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Phil Jackson on the difference between black and white players and their impact on the NBA

Phil Jackson saw a difference between the way white and black players approach the game early on in his coaching career
Phil Jackson on the difference between black and white players and their impact on the NBA

Phil Jackson had an interesting perspective on the difference between white and black players

A few months ago, there was a lot of coverage around Scottie Pippen calling Phil Jackson a racist for not allowing him to take the last shot in a playoff game against the Knicks in 1994. It was a completely uncalled accusation by Pippen, and most NBA fans agree that he was out of line with a lot of his commentary. Calling Phil Jackson a racist is nothing short of an embarrassment, especially if you know the origin stories of when Phil Jackson started coaching basketball.

Jackson always had a studious approach to the game

Jackson was always very intellectual and spiritual, knowing what makes different minds work and what motivates them personally. He soon recognized the difference between black players and white players, and in his book 'More Than a Game,' he explained how he saw the different upbringing impacts how they play basketball.

White players are more often willing to run patterns and to work collectively. Because of the predominance of blacks in pro basketball, the sport is rapidly disintegrating into a one-on-one sport. There are only five or six NBA teams who play with more than a superficial degree of team unity.

Phil Jackson, More Than a Game

The demeanor black players have is that they need to prove to everyone they are the best and most accomplished because sometimes that is the only way they can escape their harsh reality and even poverty. According to Jackson, white players, on the other hand, usually tend to navigate for more teamwork because that was how most of them were brought up in their communities.

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Black kids growing up want to be the superstar of their neighborhood. They want to be the toughest kids on the block, the richest, or, once they get to the playground, the best one-on-one basketball players. White kids, on the other hand, usually are raised in a more homogenous environment which provides other outlets for personal expression.

Phil Jackson, More Than a Game

The main difference between black and white players was in their upbringing

Even though Jackson recognized the difference in their approach and mentality, he knew the best ways to make them work collectively within a system no matter what ethnic or racial background they belonged to. Early in his coaching career at the Flathead Valley Community College, Jackson was asked to rejuvenate their basketball program. Being a small community with almost no black basketball players on their roster, Jackson was the one who said they should start recruiting black players if they wanted to win.

Black kids are some of the best basketball players in the country. Even if this is a homogenous community, we should still try to bring in the best talent.

Phil Jackson, More Than a Game

It's interesting to see what Phil Jackson thought about the comparisons between white and black players and how he worked to make them operate effectively within a collective. Jackson was a master of knowing what makes specific individuals work no matter what their ethnic, social, or any other background would suggest. The ultimate goal was always to find the right balance and chemistry within the team.

In Phil Jackson's case, the 11 NBA championships he won prove he achieved that with almost any group of players he coached in his illustrious coaching career. Being of a different race was never essential for Jackson, but winning and working collectively as a group was, and that is the mindset he brought to every team, and they all adopted it perfectly. 

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