It was fitting that Phil Jackson was in the building when the Utah Jazz's playoff hopes for the 2010-11 season officially ended.
No, this time it wasn't Jackson's team that was completely responsible for ending the Jazz's season, which his Lakers have done the last three seasons, and his Chicago Bulls did twice in the NBA Finals. Jackson just happened to be in the building this time when Utah's postseason hopes were officially doomed.
No opposing coach has been a bigger thorn in Utah's side than Jackson. And he most likely made his final appearance in EnergySolutions Arena in L.A.'s 96-85 victory over the Jazz on Friday night. Jackson has said this will be his last season — a final stand, as he puts it — as the Lakers' coach before he retires to his cabin in Montana.
The significance of Jackson's probable final appearance in Salt Lake City wasn't lost on the L.A. media before Friday's game. Jackson was asked about the battles he had in EnergySolutions Arena, and knowing that he's gotten the better of the Jazz more often than not, the longtime coach smiled.
"This is in my zone of comfort," Jackson said. "I may just drive down here and see a game some time."
I'm guessing he wouldn't receive the standing ovation Jazz legend John Stockton got from both Utah Jazz and L.A. Laker fans on Friday night if he decides to make the drive.
I've only been among Jackson's meetings with the media a handful of times, and they are enjoyable. He can be arrogant and condescending, and I'm strangely entertained by it. He seems to believe he's the smartest person in the room, and you can't really blame him when he's been at the top of his profession as often as he has. Jackson has won more titles than anyone in NBA history with 11, and a 12th is looking more likely as the season progresses.
Another title would give Jackson an unprecedented fourth three-peat as a head coach. Regardless of how you feel about him, that is an amazing accomplishment.
It's a lot bigger deal than being named Western Conference Coach of the Month, which Jackson earned for March. When he was asked about the honor before Friday's game, he replied, "I was thrilled" to learn of it. On a sarcasm meter of 1-10, Jackson's response was 162. It was great.
One of Jackson's qualities that has been illuminated in recent years is that he just doesn't care what people think. While just about every other coach in the league will say no comment to matters that don't involve their team, Jackson will usually answer what is asked. He's fearless — and funny.
He has made public comments about the Miami Heat crying in their locker room after a loss, saying, "This is the NBA: No Boys Allowed." He angered Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy for discussing a possible Heat coaching change early in the season when Miami was struggling. He most recently got into it with Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on Thursday, basically mocking him for putting together a high-priced roster that won't be able to win an NBA championship.
Jackson was asked about Jerry Sloan on Friday, and issued both compliments and perhaps backhanded compliments to the Jazz's former leader.
"You know what Jerry is going to do," Jackson said. "He's been very predictable and successful at it. He had a predictability that you can kind of count on. There was a substitution pattern that was going to be pretty much regular. He was going to go full bore and attack you at the end of the game in a way that had to do more with execution than spot-up plays."
There is no doubt that Jackson respects Sloan. When Sloan resigned in February, Jackson said it was a shame that the longtime Jazz coach never won a championship. He said losing Sloan was a big loss for the entire league.
"We lose a valuable person in Jerry Sloan," Jackson said on Friday. "He had a very good work ethic."
Jackson also said he was sad to see the Jazz fade the way they have since early in the season. He even compared Utah's current state to what's happening with the Sacramento Kings, who are seemingly bound to move to Anaheim after the season ends.
"It's something where you kind of rue the demise of teams that we have had," Jackson said. "We've watched Sacramento go through this the last three or four years after having the best fans in the league. To see them go through all that stuff is really pretty hard. Then to see the Jazz, who have been a staple in this league, have a great start and then perhaps not make the playoffs is pretty hard to see."
That's interesting that Jackson would say that when Jazz fans would counter it's been tough to see him enjoy so many big wins at their team's expense. But fans of many teams can relate.
If Jackson does follow through with his promise of this being his last stand, it will be a big loss for the NBA. He has his critics who wonder how he would have done with teams that didn't feature Michael Jordan in Chicago, and Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal in L.A. His days of winning titles may have ended prematurely if Memphis hadn't made the stupid trade of sending Pau Gasol his way.
You can't argue with his results though. The NBA isn't a beauty contest or the BCS. Jackson's teams have finished the season as world champions more than anyone else. That makes him the best of all-time — even if he is the enemy of the state.
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