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Published: Monday, 5/17/2004

Facts prove L.A.'s Jackson is a winner

He sits on the bench, looking oh-so-smug to the point you want to reach through your television set and wipe the perpetual smirk off his face.

He coaches superstar athletes, wins championships and dates the daughter of Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

Phil Jackson is either the smartest person in the NBA or the luckiest.

They say it's easy to coach talent, that any coach in control of his faculties could win big with Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kobe Bryant on his teams.

Well, until Jackson arrived, no coach did. Jackson is the only coach to make Jordan, O'Neal, and Bryant say uncle.

The only coach to get their best on his terms — not theirs.

Some chalk it up to Jackson being a Zen master, allowing him to transmit feelings of confidence and calmness to his players during extreme moments of pressure.

Some credit Jackson's dependence on longtime assistant Tex Winter's triangle offense — first made famous by Jordan, who won six titles with the Chicago Bulls under Jackson, before passing the baton to O'Neal and Bryant, who have combined to win three titles with the Lakers under Jackson.

Some insist Jackson is overrated and doesn't deserve all the accolades resulting from winning nine championships.

They argue Jackson has simply been in the right place at the right time.

There's some truth to every one of those theories. But I like mine the best.

Some people just have a knack for getting results.

Jackson, for whatever reason, has a gift for convincing egocentric athletes he knows something they don't.

So they listen.

Follow orders.

Maximize their talents.

And win.

Jackson's latest con job — transforming the Lakers — was much easier than turning the Bulls into champions.

When Jackson took over the Bulls, he was a no-name assistant put in charge of the most talented player in the NBA.

Jordan didn't know Phil Jackson from Phil Collins. MJ believed he could do it on his own.

Jackson convinced him otherwise.

That sometimes meant getting in Jordan's face and scolding. Something no other pro coach had done. What other coaches were afraid of doing for fear of being fired.

Jordan listened. The rest is history.

After taking a one-year sabbatical, Jackson hand-picked his next team, the Lakers.

To win over Shaq and Kobe, Jackson didn't need to say a word. He just showed them his championship rings.

The highlights from the Lakers' latest title run include Kobe scoring 42 points in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against San Antonio a few hours after being in a Colorado court room, Derek Fisher's incredible beat-the-clock jumper to win Game 5, and Shaq destroying Tim Duncan as the Lakers rallied from an 0-2 defict to win the series 4-2.

Jackson, as usual, observed smugly from the bench. The smirk never left his face, and — knowing what we know now — who could blame him?



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