While it’s been almost two decades since he last hit the hardwood, no basketball fan will ever forget Michael Jordan. Even today, His Airness’ accomplishments are spoken of in hushed tones; no one, it seems, wants to disrespect one of the greatest players of all-time. Head coach Phil Jackson, however, didn’t have any problem throwing some shade in MJ’s direction.
During his time with the Chicago Bulls, Phil Jackson used some unique tactics to get the best out of his teams. One of those involved gifting his players books and, in retrospect, insulting both Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Phil Jackson found great success with the Chicago Bulls
When you hear the name Michael Jordan, it’s easy to imagine him single-handedly willing the Chicago Bulls to victory. During his time in the Windy City, though, His Airness had quite a bit of help.
While plenty of other guys played important roles, Scottie Pippen is most remembered as the Robin to Jordan’s Batman. That might sound like a bit of a back-handed compliment—no one wants to be relegated to sidekick—but things worked out pretty well for this dynamic duo. Pippen was a capable offensive player in his own right, which meant defenses couldn’t solely focus on MJ; he was also a legitimate lockdown defender, making life easier on that end of the floor.
Phil Jackson also deserves some credit for his work on the sidelines. While he didn’t create the triangle offense, he found great success using it in Chicago. Not only did it cause nightmares for defenders, but it helped Jordan, Pippen, and others avoid too much conflict.
On the court, everything ended up clicking. Jordan, Pippen, and Jackson ended up winning six NBA titles together as members of a Chicago Bulls squad that will stand tall in basketball history.
Phil Jackson liked to give his players carefully-selected books
Over the years, Phil Jackson has developed a reputation as a ‘zen master,’ unafraid of using Asian and Native American ideas to get the best out of his teams. One of his annual traditions, however, involves a trip to the bookstore.
As documented by Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times, Jackson followed “an annual ritual” before his teams embarked on a lengthy winter road trip. The coach would head to the bookstore, pick out a specific text for every player on the roster, and gift it to them ahead of their departure.
The books, though, aren’t just quick selections of the best-seller’s list. Jackson has a specific thought process behind each gift.
According to Bresnahan’s 2010 report, for example, Jackson gave Kobe Bryant “a Larry Watson novel about a middle-class Montana family torn apart by a scandal in the late 1940s.” While the coach wasn’t sure if his star player would like, or even read, the book, he still felt it was important to share.
“It was about a part of the country I grew up in, so it was something special for me to give it to him,” Jackson said.
Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen apparently didn’t care for their coach’s gifts
As noted above, Phil Jackson got Kobe Bryant a special book, even if he didn’t think his star player would appreciate it. During his time with the Chicago Bulls, however, he apparently used a different strategy when shopping for Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
“With the West Coast trip at hand, I went to the bookstore to shop for books to give to each player, coach and, of course, [trainer] Chip [Schaefer],” Jackson explained in his ESPN account of the 1998 campaign. “I gave the new players copies of the book I wrote a couple years ago, Sacred Hoops, so they could get a feel for my thinking, background and the principles of the triangle offense. For the vets, I got books by authors I had bought for them before. Harp got another Walter Mosley mystery. Michael and Scottie were easy, because they don’t read. It didn’t matter what I bought them. Kerr and Chip need stimulating stuff because they’re both big readers.”
It’s unclear if Jordan and Pippen ever knew—or even cared—how Jackson felt about their reading habits. At the same time, though, it’s not the greatest look to carefully select gifts for all of your coworkers, then mail it in when it comes to the final two purchases.
Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan weren’t Phil Jackson’s biggest slight, though. He also admitted that he couldn’t buy a gift for Jerry Krause because he “couldn’t find it in [himself] to give [the Bulls’ general manager] something of value.”