What's On Tap
Sunday: Detroit Pistons at Los Angeles Lakers (ABC, 9 p.m. ET)
What to Watch
A gap-toothed and bushy-headed Phil Jackson sits on a bench in a locker room, surrounded by some of the men that became legends in basketball-crazed New York for propelling the Knicks in the early 1970's to two NBA championships.
In the black-and-white photograph is Jerry Lucas, Walt Frazier, Jackson, Willis Reed and Bill Bradley. All the men are smiling and holding up the their index finger signifying that they were indeed No.1.
Throughout his playing and coaching careers, Jackson has surrounded himself with some of the most talented players in the game and to some degree that is why the nine NBA championships he has won as a coach -- six with the Chicago Bulls and three with the Los Angeles Lakers -- have been called into question.
In Chicago, Jackson had Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest NBA player ever. In Los Angeles, he has had Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
"Anybody could coach those teams," is the common jab at Jackson.
Now, as the Lakers face the Detroit Pistons Sunday in the first game of the NBA finals, the naysayers are picking at his record again. Leading them is none other than former Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach, the man whose record Jackson will break should the Lakers prevail and give him his 10th championship.
"What I don't like about Phil is that he never gave anybody else any credit," the 86-year-old Red Auerbach told the Associated Press. "[Former Laker general manager] Jerry West built that team."
Jackson, 58, initially called Auerbach's comments "annoying," but yesterday he tried to provide some context for where Auerbach is coming from. He pointed out that the Knicks and Celtics rivalry in the early 1970s was a heated one and that there was bad blood between Auerbach and Red Holzman, Jackson's mentor and coach.
"There are still some residual feelings from those times," Jackson said yesterday during a conference call with reporters. "It's not about Red; it's not about myself; it's about teams that have won and the opportunities I've had to be in this position with a staff that's terrific and has made this possible."
The irony here is Jackson must continue to win respect after winning nine championships while the Pistons' coach, Larry Brown, is praised though he has yet to win an NBA title.
But Brown has earned a reputation for turning losing franchises into winning ones.
He coached seven franchises to the NBA playoffs, the first to do that. He is seventh in career regular season victories (933) and his 81 playoff wins is tied for fourth with K.C. Jones. He led the Philadelphia 76ers to the 2001 NBA finals, receiving coach of the year honors.
Brown is in the Hall of Fame. Jackson is not.
"I admire what he has done," Brown said of Jackson yesterday. "Anyone in this profession that doesn't is silly. . . . It's not easy to win when you are expected to win."
At a time when Jackson's future with the Lakers is in question, he was asked whether he might seek a job with a less successful club to prove he can win without top players.
"I probably would have no capability of absorbing a 60-defeat season as a coach," Jackson said. "It would be a foreign experience.
"My whole career, even as a player, has been on winning basketball clubs and it just seems to have been a part of the make-up of what's been given me. That's what I've been given and that's what I've had to deal with. Some people can make fun of it or some people can have a good time with it, or some people can resent it. It's just what it is."