Lakers’ Jackson ready for career stretch run

This is it.

Phil Jackson claims he’s done coaching multimillionaires after this NBA season. At age 65 and with 11 championships and 1,098 wins in his back pocket, Jackson said the decision to retire was easy to make.

“It wasn’t difficult once I came to the conclusion that this is the way it should end,” said Jackson, who made his call in early August and will coach in Las Vegas for the final time when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Sacramento Kings at 7 p.m. today at the Thomas & Mack Center. “I’ve enjoyed being away from the game, taking time away, so I’m not so concerned about leaving the game so much.”

Jackson, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, admits he has been blessed to work with some of the game’s greatest players. He coached Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to six world titles in Chicago. In Los Angeles, he coached Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, winning five more rings.

But what gave Jackson his greatest pleasure was not coaching superstars but helping develop the careers of players who didn’t have the skill set of a Jordan or a Bryant.

“Oh, without a doubt,” he said. “For example, a lot of the players from the Bulls organization got really good contracts and had long careers, guys like Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler and Luc Longley, who didn’t have a long career but got a contract before his injury forced him to retire.

“And that’s happened to some of our players with the Lakers.

“Ty Lue is still in the league. Devean George has moved on and continued to play into his 12th year. Mark Madsen is still involved in basketball after starting with us, and is now a coach after having a very good career as far as playing days go.”

Jackson was in a similar situation when he was a player. He was a reserve forward for the New York Knicks, who had Hall of Famers all over the court in Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Earl Monroe, Bill Bradley and Dave DeBusschere.

He also played for a Hall of Fame coach in Red Holzman, and when Jackson had to miss the 1970 season following spinal fusion surgery, he tried to contribute to the Knicks by learning at Holzman’s side.

“Red didn’t have an assistant coach,” Jackson said. “His staff only involved a trainer, Danny Whelan, and I was a tag-along guy. So I would still be in the locker room when the team would go out, and he would talk basketball with me.”

Jackson said it motivated him to one day get into coaching. He would carefully watch how Holzman handled players as people and he would bank the knowledge for the day when he would coach.

“Red had a great way of dealing with players and the team,” Jackson said. “He gave the team confidence in what they could do, and he had a way of incorporating players in a jocular way that made it fun and enjoyable.

“One of the examples I always use is that he would walk through the plane before we would land in a city and say, ‘What do you think, do you think we should practice today?’ And he would always go to Dave DeBusschere and say, ‘What about you, Dave?’ and Dave would say, ‘Nah, I don’t think we should practice today,’ and, invariably, we’d practice.

“So one day, I said, ‘Red, you always walk through the plane and talk to the guys about how they feel about practice, and when DeBusschere says yes, you say no, and when he says no, you always say yes in regards to practicing.’ So he said, ‘I always know what Dave did the night before by how he talks about whether we should practice or not. So he probably needs to practice when he says no, and when he says yes, he’s got a lot of energy and I should probably call him off and let him keep that energy.'”

As Jackson prepares for his final season and the notion of a Lakers’ “three-peat,” he doesn’t dwell on it. His goal is to put the team in a position to win a third straight title.

“You just go about it and don’t think how difficult it is,” he said. “Just play each game and don’t worry about anything but that. But it takes remarkable talent to be able to do it.”

Jackson said he has enjoyed his time with Bryant, which didn’t always go smoothly.

“I’m pleased with the way Kobe’s career has gone the last four years,” he said. “We’ve had a relationship for five or six years that has been remarkable, to have this turnaround in our relationship. He understands a lot of what I do without verbalizing it.”

And as he comes to Las Vegas for the final time as a coach, one of Jackson’s favorite memories as a coach involves Bryant in one of the Lakers’ annual visits to the Thomas & Mack.

“We were in Vegas and Kobe was at a very young age and he smoked four cigars that night,” Jackson said. “So I played him 48 minutes in an exhibition game the next day. He got a kick out of it and laughed.

“I said, ‘I want to see how good your conditioning is.’ “

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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