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Zen of Championships

Tuesday, July 5, 2005
The Art of Three-Peat
By Ouisie Shapiro
Special to

Signature Game
June 12, 1991 - After losing the first game of the NBA Finals to the Lakers, Phil Jackson's Bulls won the next three. In his second full season as head coach, Jackson had brought his team to within one win of his first NBA championship.

In Game 5 tonight in Los Angeles, the Bulls turned into the all-for-one and one-for-all team that Jackson had been shaping. With the score tied, 93-93, and 3:54 remaining, Michael Jordan stepped into the shadow of his often-overlooked backcourt partner, John Paxson. Opportunity arose when Jordan's drives to the hoop drew double-teams, freeing Paxson from the defense of Magic Johnson.

Paxson hit a 19-foot jumper to break the tie. Then Jordan got the ball and moved across the floor, looking for his man. He found him. Paxson took the pass and hit an 18-footer. Moments later, he made another jumper. And then another. And another after that. In just under four minutes, Paxson had sunk five straight shots to guarantee the Bulls the first NBA title in their 25-year history.

"We as a team, we as a unit, we accomplished it together," Jordan said. "This should get rid of the stigma of the Bulls being a one-man team."

A gleeful Jackson praised his team. "This series was a tribute to Michael Jordan. Just like at the end of the game, finding the open guy, Paxson, and Paxson hitting the shot."

Jackson's students had aced the final.

Odds 'n' Ends

  • Jackson graduated North Dakota with a composite degree in philosophy, psychology and religion.

  • In the early 1970s, Jackson and Knicks teammate Bill Bradley traveled to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where they held basketball clinics.

  • Jackson had a Spiro Agnew dartboard in his Manhattan loft.

  • Much of what Jackson learned about coaching came from Red Holzman. His former Knicks coach was known to shout, "See the ball!" - shorthand for instructing his players to know where the ball was in relation to the man they were guarding.

  • At the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, Jackson - an anti-Vietnam War protester - was on one side of the picket line and Knicks teammate Cazzie Russell, who had been called up to the National Guard, was on the other side.

  • In 1985, Jackson interviewed to be an assistant to Bulls head coach Stan Albeck. Showing up in a garish shirt and Panama hat with a feather, he tried to explain the symbolism of the feather. Albeck didn't hire him.

  • As coach of the Albany Patroons, Jackson implemented an equal pay structure. Players divided salaries and playing time equally. Married players were paid $25 more per week than single players.

  • Jackson was named the CBA's Coach of the Year in 1985.

  • He was on a fishing trip in Alaska with his twin sons, Charlie and Ben, when his agent arranged his $30-million, five-year coaching deal with the Lakers in 1999. Jackson came out of the river one afternoon and passed an Eskimo village when a young boy said, "You're Phil Jackson. You're the new coach of the Lakers!"

  • Jackson's marriage to his second wife, June, broke up before he became Lakers coach. Their marriage officially ended in September 2001, after 26 years.

  • Jackson began dating Jeanie Buss, daughter of Lakers owner Jerry Buss and a team executive herself, in November 1999.

  • In Los Angeles, he moved into a three-story house overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He outfitted an upstairs space into a Japanese-style room for daily meditation.

  • Jackson has written or co-written six books: Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior; More Than a Game; Mindgames: Phil Jackson's Long Strange Journey; Maverick: More Than a Game; Values of the Game; and The Last Season: A Team In Search of Its Soul.

  • After being treated for a kidney stone in 2003, Jackson said, "When the anesthesiologist leaned over me, he said, 'We named you kidney stone Kobe because it's not passing."

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