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"This is the right place for me" - Phil Jackson on why he believed in the Los Angeles Lakers potential to win

It didn't take long for Phil Jackson to figure out how to lead the Lakers to a championship.
Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson

When the Los Angeles Lakers landed Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in 1996, the level of optimism was high. They had a good coach in Del Harris, and the Lakers again rose to prominence. But after failing to win a championship in two consecutive seasons, the Lakers organization returned to the drawing board and realized that the team had the talent, but the unit was a headless chicken. Hence, they figured they needed to bring in a superstar coach.

The man for the job

In the 1998-99 season, the Lakers had a terrible start. Then-Lakers general manager Jerry West pulled the plug on Harris and appointed Kurt Rambis to fix things up. However, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to reckon that without an elite coach, the Lakers would never be a championship team. So, the Lakers’ front office made the right call and reached out to six-time NBA champion coach Phil Jackson.

Upon arriving in LA, Jackson knew right away that the Lakers lacked “vision,” a vital aspect of a winning team that he had to figure out himself when he was finally onboard.

I haven’t even got an idea of a vision,” Jackson told Sports Illustrated in 1999. “They’ve had a variety of coaches, but they haven’t had stability. They need to come together for a purpose. But we don’t know whether that purpose will be precision, execution or...Showtime.

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Having led arguably the greatest NBA duo of all time in the past, Jackson, of course, was able to fathom what Shaq and Kobe needed to win. For “Zen Master,” the Lakers made the right decision in hiring him, but at the end of the day, it had to be a two-way system.

This is the right place for me,” he says. “I believe they’re a group of players who want to get there but don’t know quite how. But I’m no savior. They have to be the savior of themselves.

The Lakers were quick to adapt

As we all know, Jackson was always calm and composed. He never felt the need to shout or nag at his players to get the results he wanted. That had been his style then, and that was also what he applied to the Lakers. Unsurprisingly, Jackson got the same outcome. In his very first season with the Lakers, the storied franchise won the championship.

Since then, the Lakers fully adapted to Jackson’s style and won two more titles to complete the franchise’s historic three-peat.

And as we were meditating, he would tell us to go to our happy place,” O’Neal said of Jackson. “So times when the moment of truth came and, you know, people panic, he taught us not to panic. And, if you practice that, then you get the muscle memory of not panicking. When the moment of truth comes, you will not panic.

Looking back, it appears Jackson and the Lakers were really meant to cross paths.

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