Speaking at the same hotel where Richard Nixon told reporters they would not have him to kick around anymore after his loss in California's 1962 gubernatorial election, Phil Jackson explained today why he changed his winter plans of campaigning for Bill Bradley in Iowa to coach the Los Angeles Lakers.
"Of all the jobs that were sitting out there this year, this one was the one that piqued my interest," Jackson said at a news conference in the Beverly Hilton's International Room, carried live by three cable television networks and several Los Angeles stations. A five-year contract reportedly worth $30 million also was a factor. "This is a team that is talented, young, been on the verge [of a championship] and hasn't gotten over the top. It's a similar situation that happened 10 years ago in Chicago and we hope to have the same type of success here."
Jackson resigned as Bulls coach after the 1997-98 season, the last of six championship seasons for Jackson and the Bulls. It also happened to be the last season for Bulls star Michael Jordan.
The Lakers, meanwhile, have not been to the NBA Finals since 1991, when they lost to the Bulls.
This spring, the Lakers were swept by San Antonio in the Western Conference semifinals, following a tumultuous season that included assistant Kurt Rambis succeeding the fired Del Harris as coach, the signing and waiving of seven-time rebounding champion Dennis Rodman and a major trade that brought three-time all-star Glen Rice from Charlotte.
Rice was supposed to provide outside shooting to ease the defensive pressure on center Shaquille O'Neal. Instead, Rice was inconsistent, and the loss of two-time all-star guard Eddie Jones and 7-foot backup center Elden Campbell in the trade left the team weak defensively and unable to match up well against the Spurs' two 7-footers, Tim Duncan and David Robinson.
To owner Jerry Buss, the latest way to get the Lakers their first championship since 1988 was to lure Jackson away from speaking and raising funds on behalf of Bradley's presidential campaign with a $6 million per year contract to bring his unique style of motivation and triangle offense to Los Angeles.
Jerry West, the Lakers vice president for basketball operations, and Todd Musburger, Jackson's agent, negotiated for the past two weeks.
"It's pretty easy to work with a guy that's got a gun on you and you're happy about it," West said.
Most of the talks were conducted while Jackson was on an Alaskan fishing vacation and out of contact with Musburger. Jackson got word that the deal might be complete from a very unusual source.
"I was in a little Eskimo village coming off a river and some kid came out and said, `You're going to coach the Lakers,' " Jackson said.
The Lakers teams with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won five championships, the last in 1988, but the Lakers have won only one best-of-seven-game series since Johnson's first retirement early in the 1991-92 season.
"We think this is going to be the start of another fantastic time for us," West said. "We found him most accommodating. He has a great insight to what he wants to do on the court. More importantly, he wants to use players in a little different manner than they've been used in the past and that's encouraging to us."
Jackson replaces Kurt Rambis, who was 24-13 in the regular season after replacing Harris. Rambis guided Los Angeles to a 3-1 first-round victory over Houston, but he was criticized heavily when his team was swept by the Spurs.
"Kurt really took a beating," General Manager Mitch Kupchak said. "It's unfortunate because the circumstances were such that I'm not sure anybody could really have done any better [than] he did. We have incredible confidence and faith in Kurt as a person and a basketball person.
"With a team that's on the brink [of a championship], you want to eliminate as much risk as possible. When you look at the two candidates, I think it's clear there's a whole lot less risk going with Phil Jackson than Kurt."
CAPTION: Phil Jackson, second from left, joins, from left, Lakers executives Mitch Kupchak, Magic Johnson, Jerry West. He got 5-year deal reportedly worth $30 million.