Happy Birthday Phil Jackson: How the Zen Master helped shape basketball

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Happy 71st Birthday, Phil Jackson.

The president of basketball operations for the New York Knicks has been in the game professionally since 1967 when he was drafted in the second round by - you guessed it - the New York Knicks.

That's nearly 50 years in the NBA for Big Phil and to call him a success would be a gross understatement.

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He won two NBA titles as a player, but it's the eleven he won as a coach - six with Michael Jordan and five with Kobe Bryant - that has come to define the master of the triangle offence.

Through the 1990s and the 2000s, Jackson's vision of basketball has dominated the league and there has never been a coach more fruitful, over a longer period of time, and, with different franchises.

Would MJ be regarded the best player of all-time if it wasn't for Jackson? During a Q&A session during his Flight School basketball camp in Santa Barbara last year, His Airness asserted that his coach from the University of North Carolina was actually the greatest coach he ever had.

"Dean Smith," Jordan answered when asked who was the best coach he ever had. "Fortunately, Dean Smith helped me become the basketball player I am today. Phil was lucky because I was taught the game by Dean Smith."

But, regardless of the five-time MVP's quip, it was Jackson that found the best way to utilise Jordan and helped him become a six-time Finals MVP from six trips to the Finals. That's crazy.

After winning two three-peats in the 90s and leading the Bulls to a then-record 72-win season, what else could Jackson do to cement his legacy?

Do it somewhere else. That's what.

He would win another three-peat at the turn of the millennium with a force of nature in Shaquille O'Neal and a young Kobe Bryant, even with all of their off-the-court drama.

It's often believed that Jackson favoured the ever-dominant Shaq over the perceived petulance of Bryant during his time at the Staples Center. Nevertheless, the Black Mamba reveres Big Phil like no other.

Kobe said of Jackson to Baxter Holmes of ESPN back in March: “In my opinion, he’s the greatest coach in any profession. Ever."

After Shaq's departure, Jackson would acquire Pau Gasol and lead the Lakers to a further two more championships before retiring from the pine in 2011.

Now, he is tasked with returning the New York Knicks to prominence. Kobe also had some encouraging words for fans in the Big Apple as Jackson looks to help them move past a franchise-low past three years.

“The people in New York just need to trust the fact that he knows more about the game than any of them put together," Bryant insisted.

Although Tex Winter actually created the triangle offence, nobody did more to show the system's value than the Zen Master. In fact, it spawned to legendary careers for a couple of shooting guards.

So, any which way you look at it, Jackson has had a profound effect on basketball. Whether it's how teams approach the game, the championships he has won, or coaching a handful of the greatest players to ever play the game; Jackson's contributions to the sport may well be the most important of anyone's.

Shaquille O'Neal
LA Lakers
Pacific Division
Western Conference
New York Knicks
Atlantic Division
Eastern Conference
Kobe Bryant
Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan
Chicago Bulls
Central Division

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