it, Del Harris (head coach of Lakers from 1994-1999) and Kurt Rambis (1999) were not going to take the Lakers to the next level.

Phil Jackson often accredits the Triangle Offense to his overall success. Let's take a look-see.

Breakdown of Triangle Offense

Triangle Offense

The Triangle Offense...Ah, yes. Phil Jackson's pride and joy. The triangle offense is supposedly THE ultimate offensive scheme and deemed unbeatable if executed correctly. It's an offensive strategy in basketball designed to position the players in such a way that allows each player to pass to any of the other four players with ease and precision. Every move, every screen, every pass has a purpose. Basically, it's a series of highly coordinated picks and screens with continuous back door slashes and cuts to and from the elbow, the wing, and the basket.

If this sounds a little confusing and complicated, it's because it is! It may be a 'perfect' system, but even the mastermind behind it, Tex Winter and Phil Jackson himself admit that the system requires the right personnel in order to implement the system effectively. Case in point, is the Minnesota Timberwolves. They've been trying the triangle offense for years and let's just say they don't have any NBA championships to show for it.

So, what exactly is the right personnel? Hmm, well, I guess it means the triangle offense requires the best player of all time (Michael Jordan), a top 50 hall of famer (Scottie Pippen), and maybe the best rebounder of all time (Dennis Rodman). Or wait...maybe another cast can fill that role. Ah yes, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and Robert Horry. Or wait, sorry, maybe replace O'Neal and Horry with Paul Gasol and Lamar Odom.

Do you see a trend here? Hmmm...What do you think?

Greatest NBA Coaches

Should Phil Jackson be considered one of the best NBA head coaches of all time?

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    • EJ Lambert profile image

      EJ Lambert 

      6 years ago from Chicago, IL

      I won't deny that Phil has had a ton of good luck in terms of the players he's been able to coach, but you can't deny his impact on every team he's coached. It was him who implemented the triangle offense to get the Bulls past the Pistons. His Zen demeanor trickled down to his players so they never felt they were out of a game or series. They erased a 15-point 4th quarter lead in Game 6 of the 1992 Finals without Jordan. His Lakers conquered a 16-point deficit against the Trail Blazers in the 4th quarter of Game 7 in the Western Conference Finals. There was the stunning series comeback against the Knicks after going down 2-0. Above anything else, his management of egos ranks better than any coach in history. He is the best.

    • Byron Herrera profile image

      Byron Herrera 

      6 years ago

      Who ever wrote that is a fucken idiot. he didn't know he had players that we're good like pippen or Jordan the bulls had scrubs I'll admit but when jackson took over they had challenges they had to prepare everybody had to be on the same page if they wanted to win and I think he promised them that he can get them a championship

    • drej2522 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      okay let's put this to rest people...Erik Spoelstra is not a good example. Is he even considered a good coach by NBA standards? No, he was an assistant coach who was looking over video tapes 3-4 years ago that was given a great opportunity.

      Let me stress this right here. I NEVER said that Phil Jackson wasn't a good coach (maybe even great). My argument was whether or not he was the best coach of all time. I believe some people just look at things at face value because the "STATS" back it up without looking deeper into the situation. I believe most people who read this article assume that I am arguing for the players. As if players win the game and coaches don't matter. Therefore, the counter argument is inevitably Spoelstra. That's not my argument. I believe players (even great ones) need coaching. All I'm arguing is the automatic assumption that Phil Jackson is the greatest of all time because he gobbled up a bunch of NBA rings.

      So, Denise, if you actually read the "persistent long" article then you would understand where I was coming from. Phil Jackson not only had great hall of fame players, but he stepped into a perfect situation each time with the Bulls and Lakers. Sure, Spoelstra was given a similar opportunity. Sure they lost in the Finals last year and are struggling against Boston in the 2012 eastern conference finals (which is still pretty good by the way). However, Spoelstra hasn't proven anything. We don't even know how good he is as a head coach. He may just actually suck. Phil Jackson, on the other hand, WAS a good coach. Again, I didn't say Jackson was a horrible coach. I am arguing his greatness. Phil Jackson has not proven that he can coach an average team (vs a heavy duty, hall of fame team) and win championships. So, if you're going to come at me, bring some better stuff than Erik Spoelstra. I mean, are you kidding me?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      You have a lot to say just not much of it means anything. Point taken, for example: if what you are pretending to say about Phil Jackson, taking extraordinary talent and using it as the pendulum for his "greatness" as a coach. This Erik Spoelstra should be able to open a jewlers and sell championship rings out of a store front. Your premise (foundation) is flawed. And your persistent long article just RE-approves the point over and over again that: Even with great talent (Erik Spoelstra) you must be a great coach to capitalize on this opportunity = You made your own point/article INVALID/VOID! You my sir proved just the opposite........

    • profile image

      Snotty the Commenter 

      7 years ago

      I just read "Why Phil is not overrated's" comment out loud in front of my friends with as much passion and southern baptist/jiffy lube guy intensity as I could muster while making sure to include all of the miss spelled words and jacked up grammar as it was originally typed. It was probably the most amazing thing any of us has ever experienced in our lives! There was a true deep woods, Zen Master Revival in this biotch! This cat could start a movement, maybe even a revolution based on just his basketball musings. I care little about the points anyone actually made (aside from the fact that even if you take all the zest and excitement out of the comment, it still made more sense than the article probably did. Honestly, I didn't read it because as you can plainly see, my time is incredibly valuable. I have so many important things to contribute to the world in other areas so i can't spend hours and hours reading internet message board/blog/ and article drivel. But let's not make this about me.) Whoever that guy, who wrote that comment was, you sir are a god amongst mere mortals. Thank you for continuing to breathe and bestowing your thoughts about NBA Coaches and their responsibilities in guiding these horads (whatever the hell those are) of amazing physical specimens towards championships. Long live HIM!

    • lifeoflata profile image


      7 years ago from Tacoma Wa

      So your saying the heat will never win a title, because they dont have a great coach? Please they might win 2 in the next 5 years, with a coach who was doing scouting videos 5 years ago. what has boston done before their big 3 came to boston, no what has doc rivers done before the big 3, nothing! Why hasn't larry brown won more than one title and he's a hall of fame coach, what about jerry sloan? Im not saying phil isn't a great coach, in my post I did call him that, what im saying is he's not the greatest.

    • profile image

      Why Phil is not overated! 

      7 years ago

      Hey look buddy the bulls wasn't winning shit before phil arrived and yes they had good players but a lot of it has to do with the head as well for example do u think the UNITED STAES would be where they are today if they had complete MORONS for presidents? FOR teams to win championships they need structure and stability in other words they need a system a team could be filled with the greatest players but without a good system how the heck are you gonna know what pieces you need to get the engine up and running CASE IN POINT MIAMI heats they have HORADS OF good player they have three of they best players in the nba today BUT WHAT they DON'T HAVE is a good system!! do u think if phil was coaching the heats they would have lost LAST YEAR?? come on now what good is power if it has no direction what good is a team if their head makes shitty decisions. What i'm saying is this YOU COULD HAVE the BEST OF THE BEST PLAYERS ON A TEAM if they don't have an efficient system to commit to they ain't going no WHERE

    • lifeoflata profile image


      7 years ago from Tacoma Wa

      If he can take the bobcats to a title, then ill call him the greatest. But until then he is still considered a great coach... Breaking News, Phil Jackson decides to take over the Heat so he can prove he doesn't just take great players to titles lol. Just kidding

    • profile image

      akhil krishnan.c 

      7 years ago

      phil is the best in the business. kudos..........

    • drej2522 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      ctbrown ~ you said it exactly..."you have to be a good coach in order to win championships" I never disputed that. Yes, I believe Phil Jackson is just that, GOOD. However, is he the greatest head coach of all time, or even in the discussion, I don't think so.

      Here's a thought, maybe Spulstra isn't a good coach. He might be average, if that...And hey, even so, an average coach took that Miami team to the championship. So what does that tell ya? hmmm

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Yes, Phil had some of the greatest players; however, as Spulstra has found out this year, you have to be a good coach in order to win championships. He took the talent he had and won. He is a great coach and I don't particularly care for the guy.

    • drej2522 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Joseph Lane and Paul Edmondson~ As I pointed out, you're right the numbers don't lie. His stats are impeccable. But sheer talent does not lie either. And just because you can put elite players in check once in a while does not equate to great coaching...see that's what many analysts tend to look at..."Oh, he was able to keep Jordan or Kobe in line." So, in order to be a great coach you need to be an amazing psychologist? Nooo...sure it helps in order to keep a cohesive unit, but that's every championship team. No, Jackson won because of the talent alone. I just think the term greatness is overused...

    • drej2522 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      always nice to see you here, wavegirl!! Yeah, he wasn't a great center that's for sure, but if you love New York (like yourself) then Phil Jackson should be your guy!

    • wavegirl22 profile image


      8 years ago from New York, NY

      not great and an even worse center. but at least that was when New York had a team called the knicks

    • Joseph Lane profile image

      Joseph Lane 

      8 years ago from Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

      There is no denying his numbers. He has pretty much every coaching record in the NBA. Sure he has been surrounded by legends, but there is something to be said for his ability to manage egos. Rodman, Kobe vs. Shaq, etc, etc. Phil was able to get the best out of elite payers, so ya, he is a great coach. Probably the greatest.

    • Paul Edmondson profile image

      Paul Edmondson 

      8 years ago from Burlingame, CA

      Great situations and great coach. His job was to get those teams to live up to their potential and they did. Remember when the dream team lost? Getting guys to be better together is a great feat. Jackson goes down as the second best basketball coach behind John Wooden.

    • drej2522 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      You have a point, some coaches help mold elite NBA players into winners. And it really turns into a cycle of what came first the chicken or the egg...great players or great coaching.

      I just believe Phil Jackson had an easier road. In fact, I would have to say Pat Riley had a similar easy path with the Showtime Lakers. And remember he couldn't bring the New York Knicks a ring with great players such as Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, and Derrick Harper. Yet somehow he won with Wade/Shaq in 2006?

      You have some great points and sometimes 'we' as spectators need to sit back and just enjoy the games. However, from time to time, I feel the need to pull the BS flag and give credit where credit is due...the NBA players in this case.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • The Suburban Poet profile image

      Mark Lecuona 

      8 years ago from Austin, Texas

      Great coaches still can't win without great players. The question is this: Did Red Auerbach make Bill Russell, Bob Cousey, John Havlicek, KC Jones etc great? Did Pat Riley make Kareem, Magic, Worthy etc great? Did Jackson make Jordan, Pippen, Shaq, Kobe etc great? I think all these coaches enhanced these players but these players were elite players before they came to the NBA so it seems to prove that greatness in a coach is intricately tied to elite players. What about Eric Spoelstra? Would Auerbach, Riley or Jackson have won the championship this year with that Heat team? I say yes. I believe they would have known the nuances needed to get LeBron to step up. They would have recognized what changes needed to be made. And they would have provided the leadership and arrogance that accompanies an elite mind.


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