Basketball – Leading the Team to Glory

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In the book “Sacred Hoops” by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty, it talks about different forms of leadership from working as a team to developing new strategies that no other coach would have done. First, I will give a basic summary about the book. Next, the paper will transition into two main topics: the use of innovation and teamwork. Finally, I will conclude the paper by critiquing Phil Jackson’s style of leadership and wrap up the essay by recalling his methods.

“Sacred Hoops” starts off by talking about Michael Jordan’s comeback into the NBA. The book transitions into Phil Jackson’s family life. Phil’s father was a pastor while his mother was an evangelist. At a young age, both parents implemented religion in his life. During his teenage years, he saw that religion was not the path and placed all his energy into basketball. Phil Jackson was a notable basketball player in high school. He went to college and dated his girlfriend who became his wife later in life. He was scouted by the NBA more notably Jerry Krause. Unfortunately, his basketball career took a bad turn as he had a horrible injury. Moreover, his marriage was going down and eventually parted ways with his first wife. Later, he started to “explore other tradition” like meditation. He was also very interested in Zen. As a coach, he wanted to promote teamwork which involved every player to have a vital role on the team. By putting this into reality, Phil tried different styles. For instance, he implemented the triangle system. It was a system that worked for any basketball player at different skill level. It gave each of them a chance to possess the ball and to work as a team. Phil furthered this goal by having the players make their own decision instead of looking to him for the answer. It was a way for them to connect with each other and grow as a team. In addition, he mixed spiritual into basketball by having the players meditate. Phil wanted them to have a clear mind before walking onto the court during practice and games. He did not want the players to start thinking, the main objective was ‘doing.’ In other words, to be aware in the situation that was in front of them. Meditation worked for some athletes like B.J. Armstrong. As the team was working together with the use of the triangle system and meditation, the team started to see good things happened for them. For instance, it did not matter which player was on court, ‘anybody’ could pass, shoot and score when executing both skills. As a result, Phil Jackson won a championship and proved that teamwork leads to glory.

The first leadership skill that became useful was Phil Jackson innovation and creativity. He tried new methods of coaching to see if there was a positive outcome. The use of innovation happened in different forms. One of the goals as a coach he wanted to enact was selflessness. Phil Jackson wanted each player to give up the word ‘I’ and introduce the term ‘everybody.’ To execute this structure, he gave each athlete efficient playing time and paid them the same amount of salary. As a result, this practice worked well by reducing the jealousy surrounding the players. In addition, Phil Jackson’s approach was quite different from other coaches. Instead of playing seven-eight guys on court during playoff season, his desire was to use all twelve men in rotation that way everybody was on the same page. The players were doubtful about this method but came to understand that supporting one another was the key to producing great teamwork. The outcome was they won against the ‘CBA All-Stars.’ The second goal was having the team start thinking with a clear mind by using meditation. Phil Jackson wanted to come up with a different approach in contrast to other coaches in the NBA because he believed there strategy was not effective. For example, the NBA coaches placed plus or minus based on a player’s move. This strategy wouldn’t have worked for him during his basketball career and is the reason that he won’t use it as a coach. Phil Jackson way was having the players be aware of what was currently happening in front of them by lowering the endless thoughts. Phil Jackson’s answer to solving this matter was adopting meditation. First, he tested this practice when coaching in Albany. He used many physiological and spiritual practices and combined it with basketball which resulted to a positive direction. After his success, Phil Jackson used the same process when coaching the Bulls. For example, he dimmed the lights and have the team go “through a short meditation.” He also brought in meditation instructor, George Mumford, who had a great record of helping athletes with their chronic pain and illness. Mumford meditation involved the players to “sit on a chair, spine straight and eyes downcast.” He wanted them to focus on their breathing. When there was a noise, Mumford told the players to place their focus back to breathing. The results of teaching the players how to meditate was positive. For instance, some athletes figured out that “awareness is everything.” They used it on court and enhanced the bond between them. Other athletes such as B.J. Armstrong practiced meditation with passion. He learned that it was all about doing not thinking in the game. For example, Armstrong doesn’t second guess, he just plays with a clear mind and passes the ball without thinking. The third goal was promoting a new structure that involved working as a team. It is called the triangle system which is described as repetitive ball movement and rotation with emphasis of misbalancing the defense. Phil Jackson liked the triangle system because it involved ‘everybody’ and forced each player to work as a team. He disagreed with other coach’s way of promoting teamwork because it involved critiquing each athlete which resulted to tension and strain in coach-athlete relationship. Phil Jackson way of undoing this problem was using Tex’s system. Instead of forcing the player to change his performance, Phil Jackson made the system become a principle, in others words an honor code. It was way to reduce conflict. In addition, the athletes would recognize that they were not under scrutiny when making a mistake. The system was a hard process to learn for athletes. It took repeated drills to master the triangle system. The players finally saw the outcome after months of training by saying “aha!” In 1990 the triangle system came into reality. The team started to see that they were winning games by the use of the system. The players liked the diversity of the system because it “created shots for everybody.” According to B.J. Armstrong, the system kept the team “on the same page.” Moreover, he stated that ‘anyone’ can pass, shoot and score. In other words the system worked for the team.

The second leadership skill that summarized the main objective is teamwork. Phil Jackson wanted starters and bench players to have a role on the team. For this to happen, he had to enforce the Zen system. The first step was getting Michael Jordan to buy into the system. Since he was a leader to the team due to his notable talent, others would follow in his footsteps. Phil Jackson’s idea was having Jordan give up the ball so others would have a chance. Even though they had a good relationship, Phil did not know how he would react to the concept of having less possession of the ball. During a private meeting, Michael was open to the idea of working with his teammates. He was more concerned about the other guys due to their struggle of making decisions and passing the ball. However, Phil Jackson explained to him that working together, other players will learn to share the ball and eventually become playmakers. Overall, Phil Jackson knows that you can’t beat a team with one person. Michael Jordan followed his direction of working as a team. The next step was making Cartwright co-captain. Phil Jackson played ball against him and saw that he had great leadership skills. Phil wanted a leader off-court to understand the player’s issues rather than jumping to conclusion and judging them. Cartwright had great listening skills and gave the player’s a chance to speak. Also, Cartwright never forgotten his ups and downs during his basketball career. For example, he was injured at one point and decided to quit. However, a veteran persuaded him not to go that route and has “never forgotten that lesson.” Phil’s final key to teamwork was having the players “think for themselves” instead of being dependent on him. Phil Jackson wanted the team to make their own decisions that they believed was best fit for them on court. Moreover, it was a way for the players to connect with one another. Making Michael Jordan leader was very effective on court. For example, during a game, Michael would give the team a short lesson on a certain matter. It strengthened the team and were able to learn the process quick. Other coaches don’t feel comfortable of their players making their own decisions. However, Phil Jackson disagrees with that concept. He believes that the team should have the opportunity to make decisions because they have a better visual of their opponent’s strength and weakness. Phil put the players into rigorous situations to teach them how to work as a team without his help. For example, B.J. Armstrong had a difficult time adopting to this process. Phil Jackson put him in games for a long period of time. The outcome was that Armstrong shots were not going in the net. It helped him see that it was not all about shooting and wanted to finally work as a team.

After reading the book, I think from a leadership stand point, I really liked his creative style and applying teamwork. I admire his ability of using different methods such as meditation before games and practices. It is a way to block the chaos and be in a quiet zone. I liked the idea of meditating before a game because as an athlete, I would use it to my advantage as a way to block the little messages that run in my mind each second. In addition, I approve the triangle system because this has been used in a similar way during my soccer career. One of my coaches’ created his own version of the triangle system such as: passing the ball to one another by calling out the number one; having a one-two system which was passing the ball to your teammate and receiving it back while running forward; and the last play was kicking a long distant shot as your teammate calls out the number three. This was our triangle system that worked for everybody at any level. The other coaching style that I found effective was implementing teamwork. I like the idea of using everybody on the team because it helps the team grow and understand each other. It is a tool that any coach can carry out during practice and games. Also, it gives each player a chance to shine instead being on the bench. I’ve watch NBA basketball throughout my life and noticed at a young age that Phil Jackson has put average players in games. These athletes excelled under his leadership and I am glad to see Phil Jackson coaching style.

In conclusion, Phil Jackson’s key to leadership that he found effective was the use of innovation. The objective was to promote selflessness, meditation and the triangle system. The other leadership skills was promoting teamwork. After reading this book, I learned to have an open mind and to try new things. Looking at Phil Jackson’s creative methods, it worked in his favor. Trying the usual strategies in any sport is beneficial however approaching new methods can be useful as well.

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Basketball - Leading the Team to Glory. (2019, May 31). Retrieved from

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