But, of course, once in a big while someone will come along and want to do 10 one better. In “This is Spinal Tap,” it was guitarist Nigel Tufnel, who made sure his amplifier went to 11.
In basketball, maybe it will be Phil Jackson.
I mean, 10 is nirvana. But doesn’t logic dictate that nirvana plus one is even better? Why not 11?
This matter is not foremost on the minds of the denizens of Laker Nation at the moment. After all, their heroes just won the championship by beating the Orlando Magic, 99-86, on Sunday night to capture the NBA Finals, four games to one. This is a time for frivolity, for laughter and confetti, for champagne and free tacos. The only burning issue outside of all that might unfortunately be a couple of cars on the streets of L.A.
But eventually, Phil Jackson will have to decide if he wants to return next season and try for career championship No. 11 as an NBA head coach. On Sunday, he achieved his 10th, passing Red Auerbach on the all-time list. Now Jackson stands alone on the mountaintop, with only Red’s cigar smoke wafting up to him as a reminder that, when you finally pass a legend, you in turn become a legend.
Jackson doesn’t need to return next season to cement his place in history. Clearly, that’s done. The Chicago Bulls of the 1990s provided Jackson the opportunity to win six titles. And even more remarkable, Jackson led the Lakers earlier in this decade to three championships with an almost completely different cast save for Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, then came back later to win this season with a remodeled version.
That’s a magnificent set of credentials, one that certainly entitles him to hobble into the sunset if he so wishes. He has nothing left to prove. And his legs hurt.
Next season the Lakers have a team returning that, theoretically, should be favored to repeat. The club has two major free agents in Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza to try and lock up, but given the history of the Lakers and the fact that both players were vitally important to this championship run, it appears that will occur. It would not be a surprise if general manager Mitch Kupchak snagged another player through free agency or the draft, either.
It’s almost impossible for any coach to turn his back on that. The allure of another championship? It’s one thing if a coach is foiled time after time by the agony of the pursuit, has a relationship with the Larry O’Brien Trophy similar to the one Captain Ahab had with Moby Dick, and just decides to pack it in. It’s quite another if someone says to the reigning virtuoso, “How would you like to play Carnegie Hall one more time?”
Jackson has said repeatedly that his health will be the determining factor in whether he returns in 2009-10 to finish out the final year of his contract. It’s impossible to tell how he’s feeling, since he rarely lets on about any pain, and also because he seems to do well at times and not so well at others. Predicting how his legs will respond after a summer of basking in another championship glow is a murky exercise indeed.
And recently assistant coach Kurt Rambis turned down the head coaching position with the Sacramento Kings, leading some to speculate that he did so because he knew he was the frontrunner to succeed Jackson, perhaps as early as next season. But Rambis might have stayed even if he knew Jackson might stick around for another year.
PBT: The Spurs saw the NBA title slip through their fingers Tuesday night. Do they have it in them to rebound from their meltdown in time for Game 7?
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