Phil Jackson’s ‘Eleven Rings’ Is A Highlight After A Rough Season

Phillip Barnett —  May 21, 2013

I received my copy of Phil Jackson’s Eleven Rings  on Friday and immediately delved into the 334 page journey through Phil Jackson’s 11 (well actually, 13) championships (two as a player). The book begins, however, with Jackson describing the Lakers’ 2009 championship parade.

“Here I was sitting in a limo at the ramp leading into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, waiting for my team to arrive, while an ecstatic crowd of ninety-five thousand plus fans, dressed in every possible combination of Lakers purple and gold, marched into the stadium. Women in tutus, men in Star Wars storm-trooper costumes, toddlers waving “Kobe Diem” signs. Yet despite all the zaniness, there was something inspiring about this acnient ritual with a decidedly L.A. twist. As Jeff Weiss, a writer for LA Weekly, put it: iIt was the closest any of us will ever know what it was like to watch the Roman Legions returning home after a tour of Gaul.'”

That was the second paragraph on the first page of Eleven Rings, and after reading that PJax “never loved being the center of attention” I couldn’t really put the book down this past weekend.

Eleven Rings is more than just a relentless foray in to the countless bumps in the road, the countless numbers of characters and egos he had to balance, and foreign techniques used to band groups of men together to win championships, it’s also a tremendous walk down memory lane, whether you’re a Knicks, Bulls or Lakers fan, through some great times.

While Jackson spends a large chunk of the book discussing his years and New York and Chicago, the efforts of this post will be focused on his time in Los Angeles.

For me, the 2000-2002 run for the Lakers happened during my formative years as a sports fan. I had grown up in a house hold full of Lakers fans while growing up in Los Angeles. My dad was a die-hard who attended several games at the Great Western Forum and watched the Lakers win five championships in the 80s on tape delay. Through my years in elementary school, the Lakers hadn’t found that kind of success. There were fun and likable players (Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel) and a couple of super stars (Shaq, a full-fledged star in 1996 with Kobe showing hits that he would be), but the ultimate success was never realized through the 1999 lockout season.

Jackson was offered the job heading into the 1999-00 season with a new arena for the Lakers to call home, and recounts how he learned about the offer from Dr. Jerry Buss and Jerry West.

I was in the middle of nowhere–a small village on the Iliamna Lake in Alaska–when I heard the news. My sons, Ben and Charlie, were with me. We were on a fly-fishing trip in a secluded wilderness area, and the fishing wasn’t going very well. So that afternoon we knocked off early and boated up the Iliamna River to see the falls. When we arrived back at the village, a throng of children surrounded us.

“Are you Phil Jackson?” one of the boys asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “Why?”

“I hear you got the job with the Lakers.”

“What? How do you know that?”

“We got a dish. It’s on ESPN.”

And that’s how Jackson’s journey began with the Lakers. As the book progresses, Jackson tells a story about Kobe asking Jackson to autograph a copy of his book Sacred Hoops upon their first meeting and telling Dr. Buss that he thought the Lakers could win three or four championships before his first practice with the team. He would go on to tell the story about how he and Jeanie got acquainted for the first time (the story involves cake) and a story about Kobe telling Michael Jordan that he’d kick MJ’s a– in a game of one-on-one.

More important than the small anecdotes, was Jackson’s ability to rekindle a love with the Lakers that had somehow been taken for granted over the last few seasons. I began cover the team here for FB&G the year before that 2009 season that Jackson started the book with, and have started to become jaded with the successes this team has afforded me as a fan since then. The people, the games, the stories, the struggles, the ups, the downs are all what got me to start following this team to begin with. And this book goes into detail about all of those things.

I was taken on a voyage through the absolute joy that came with the Lakers 2000 championship. The frustrations with the 2001 team during the regular season and the pure awe that came with their romp through that particular post season. Then Jackson takes you through the tumultuous 2002 season that saw a wild Western Conference Finals series against the Kings and the collective relief in Los Angeles when the Lakers won Game 7 against their rivals up north.

Jackson reminds us about the wild ride of a 2008 season that saw the Lakers get off to a hot start with Kobe and Bynum starting to click, Bynum’s injury, the Gasol trade, the Finals run and the heart breaking loss to the Celtics. Then we’re treated to a couple more Finals runs in 2009 (good god I love Derek Fisher) and 2010 (how great was Ron Artest?).

Much like Jackson’s book The Last SeasonEleven Rings gives us insight as to what went on behind the scenes during all of these runs. We learn about Jackson resenting Kobe because of his sexual assault case because his daughter fell victim to a similar situation. Jackson also provides some insight about some of the differences and similarities between Kobe and Jordan (Rick Fox also shares some thoughts on this).

What you also get from Eleven Rings is a lesson in team building and leadership. Jackson provides insight into the techniques he used and techniques he learned from other coaches and techniques of Eastern philosophies.

If nothing else, I’d suggest picking up Eleven Rings for some of the anecdotes you may not have known otherwise. It’s a great ride through 13 different championships seasons with three different franchises in two different roles. Jackson is one of the most legendary figures in NBA lore, and Eleven Rings just adds to his legend.

Phillip Barnett