A saying goes, “the devil is in the details,” and you can definitely apply this to basketball when it comes to winning games. Nobody was better at winning games and championships than Phil Jackson. His career as a player was successful, but he etched his name among the best to ever do it when he won 11 championships as a head coach with the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls.
Jackson was very methodical and understood that attention to detail is essential for his team to win ball games in the grand scheme of things. One of the aspects of the game Jackson also took an important notice to was the air in the basketballs. This might sound pretty strange at first, but he knew other teams would tamper with the air inside the balls so Jackson would carry an air pressure gauge to test the basketballs out.
After years of coaching and playing experience, Jackson knew some teams would manipulate the balls to their advantage, depending on what kind of system teams would run. In an excerpt from The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith, it’s further explained what Jackson would do against different teams who actually tampered with basketballs.
“Jackson always tests the poundage in the game balls before the game. Like the night in Miami in the 1989-90 season. The balls this night in Miami were well below the required 7.5 to 8.5 pounds. An innocent oversight? Unlikely. With the softer ball, players can’t dribble as fast and the game slows. It was what a less talented team like Miami wanted against a running team like the Bulls. Jackson got the balls pumped up and the Heat was deflated. It works the other way, too; Jackson has caught the Lakers trying to sneak balls with 15 to 17 pounds of air into the game. Why? Magic likes a high dribble, and a livelier ball results in long rebounds that key the kind of fast break the Lakers love to use.”
Jackson’s coaching brilliance was on display numerous times, but it was, for the most part, behind closed doors when he did all the small things to enable the Bulls to win ball games. At certain times, his unorthodox methods didn’t find a lot of understanding from the players, but they knew that is what made Jackson so special as a coach and a true leader.