The 2016 NBA Finals by all accounts was the best finals match-up since the 2010 Game 7 between the Lakers and the Celtics, or maybe the 1996 Bulls versus the Jazz, where Michael Jordan pushed off Byron Russell to hit the game winner and seal his sixth championship. It was by far the highest rated series ever. And the legendary Phil Jackson was the coach of both winning teams.
This year’s finals may have cemented Jackson’s legacy as the best NBA coach of all time—and he didn’t even coach. But both Tyronn Lue and Steve Kerr won their championships playing for none other than the Zen master.
So like it or not, LeBron James’ Cleveland triumph does have a little Phil Jackson attached to it. It was Phil who won two rings with Walt Frazier in the 1970s, who coached Jordan to six NBA titles. Then following up with Kobe Bryant and Shaq O’Neal for five more. So even though he has 13 rings, his influence on the last two NBA Champs, the Warriors and Cavaliers, is very significant.
Lue learned from the best. Everyone remembers Allen Iverson stepping over Lue in Game 1 against the Lakers in 2001, but very few remember how much he bothered Iverson the rest of the finals and ultimately helped the Lakers win in five games.
Jordan only had a winning percentage of .378 in the playoffs before Jackson coached him, going a paltry 14-28. Bryant was 14-23 without Jackson. Heck, Jackson even lead the 1984 Albany Patroons to the championship in the Canadian Basketball Association.
The Knicks haven’t won a title since Jackson was a player. The Bulls haven’t sniffed at an Eastern Conference Final and the Lakers haven’t been close since Jackson left the bench. The Warriors have certainly done very well with Kerr as the coach and won a record 73 games, but it was Kerr playing for a 1995-96 Bulls that sunk the game winner in Game 6 to sink the Jazz. Also Kerr as a player won 72 games with that Bulls team, capping their season with a title.