Coach Phil Jackson once had to complain that his road per diem wasn’t enough for a decent meal. He once had to lobby for a raise to $30,000 after winning his first championship on the bench.
“I will never put a team in monetary stress for a few more bucks,” Jackson wrote to Jim Coyne of the Albany Patroons in May 1984. “But I do think you know I am worth that much.”
Adjusted for inflation, nine championships’ worth with a 10th in his sights, is it fair to say Jackson merited the roughly $10 million he earned this season, with his recently extended contract due to bump his salary up again next fall?
In his own begrudging way, Red Auerbach once acknowledged that Jackson was an excellent coach but one whose championship teams were “ready-made for him.” Now here is Jackson with the chance to forever dispel the Auerbachian belief that he has been no more than a clever shepherd of greatness, from Jordan and Pippen to Kobe and Shaq.
Had any of those players ever won it all before Jackson? How, exactly, did Kobe and his Shaq-less cast fare during Jackson’s one-year leave? (Didn’t make the playoffs.)
In a fascinating N.B.A. finals sidebar, Jackson’s revamped Lakers may well have to win a championship here in Boston, on Auerbach’s hallowed turf, where pro basketball’s signature rivalry resumes tonight after 21 years. If they do, Jackson becomes the sport’s most credentialed coach, the protégé of another Red, Holzman, leaving the Auerbach loyalists a Celtics shade of green.
And all, quite possibly, because Jim Coyne, an Albany county executive and president of a new Continental Basketball Association franchise more than a quarter century ago, had a thing for Holzman’s championship Knicks and especially for their role players. He telephoned Jackson during the 1982-83 season to offer him the job that a former Knicks teammate, Dean Meminger, was about to lose.
“I think at that time, Phil had pretty much divorced himself from the game,” Coyne said in a telephone interview. “I called him at his home out west. He said, ‘Can you call back in an hour?’ I called back and he said O.K. The next season, we won the C.B.A. title.”