The Last Dance Series Makes a Great Coaching Point
I am sure many of us has been watching The Last Dance, on EPSN. I like so many was fortunate enough to watch this era of NBA basketball. When it was loaded with household names, and rivalries were fierce. Some of you might be wonder why is a football coach talking about a basketball show? Well one reason is I am a fan of all sports, but in episode 3&4 I literally jumped off of my seat during a section of this series.
Michael Jordan is the best basketball player to ever play as far as I can remember. He had started a career with the Chicago Bulls where he had won many personal accolades, but the championships eluded the teams he played with. Enter in Phil Jackson, and his changes in philosophy about how the offense should be played around the best player in history that he inherited. I knew about the triangle offense, I knew of Phil Jackson, and Jordan, Pippen, and the supporting cast. I knew they struggled with the “Detroit Bad Boys,” but never heard the behind the scenes of how they transitioned from a might win maybe, to getting “over the hump” as one of the greatest dynasties in the game. So how does this have to do with coaching?
Every team has their best player. Whether they are the best in the school, county, district, region or state, at some level they are the best your team has to offer. Phil Jackson inherited the best player in the league. A player where the offense was designed around him. A player who had won numerous personal accolades like: scoring champion, best defensive player, MVP, etc. His previous coach whom Jordan liked alot, had put the checks and balances in his hand.
Phil Jackson walks in as an assistant, and wants to implement the triangle, that gives players many options, but is a team oriented offense that spreads the ball around. Jackson knew this was the only way to win championships was the best player was certainly the best, but the supporting cast had to be equally effecient in order to gain the ever elusive championship. Convincing that level of player that this was the best for team, and he (Jordan) would benefit equally from it was an amazing coaching point. Jordan’s labor would no longer be in vain, if it became a team oriented offensive mindset.
Jordan had been through the rules the Pistons had made for him in the playoff series. The Bulls opponents knew that during championship time you had to stop one player. His efforts were superbly championship quality, but alone could not win a championship, because team sports are just that team oriented. There is definatley an “I” in win, but that I stands for “I sold out for the team.” How many great players in all of sports can we name that never won a championship? Some of the best players at their respected positions never found the fruits of their labor, the championship. Some never got a supporting cast around them, some never had coaches with Phil Jackson’s insight.
What is our philosophy of the use of our best player? I know that high school level sports are drastically different from professional in many areas. In professional sports, they are a elite 3% of players in their sport playing, so basically everyone can play well. In high school there is a wider margin of skill, size, and speed. How do we find the balance? Do you take the previous coaches approach, or Phil Jackson’s? I think the question we have to ask ourselves is: Do we fear a team with one power hitter, or a team that has 6 guys who can hit singles and one power hitter? Do you worry about a team with one offensive weapon totally designed around them, or one big one, and several around him that can make you pay with a different skill set that you cannot allow over compensation to the stud?
Fast forward to 2020, and free agency has made this even more evident. The supporting cast is just as important as the best player. Golden States run is glaringly evident, in this case. I am not positive that any of those players when a championship without a supporting cast that was efficient and part of the plan. Even the LeBron James Cavalier, show this to be true.
Phil Jackson’s philosophy propelled a void that the best player in basketball could not achieve, by completely taking the focus off him and still allowing him to be the focus. When Pippen sat out for contract negotiations, Rodman had to become the #2 player in a sense. The team philosophy did not waiver because Pippen was out of the picture. Phil Jackson allowed his best player to be the best player, and got him to understand that the supporting cast was equal important to Jordan’s personal success, and the programs success as a whole.
The award winning for Jordan did not change, but the prize that he wanted did. They won championships, and became a dynasty. Do I think Phil Jackson needed Jordan absolutely, but for the same reasons that Jordan needed Jackson’s approach to win championships. I literally jumped off my couch when I realized the behind the scenes that transpired in to this dynasty. How Phil Jackson totally flipped the script and changed the approach of the way the Chicago Bulls were going to play basketball with THE BEST player in the league. It had everything to do with Jordan, but the approach changed and how he would reach his goals and equally benefit.
The second part that made me smile. Jordan talks about how he was tired of being beat up by the Detroit Pistons. That Piston team was full of grown men, who played with physical defensive play. They were brutally tough and challenged your mental and physical strength. What do he do to change this? He hit the weights. Wait the best player in the league found a deficiency in his game? Absolutely. He found the weight room and got stronger. He became more physically imposing and explosive, and I am sure it gave him elite confidence by seeing the gains and had a renewed determination the next time that opportunity came up. A player who was already an MVP, scoring leader, defensive leader, and the leagues best player found a way to better himself. Most would be fine with the previous accolades, but the best always find a way to get better. So coaches you now have a clip to show your kids when the dreaded WR seems nonexistent, and other sports who do not like to lift, can be shown that clip also.
I have enjoyed the first parts of this series, because it was the time I was growing up. As a coach I really enjoyed the last episode, because it comes full circle for how you see the behind the scenes of how it came about. Having a deeper understanding of Phil Jackson’s insight, along with the best player in the game really brought things full circle.