Strategy Game Changers: Phil Jackson


Getting to Know Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson entered the world in 1945 as the son of two fundamentalist ministers in Montana. He and his siblings grew up in a strict environment and were unable to watch TV, go to the movies, or even dance.

However, his stern upbringing didn’t forbid him from pursuing sports, and he excelled enough in high school to be recruited by the University of North Dakota, where he helped his team win third- and fourth-place finishes in the NCAA Division II championships. He was drafted 17th overall by the New York Knicks, where he played as a power forward for 12 seasons and was part of two championship-winning teams.

Flowing With the Triangle Offense

Jackson is credited with modernizing the triangle offense. The triangle offense is said to have originated from Sam Barry at the University of Southern California and then further developed by former Kansas State head coach Tex Winter, who had played under Barry. However, Jackson took the offense a step further. And it led him to a historically successful coaching career.

The triangle offense isn’t the easiest scheme to understand, according to Chuck Klosterman – author and Grantland writer – who reports that the base alignment of the triangle is an actual human triangle on one side of the floor.

“The triangle is considered a ‘flow offense,’ in which player movement is the most important detail (set plays are rare),” Klosterman notes. Also, there are other points that require every player to be interchangeable as well as automatic passes that need to be made when certain defensive alignments are encountered.  


Jackson’s Legacy

After Jackson’s retirement as an NBA player, he started his coaching career, eventually working his way up to the head coach spot with the Chicago Bulls in 1989. There, he began his tenure as one of the most successful coaches in NBA history; he led the Bulls to six NBA championships and then the Los Angeles Lakers to five. With a total of 11 rings, he secured the most NBA titles as a coach and helped guide Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal to Hall of Fame careers.

While the triangle offense is complex, variations have been added and implemented in today’s game. The San Antonio Spurs, for example, utilize a form of this offense. And while Jackson now serves in an executive role – he’s currently the president of the New York Knicks. His legacy as one of the greatest coaches of all time still lives on.

Game Changer

When Phil Jackson started the climb to his incredible head coaching career, he probably didn’t expect that one day he’d be remembered as the coach of champions – 11 times over – or for his triangle offense playing strategy. However, the NBA Hall of Fame inductee (2007, as coach) will always be an icon in the basketball world for his particular style of coaching and play.


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