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“If you practice that...you will not panic” — Shaquille O'Neal reveals why Phil Jackson and the Lakers never panicked

After years of practicing it, Shaq said they learned to never panic…just like Jackson.
Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson and center Shaquille O'Neal

Phil Jackson and Shaquille O'Neal

To this day, the legendary Phil Jackson is still the NBA coach with the highest winning percentage at 70.4%. He made history with the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers by spearheading the two storied franchises en route to multiple NBA titles. What's the secret? Shaquille O'Neal thinks he knows the answer. 

Shaq details Phil’s trick

Ever since an avid NBA fan can remember, Jackson has always been calm and composed regardless of what was at stake. Most of us know that Jackson is a famous Zen Buddhism practitioner; by principle, it promotes calmness and meditation. So it kind of lifts the lid on his unfazed aura. However, O’Neal said that becoming like “The Zen Master” wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

According to Shaq, Jackson’s ways of training his then-Lakers team to be calm and focused were systematic. But for the most part, the results were undeniable.

I learned sage is the cousin of weed. Like he would come in every day, and we’d do these chants. The room would get you high. But he taught us about not only muscle memory but mental memory. We would do the same thing every day, right?,” O’Neal said on Be Better Off Show last year. “So the first hour, we’d meditate. Then the second hour, we walk through the plays. For an hour. Walkthrough, walkthrough, walkthrough. And then we’d practice. And then we did the same thing every day.

Shaq continued and revealed the most important part of Jackson’s mental training. As per “Diesel,” Jackson would tell them to go to their “happy place.” They did it regularly, and after years of practicing it, Shaq said they learned to never panic…just like Jackson.

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And as we were meditating, he would tell us to go to our happy place,” he added. “And my happy place was being able to buy my parents anything they want. 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.

A thrilling yet calm moment

To further prove that Jackson’s mental training regimen worked, O’Neal recalled one NBA Playoff moment where the Lakers managed to get the job done without panicking.

Shaq said it happened during the thrilling Game 7 of LA’s Western Conference Finals duel against the Portland Trail Blazers. As we all know, the Lakers beat the Blazers, and it was capped off by Kobe Bryant’s iconic alley-oop pass to O’Neal.

According to Shaq, they were able to pull it off because of what they learned from Jackson.

“So, even in the [2000] Western Conference Finals, we were down by 15 in the fourth quarter, and if we lose this game, we have to start all over, guys didn’t panic,” Shaq remembered. “We were able to turn the switch and win the game and move on to the [2000 NBA] Finals.

Undoubtedly, Jackson’s coaching and training style are what most NBA teams need to apply. However, it seems that out of all the coaches, only “The Zen Master” can do the trick.

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