Following the announcement of his induction to the Hall of Fame, Toni Kukoč talked about all the people that helped him achieve basketball immortality. One of the names the 3x NBA champ singled out is Phil Jackson.
The legendary coach played a big part in maximizing Toni’s talent as a basketball player. But looking back on his run with the Bulls, the Croat appreciates Phil more for what he did for him off the court. He might’ve reached an iconic status throughout the game of basketball, but for guys that got the chance to play for him, Jackson was much more than a coach — he was their teacher.
Today, 23 years after their last championship together and just a few months before Toni’s enshrinement, the 52-year-old remembered one specific lesson by The Zen Master that paints the perfect picture of his mentorship.
Phil was really rigid when it came to showing up to practice on time or not being late to the team’s flights. At the start of every season, he’d give his players a guidebook dubbed ‘Season 96/97, Season 97/98,’ etc. These books had stuff about the triangle and team’s defensive schemes and the last chapter of every book was ‘The Book of Rules.’Toni Kukoč, KK Split
Phil summed up the showing up on time part like this: if you show up 5 minutes early, you’re on time, if you’re on time, you’re probably late, and if you’re late, you’ll be fined. Phil didn’t care for explanations, nor was there a way of getting away with one. But he did give his players a chance to get some of that money back.
Once the money would pile up, Phil would say, ‘we have around $5000 of fines, the one who hits the half court shot first wins $2000.’Toni Kukoč, KK Split
This is what made Jackson different. Even while teaching his guys a lesson, he put a fun twist on it, and Toni and everyone else loved being in such an environment. But they never got their money back. Well, everyone except one guy.
We would all shoot at the same time, and no matter whose ball fell through the net, Michael always yelled, ‘that was mine, that was mine!’Toni Kukoč, KK Split
Just like there was no way of explaining to Phil why you are late, there was no way of convincing Michael he wasn’t the one who made the shot. So instead of arguing with him about it, they would let him have it.
For everyone else, the only way of minimizing losses was to show up on time. And by on time, I mean 10 minutes earlier, at least that’s what Phil’s ‘Book of Rules’ said.