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Phil Jackson, Part 1

It was on this date in 2005 that Phil Jackson was re-hired as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, continuing his remarkable career that took him from North Dakota to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Today, we bring you part one of his story.

He was born in Deer Lodge, MT, in 1945, but grew up in Williston, where he was a standout basketball player nicknamed “Bones.” He then went to UND, where his unusual, left-handed, hook shot helped earn him consecutive All-American honors. During his senior year, he averaged more than 27 points per game.

In 1967, the New York Knicks drafted Jackson in the second round. He rarely started, but was always the first Knick off the bench, and he twice won the sixth-man trophy. He played an important role in the Knicks’ 1973 NBA championship.

But Jackson’s greatest talent emerged when he began coaching in various professional leagues, like the Continental Basketball Association where he won his first coaching championship. He was named the CBA Coach of the Year in 1985.

He regularly sought NBA jobs and finally caught on as an assistant with the Chicago Bulls. But his big break came on December 17th, 1988, when the Bulls’ high-strung coach was ejected early in the game. Jackson understood the value of every team member, not just the Bulls’ superstars, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin. The Bulls were trailing by 14 when assistant coach Jackson stepped in, tinkered with the defense and told his players to just go out and play.

Horace Grant, the Bulls’ forward, later said, “It was like we were let out of a cage. We won the game because we were so relaxed – and we knew that Phil should become a head coach.” The following summer, they got their wish, but it wasn’t an automatic success story. Fortunately, Michael Jordan recognized Jackson’s merits. “Michael respected Phil,” Grant said, “and it just carried over to the team.”

As head coach for the Chicago Bulls, he led the team to six national championships in nine years. He took a year off, then joined the Lakers in 2000 and immediately guided them to the NBA championship. He was the first coach to lead two different teams to multiple NBA Championships.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of the Phil Jackson story.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

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