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“F**k Phil Jackson” — when Jerry West ate his words and offered the 'Zen Master' the Lakers coaching job

If you think winning titles together building around Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant helped their relationship, you are wrong. Jerry West explained why.
Jerry West and Phil Jackson

Jerry West and Phil Jackson

The Los Angeles Lakers did not earn the moniker “Showtime” for no reason. From the 80s until 1991, to be exact, the Lakers, led by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy, brought that Hollywood vibe to the basketball court, and people went crazy over it. They weren’t just famous because of their celebrity-like brand as the team was also world champions, having copped five NBA titles in that stretch.

However, everything comes to an end, and the Showtime Lakers were not exempted. Kareem finally called it a career in 1989 at 41 years old, Johnson had to leave the game due to HIV, and Worthy eventually retired in 1994. But the “Purple and Gold” refused to fade into the shadows.

In 1996, the Lakers brought in the ferocious Shaquille O’Neal, who was thirsty for an NBA title, having lost to the Houston Rockets in the past. It was also the year LA swooped for a teenage Kobe Bryant, who was originally drafted by the Charlotte Hornets. From then on, the Lakers began their quest to bring the once phenomenal franchise back on the map.

Not as easy as it sounds

Despite being young, the new Lakers squad had the talent. However, the Showtime LA was such a tough act to follow that then Lakers general manager Jerry West admitted that changes should be done sooner rather than later.

From 1994 to 1999, the Lakers were under the tutelage of Del Harris, a veteran NBA coach who was said to have gotten his players a bit tired of hearing his excessively lengthy lectures. Nevertheless, Harris did a good job making the Lakers significant again, having led the team to the playoffs in four consecutive seasons.

However, following a poor start in the ‘98/’99 season, West reckoned that it was about time to bring in a top-grade coach, a leader that could squeeze the best out of the team’s potential.

We were not playing up to our potential, and we needed change,” West said in Jeff Pearlman’s book “Three Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Crazy Years of the Lakers Dynasty.” But that doesn’t mean Del wasn’t a terrific man. He was. Man and coach. Sometimes you just need a different look.

At the time, West appointed a fellow former Laker, Kurt Rambis to fill Harris’ spot. But of course, it’s safe to say that “The Logo” was silently searching for a championship-caliber head coach.

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In all fairness, Rambis managed to advance to the Western Conference semifinals. However, after the San Antonio Spurs ended the Lakers’ NBA title hopes, West had to make another big decision and fired Rambis.

The Zen Master to the rescue

After the Western Conference Finals loss to the Spurs, some in the Lakers organization could see that all signs point to signing a coach who had just led another NBA dynasty to six NBA titles, a certain practitioner of Zen Buddhism.

In a perfect world, hiring Phil Jackson would be easy. However, it was no walk in the park for West as he and Jackson never saw each other eye to eye and had an unspoken animosity that dates way back to their playing years.

Some may not know, but West and Jackson faced each other in the NBA as players. The pair had opposite playing styles as West was a Lakers scorer while Jackson was a bruiser for the New York Knicks. They still clashed numerous times on the court, and it reached a crescendo in the 1972 NBA Finals when Jackson hit West with a hard elbow as the Lakers legend walked off the court, leaving him with a broken nose.

All told, West would’ve never hired Jackson if it wasn’t for the endorsement of Rambis. And needless to say, his eagerness to redeem the Lakers saw him eating his words.

Despite the drama, the Lakers wound up signing Jackson to a five-year, $30 million deal. And they weren’t disappointed. In Jackson’s maiden season with the Lakers, the team finished the campaign with a 67-15 record. More importantly, LA won the NBA Finals that year, and Jackson spearheaded the Lakers to two more championships in the following seasons.

If some of you think championships would end the West-Jackson feud, you’re wrong. Apparently, the two icons in the sport just couldn’t stand each other’s egos.

So one of the problems I had with Phil was this,” West wrote in his autobiography “West by West” via CBS News. “His office was right near mine and when he would arrive in the morning, he would walk right past and never even bother to wave or duck his head in to say hello.

Phil and I had no relationship. None,” he added. “He didn’t want me around and had absolutely no respect for me — of that, I have no doubt.

In the summer of 2000, the inevitable happened. After a year of co-existing in the Lakers front office, West and Jackson finally parted ways as the former decided to vacate his position as the team’s GM. A lot of factors may have contributed to West’s decision, but we can all agree that one of them could be Jackson.

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