Magic Without Magic
As a hard-wired, 60-year-long Celtics fan, I am having trouble acknowledging Phil Jackson's greatness. But give the devil his due. He has made explicit what most great coaches and managers have understood intuitively, namely that the hardest challenge of leadership is to place the work where it belongs, resisting the impulse to take the work off of the shoulders of those who own the problem. His "spirituality," if you want to call it that, has enabled him to see the big picture even while he is in the midst of a heated moment.
For me, Jackson's most memorable moment occurred in the Eastern Conference National Basketball Association finals between the Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks in 1994, the year after Michael Jordan retired (for the first time).
Jackson's Bulls were desperately trying to show the world -- and themselves -- that they could win without Jordan. With the Knicks ahead in the best-of-seven series 2-0, the score was tied in game 3 with only 1.8 seconds left. Jackson called a time out to plan the last shot. Jackson called a play that had Scottie Pippin, the Bulls number one star post-Jordan, inbounding the ball to Tony Kukoc, the team's other big star, for the final shot. Pippin was angry that Jackson had not called his number and refused to take the floor as the timeout ended. Jackson sent in a reserve player, who made a perfect pass to Kukoc for the final and winning shot.
Right after the game, the Bulls' dressing room was thick with tension over the incident rather than with euphoria over the victory. Jackson walked in, said to the team, "What happened has hurt us. Now you have to work this out." And then he left.
Jackson's approach to management acknowledges what all good Big Feet know: that their job is to get others to take responsibility for the future of the organization and not be seduced to believing the hype that they alone have the magic.
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