During the 1990s, Phil Jackson and his Chicago Bulls were at the top of their collective game. While Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen did most of the heavy lifting, the Zen Master did plenty of work behind the scenes. Not only did he help the disparate players work together, but he handled the X’s and O’s of winning six NBA championships.
Some of that grunt work apparently included preparing film montages to help the team get ready for each playoff series. With Phil Jackson pulling the strings, however, you know the Chicago Bulls weren’t watching a simple set of highlights.
Phil Jackson’s unconventional basketball career
These days, it’s tough to see Phil Jackson as anything other than the coach of the Chicago Bulls or the Los Angeles Lakers. His basketball career, however, started long before he ever set foot on the NBA sidelines.
After playing his college basketball at the University of Montana, Jackson landed with the New York Knicks. While he was primarily a role player, the forward spent 12 seasons in the NBA, winning two titles. After retirement, however, he wasn’t done with basketball.
Jackson retired as a player in 1980 and quickly found a home on the sidelines. After cutting his teeth in the Puerto Rican National Superior Basketball league and the Continental Basketball League, the coach landed his first NBA job in 1987. He joined up with the Chicago Bulls organization, slotting in as one of Doug Collins’ assistants.
In the summer of 1989, however, Collins lost his job. The Bulls tapped Jackson as his replacement, and, from there, the rest is history.
The Chicago Bulls’ unique playoff film sessions
In high-level sports, there’s nothing unusual about doing some film study ahead of a big game. During his time with the Chicago Bulls, however, Phil Jackson did things a bit differently.
During the 1998 campaign, Jackson wrote a diary that ran in ESPN The Magazine. While it contained plenty of details about the Bulls ‘last dance,’ the coach also gave some insight into his unique film sessions.
“Right now, I’m sitting here getting ready to splice together the video I always make before we play our first playoff foe,” Jackson wrote. “The shortest one I’ve ever made was an hour, so they’re pretty substantial. I use footage of our opponents, and I sprinkle in messages from other films. This year, I’ve got Higher Learning, directed by John Singleton with Laurence Fishburne; Mother, Jugs & Speed, with Raquel Welch, Harvey Keitel, and Bill Cosby playing ambulance chasers; and Squibnocket, a James Taylor concert recorded in his barn on Martha’s Vineyard. Should be a good one.”
While Jackson was famously skilled at getting players to buy into his message, his preparation montages probably pushed the limit. As much as guys like Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman wanted to win, it’s tough to imagine them sitting though hours of game film spliced together with movie clips.
Montages or not, Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls got the job done
During his time with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, Phil Jackson had the good fortune of working with some legendary players. Whether it was those rosters, his film montages, or something else, the Zen Master and his team tended to get the job done in the playoffs.
Jackson spent nine seasons at the helm of the Bulls. He led the club to the playoffs every year, winning six titles. In the stretch, the club played 152 postseason games; Chicago came out on top in an unbelievable 111 of them.
With Michael Jordan on his side, Phil Jackson probably could have shown cartoons before the playoffs began and still found success. With a record like his, though, it’s probably not wise to question the Zen Master’s methods.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference