After the Spurs won the 2014 NBA Finals, their legacy, and their consistency during 17 plus straight seasons with 50 wins or more — not to mention five titles — became a popular narrative around the league. It’s their first title that’s the impetus behind the back-and-forth between Spurs owner Peter Holt and former Lakers coach Phil Jackson. Plus, Laker for life, Jerry West, threw some shade at Jackson, too, though more implicitly.
The first title during the Duncan/Popovich reign came in the strike-shortened 1999 season. After the Spurs defeated the No. 8 seed Knicks in the Finals, then-retired coach Phil Jackson said publicly the win should have an asterisk because it came in a shortened season with only 50 regular season games (the same argument was made to denigrate LeBron’s first title in Miami after the lockout in 2012).
This also neglects to mention Jackson’s comments early in the spring claiming the Spurs were no dynasty.
The Spurs owner fired back to NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan following their 2014 Finals domination:
The smile that spread broadly across Holt’s face and the hearty chuckle that spilled from it revealed his satisfaction in doing so. Holt, basking in the immediate glow of his team’s fifth championship Sunday night, was asked if this title is the sweetest of them all. Holt said, yes it is, although the first in 1999 will always be special, and that’s when you could start to see Holt’s face light up and the smile begin to build…
“Even though it was a shortened, asterisked season,” Holt said, now sporting a full-on grin. “Phil, Phil, Phil, Phil, we all played the same amount of playoff games, didn’t we, Phil?”
Holt was quickly reminded that Jackson was retired that season, his first out of the league following a second three-peat with Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
“Yeah, uh-huh.” Holt said. “Well, he bailed out.”
Holt is referring to the Bulls after Michael Jordan retired following the 1998 season. Chicago traded Scottie Pippen to Houston and thus began a slow rebuild. Jackson wanted no part in that, and as Roland Lazenby mentioned in Michael Jordan: The Life, Jackson had no intention of returning after capturing the last title in consecutive three-peats, bookending MJ’s baseball exodus.
Earlier this week, Jerry West told Colin Cowherd on ESPN radio, “I’ve never seen a better coach than Gregg Popovich. He does less than more. But having said that, when he gets less, he develops it into something really good. They have a great development program down there.
Jerry West is basketball royalty. He’s won championships as a player for the Lakers; he detests coaching, so he also put together the coach and players that became the Showtime 1980s Lakers; he drafted Kobe Bryant and traded for Shaquille O’Neal, the pieces Phil Jackson used to win another three-peat at the start of the millennium.
So when Jerry West says he’s “never seen a better coach than Gregg Popovich,” that’s slinging some mud at Jackson by process of omission.
Jackson has a chance to prove his bonafides and earn the Zen Master moniker behind the scenes with the Knicks, but we doubt he’ll be as successful in the front office as The Logo. We also don’t think there’s much love lost between the Spurs and Jackson.
Do you agree with Holt and West about Jackson?
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