Phil Jackson is a former NBA coach who won 11 championships with the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. He is also known for his unconventional and sometimes provocative opinions on basketball and life. Here are some of his quotes that have caused controversy:
- “The bigger your head, the easier to fill your shoes.” This quote was a subtle jab at Kobe Bryant, one of Jackson’s star players on the Lakers, who had a reputation for being arrogant and selfish. Jackson later wrote in his book that he used this quote to challenge Kobe to be more humble and team-oriented.
- “There’s a Zen saying I often cite that goes, ‘Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.’ The point: Stay focused on the task at hand rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.” This quote reflects Jackson’s philosophy of mindfulness and Zen Buddhism, which he applied to coaching and teaching his players. However, some critics accused him of being pretentious and appropriating Eastern culture for his own benefit.
- “STAGE 5—a rare stage characterized by a sense of innocent wonder and the strong belief that ‘life is great.’ (See Bulls, Chicago, 1995–98.) This quote was part of Jackson’s description of the five stages of tribal development in organizations, based on a book by Dave Logan and John King. He implied that his Bulls team with Michael Jordan reached the highest level of performance and harmony, while subtly dismissing his other teams as inferior.
- “But trying to eliminate anger never works. The more you try to suppress it, the more likely it is to erupt later in a more virulent form. A better approach is to become as intimate as possible with how anger works on your mind and body so that you can transform its underlying energy into something productive.” This quote was Jackson’s advice on how to deal with anger, which he learned from his own experience of being abused by his father as a child. He claimed that he used anger as a motivator and a catalyst for change, rather than letting it consume him. However, some people disagreed with his approach and argued that anger should be avoided or released in healthy ways.
- “I haven’t watched an NBA game this year.” This quote was Jackson’s shocking admission in an interview with HBO’s Real Sports in 2023. He said that he lost interest in the NBA after retiring from coaching in 2016, and that he preferred watching European soccer instead. Many fans and analysts were outraged by his lack of respect for the current players and coaches in the league, especially since he was still receiving a salary from the New York Knicks as an adviser.
- “I don’t think there’s anybody who’s going to beat Golden State.” This quote was Jackson’s prediction for the 2023 NBA Finals, which he made before the playoffs started. He said that he admired the Warriors’ style of play and their dominance over the league. However, his statement was seen as disrespectful and dismissive of the other contenders, especially his former team, the Lakers, who had LeBron James and Anthony Davis on their roster.
- “I think it’s important that we start talking about your exit strategy.” This quote was Jackson’s message to Michael Jordan during the 1997-98 season, which was documented in the ESPN series The Last Dance. He told Jordan that he was planning to leave the Bulls after that season, and that he wanted him to do the same. He said that he wanted them to go out on top, rather than face decline or uncertainty. However, his suggestion was met with resistance and disbelief by Jordan and his teammates, who felt that they deserved to stay together and defend their title.
- “We call this a ‘smush’ lineup.” This quote was Jackson’s nickname for his Lakers lineup in 2005-06, which featured Kobe Bryant and four lesser-known players: Smush Parker, Devean George, Brian Cook, and Kwame Brown. He said that he used this term to motivate them to play harder and smarter. However, his remark was seen as insulting and demeaning by some of his players and opponents, who felt that he was undermining their talent and effort.
- “I don’t mean to say this rudely but Lamar [Odom] is a very sensitive guy.” This quote was Jackson’s comment on Lamar Odom’s emotional state after he was traded from the Lakers to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. He said that he understood Odom’s feelings of betrayal and hurt, but that he also expected him to be more professional and resilient. However, his remark was perceived as patronizing and insensitive by some fans and media members, who felt that he was downplaying Odom’s mental health struggles and personal tragedies.
- “I don’t know if I can put him in a position where he can be successful.” This quote was Jackson’s assessment of Carmelo Anthony’s fit with the Knicks’ triangle offense in 2014. He said that he was unsure if Anthony had the skills and mindset to play within his system, which required ball movement and team play. However, his statement was seen as a criticism and a challenge by Anthony and his supporters, who felt that he was blaming him for the team’s poor performance and questioning his abilities as a star player.