DALLAS – If Phil Jackson is truly calling it quits for good – he says he is; others have doubts – then arguably the greatest coach in NBA history went out in historic and embarrassing fashion.
The Dallas Mavericks’ 122-86 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday at American Airlines Center sent the 11-time champion Jackson into retirement with the second-worst loss of his career. It’s the first time one of his teams has been swept out of the playoffs.
And that’s not even considering the day began with him being fined $35,000 by the league for comments about the officiating and then his team’s meltdown in the waning moments with Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum getting ejected for flagrant fouls.
“Yes, this is in all my hopes and aspirations that this is the final game that I’ll coach,” said Jackson, who won six titles with the Chicago Bulls and five with the Lakers. “This has been a wonderful run. I go out on a sour note after being fined $35,000 by the league. So that’s not fun having a feeling like I’ve been chased on the freeway by them. But as Richard Nixon said, ‘You won’t be able to kick this guy around anymore.’ ”
Jackson thought about retiring last season, but was pulled back to attempt a fourth three-peat. But these Lakers, who were coming off their second consecutive title, weren’t up for the challenge, not even at the beginning.
In the end, Jackson seemed glad it was over.
That Jackson’s children and grandchildren flew in for Sunday’s game so they could witness his possible last game also spoke to the feeling that there was little confidence the Lakers could even extend the series against the Mavericks, let alone rally to make another championship run.
“It feels really good to be ending this season, to be honest with you,” Jackson said. “I came back this year with some trepidation. The thrill of trying to chase a three-peat is always exciting. But I knew it was a big challenge for this team to three-peat. It was a challenge bigger than we can beat.”
Jackson sounded like a man who was done with coaching. He detached himself from the talk about what the Lakers have to do to regroup for next season.
Of course, Jackson has walked away before. And he has come back to win titles.
He retired after leading the Bulls to six titles in the 1990s. He did the same after leading the Lakers to three straight titles in 2000-02.
He retired following the 2004-05 season, before returning in 2006.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle thinks we haven’t seen the last of the man known as the Zen Master.
“His contributions to our game have been gigantic,” Carlisle said. “I know Phil off the court. My belief is that he’ll retire for a while. But I don’t know how long he can go to Montana and meditate. … He’s going to get bored. We’re talking about the greatest coach in the history of our time.”