Phil Jackson will forever be considered the savior to the Lakers. After leading the purple and gold to three titles in the early 2000s and creating one of the game’s greatest dynasties, he walked away after a tumultuous season in 2003-04.
Two years later, he was back in the saddle, having patched up his relation with Kobe Bryant. After some rough years, the duo went on to win two more titles, cementing both their legacies in the purple and gold.
However, recent years haven’t been too kind to Jackson. After flaming out in dramatic fashion in the 2010-11 season, Jackson left the sidelines once again. In an recent update to his autobiography, Jackson shares some details following that leave and leading up to the Lakers asking him to return to the sidelines once more.
Below, we’ll include excerpts from the book, originally found here.
On a return to the Lakers prior to the 2012-13 season:
So I was surprised in early November when my fiancée, Jeanie, came home after meeting with her brother Jimmy, the Lakers’ head of basketball operations, and asked me to “please just hear him out” about returning to coach the team. Over the summer Jimmy and Mitch had made deals with two major stars — point guard Steve Nash and center Dwight Howard — creating a “dream team” that prognosticators predicted had a good shot of winning the championship. But Mike Brown, who had taken over as coach the year before, had trouble getting the players to gel together at the start of the 2012-13 season and Jimmy decided they needed to replace him after the team went 0-8 in the preseason and dropped four of the first five regular games.
The meeting took place at my house on Saturday morning. Jimmy brought Mitch along and we talked mostly about whether I was up for doing the job. By then, I’d recovered from my Achilles tendon problem and I told them that I felt capable of handling the travel grind. To be honest, though, I was still ambivalent about returning to coaching. Now that I had begun to recover from my surgeries, I finally felt strong enough to start enjoying my retirement and I wasn’t keen on becoming a slave to the NBA schedule again.
Still, the idea of going after one more ring with Kobe, Pau, and my other former players intrigued me. My biggest concern was whether this team could beat the reigning champs, the Miami Heat. In my mind, there’s nothing worse than making it all the way to the Finals and losing. As they were leaving, I told Jimmy and Mitch that I needed time to think it over, but I’d be ready to give them an answer on Monday.
On finding out that the Lakers were hiring Mike D’Antoni:
Most fans know what happened next. Mitch called me around midnight on Sunday and told me they had decided to hire another coach, Mike D’Antoni. I was a little stunned at first, but, on reflection, I realized why things fell apart so quickly. I was thinking of the job as a one-season gig, but Jimmy and Mitch were looking for a coach who could help them rebuild the team over the long haul. They were also eager to turn the Lakers back into the sort of fast-paced, high-scoring team they were in the Magic Johnson “Showtime” era — and D’Antoni was certainly a coach who could make that happen.
Several weeks later, the story came out that Dr. Buss, not Jimmy, had made the decision to go with D’Antoni. This seemed unlikely to me given the state of Jerry’s health — not to mention, Jimmy’s long history of impetuous decision-making — but it was impossible to verify that story one way or the other. In the end, it didn’t matter that much anyway. I was ready to move on.
On proposing to Jeanie Buss:
During that period, I decided to propose to Jeanie. Marriage was something we’d talked about before, but had always found reasons to postpone. The thought came to me during Thanksgiving at my daughter Brooke’s house in Santa Barbara. All my children and their families were gathered together, except for my oldest daughter Elizabeth and her tribe, who live in Virginia. It felt good being there with Jeanie and seeing how comfortable she was with everyone, and I began thinking that the time had come to pop the question. In the back of my mind, I also thought that our engagement might give Dr. Buss some peace of mind in his final days.
Dr. Buss, who loved to lavish women with precious stones, often teased Jeanie about my sub-par performance in the jewelry department. So when we returned home, I decided to make up for lost time and buy an engagement ring that expressed my love for Jeanie. She was thrilled when I presented it to her on Christmas morning and she showed it off to her father at the hospital later that day.
On Dr. Jerry Buss’ death:
In February I went to the hospital to say good-bye to Dr. Buss. Even though he was barely conscious that day, I thought it was important to reassure him that he didn’t have to worry about Jeanie. “We’re all going to be fine, Jerry,” I said, putting my hand on his shoulder. “You’ve made a good plan for your family’s future. It’s okay to let go.”
A few days later he passed away.
It wasn’t until Dr. Buss died that I realized that how many people were dependent upon him. The list included not just his six children, but also his former partners, his devoted personal staff and the whole Lakers organization. Jerry was a warm-hearted, larger-than-life guy who’d had a hardscrabble childhood growing up in Wyoming. He never forgot how much the kindness of others had allowed him to climb his way out of poverty and achieve success.
On the Dwight Howard recruitment:
During his postseason interview, Dwight asked for assurance that I would be coming back to coach the team, but Mitch quickly disabused him of that notion. He asked me to back him up on that and not send out a conflicting message. I agreed and told Mitch that I would reach out to Dwight and encourage him to sign with the Lakers. He never answered any of my messages.
Critics poked fun at the Lakers’ D12 campaign, which included putting up billboards all over town with a giant photo of Dwight in Lakers purple and gold and a one-word headline: STAY. But some of the other teams were no less hokey. Dallas owner Mark Cuban created an animated feature starring D12 for his presentation, and the Rockets’ GM put together a video of several local children, including his own daughter, pleading with Dwight to move to Houston.
The Lakers invited Kobe and Steve to the final pitch meeting to help persuade Dwight to come on board. It sounded like a good idea. Steve sent out an amusing tweet before the meeting: “Dwight Howard we’re coming for you. You’re going to love the statue we build for you outside Staples in 20yrs!” And Kobe made a moving speech during the pitch, promising to teach Dwight the secret of winning championships that he’d learned from the best in the game.
If the meeting had ended there, it might have worked. But after the presentation, Dwight asked Kobe what he was planning to do after he recovered from his Achilles injury. Was this going to be his last year? “No,” replied Kobe. “I’m planning to be around for three or four more years.”
At that point, according to others in the room, Dwight’s eyes went blank and he drifted away. In his mind, the game was over.
A few days later he announced that he was signing with the Rockets.
Certainly many eye-popping pieces from his update. To read more, click the link above and hear more about Dwight’s decision and Phil’s recovery after his retirement.