"Pat Riley is the L.A. story," admitted Jeanie Buss, Lakers executive vice president and Jackson's longtime girlfriend. "This was the birthplace of him as a coach and a leader, we watched it all happen, it's like a mother and a child, any success that Pat has, we feel we have part of.
"Before Phil came here, all I knew about him was that he was a freaky dude who left his job in Chicago on a motorcycle," said Buss. "I thought that was strange. A freaky dude."
If there is one place “freaky dudes” are embraced, it is Los Angeles. And if you are going to be a freaky dude in Los Angeles, you’re going to need to do a lot more than just ride a Harley.
Jackson is loved here, he just doesn’t seek out the public ego strokes that Tommy Lasorda or Pete Carroll do. (Or did, in Carroll’s case.) Jackson is a private person, a thoughtful person, a more restrained person.
That last part frustrates Lakers fans sometimes — during a stretch of bad Lakers play (and there have been plenty this season) fans are home or in bars yelling at the television, while Jackson sits there passively on the sidelines. We want him to yell like we yell, because we want the cathartic release. We want Derek Fisher to hear our voices when he gets burned on defense.
Jackson doesn’t treat his players like high school kids, he treats them like men. He lets them figure out what works for themselves because the things you learn the hard way are the lessons that stick. Don’t think it works? Check out the ring count — Phil has 10.
And those rings matter — Los Angeles loves a winner. We love big box office (why do you think James Cameron is loved?). We are fine with stars who don’t fit the mold of what we think they should be, we love people who are different. Be aloof, but be true to yourself and we'll get that, we'll give you the space. True, Phil Jackson will never have a statue outside Staples Center, but that’s because we don’t build statues to coaches. Lasorda doesn’t have one at Dodger Stadium. Carroll doesn’t have one at the Coliseum (can you imagine what would have happened to it last month). Besides, AEG has development plans for all the space outside Staples anyway.
We love Jackson for what he is — smart and complex. That makes it hard on newspaper columnists because Jackson doesn’t fit neatly into 400 words of one-sentence paragraphs. You’ve got to work a little to appreciate Jackson. But when you do, it’s worth all the effort and more.
Los Angeles has done that. Los Angeles loves Phil Jackson.