Phil Jackson was fit and ready to return to the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench and occupy a seat from which he’d watched the team win five NBA championships. Lakers fans wanted it, too, lobbying for Jackson the moment the team fired Mike Brown on Friday,
Instead, the Lakers chose Mike D’Antoni and informed Jackson of their decision in a late-night phone call Sunday. Just what happened here, in a move that even by hyperbolic sports-talk standards was a shocker? Jackson told his side of the story to the Los Angeles Times on Monday night, starting with learning the news that he wouldn’t be returning for a third go-round with the team over the phone.
“I wish it would have been a little bit cleaner,” Jackson told Mike Bresnahan. “It would have been much more circumspect and respectful of everybody that’s involved. It seemed slimy to be awoken with this kind of news. It’s just weird.”
Jackson, who stepped down as Lakers coach in May 2011, was healthy and ready for the grind of an NBA season, telling the Times he was intrigued by the ”excitement and talent of the team, and the attraction.” He said he met for about 90 minutes Saturday with Lakers Vice President Jim Buss and General Manager Mitch Kupchak and believed he had until Monday to decide whether to coach the team again. He was mistaken about that, learning of the Lakers’ decision around midnight.
The Lakers’ side of the story? “After speaking with several excellent and well-respected coaching candidates, [owner] Dr. [Jerry] Buss, Jim and I all agreed that Mike was the right person at this time to lead the Lakers forward,” Kupchak said in a statement Monday.
There were media reports that Jackson, 67, had made demands that the Lakers couldn’t meet, like skipping road trips and having final say in personnel decisions. Jackson, who has been in a long relationship with Buss’s daughter, Jeanne, denied that.
“There’s nothing about that,” he said. “Jimmy [Buss] and I had an agreement when I came back for the second tenure that there would be complete transparency in personnel decisions. I did bring up there were a couple things that went by me that time and I would be part and parcel of such a thing this time.”
The team and D’Antoni agreed to a three-year, $12-million contract at 11:30 p.m. PST Sunday and that was that for Phil Jackson.