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Warren Bennis
Scholar

Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis is University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business at the University of Southern California. His newest book is 'Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership.'

Spiritual Doubts

"Greatest," in competitive athletics especially, is a chancy and probably useless term to use. It can have a shelf life of one year, if that. Babe Ruth was the greatest home-run hitter until the asterisked Hank Aaron came along; Bob Feller was the greatest pitcher until Nolan Ryan came along; Rod Laver was the greatest, or was it Sampras until Federer came along and so on and so forth. We need a decade at least to endow Phil Jackson with that title. Jackson, for all we know in the coming year could retire, get fired, get into a godawful fight with Kobe, divorce the Laker owner's daughter, or have a plain rotten 2010 season.

I think it would be fair to say -- and enough elapsed time -- to claim that John Wooden and Red Auerbach are the greatest basketball coaches of our time in their leagues. They served their entire adult lives, from beginning to end, with the "greatest" records and a lasting legacy. I wouldn't put Jackson in that category yet, not based on the number of NBA championships he has won and not until his overall coaching methods and character are more fully known. And that will take time to tell.

Which leads me to the other part of your question, about the effects of Jackson's Zennish coaching. (I should add here that I am a great admirer of Coach Jackson, reviewed his early book, "Sacred Hoops" positively and have great respect for that philosophy. I would also hesitate to refer to it as "spiritual.") I don't see how meditation techniques could be harmful, but would have to know more about how Jackson uses that technique to motivate. And I wonder how useful Zen practice would be in developing court strategies, composition of teammates, or the judgment about the talents of players. In other words, I respect Jackson's character but doubt that spirituality on the hard wood of a basketball court would make much of a difference.

By Warren Bennis

 |  June 15, 2009; 11:57 PM ET
Category:  Sports Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Winning is a Not a Formula | Next: Reaching the Whole Person

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