There is a certain mindset that works in the bevy of coaches and psychologists -- makeshift or not -- who preach mental tactics to athletes and subscribe to the significant role of teacher within the ever encompassing position as sport leader. In a role that entails much more than where to sketch an X or etch an O, implore a halftime adjustment, or suggest a substitution, it is but a rudimentary and substantial stack of ingredients that produces the major meal.
The resulting entree is the win. Yet the contents that create it are surely not easy to find.
Chemistry, communication, and cognitive-behavioral cooking. Three of the C's in a course of physical science, social understanding, and psychological cuisine, all meticulously tossed into a bowl that (hopefully) becomes a sought after artifact.
In the 2009 NBA finals, handiwork is at its peak.
Eric Neel is on point when he writes about Laker master Phil Jackson:
I'm thinking this cat has stayed true to his school on this stuff, talking about energy, connectedness, intuition and not being a stranger to the moment as you've imagined it, from the jump, for two decades now. At what point do we stop thinking of him as the eccentric? Will 10 rings do the trick? At what point do we consider the possibility, in earnest, with nary a wink or a nod, that the guy might be on to something?
It takes something a bit extra to fulfill the feast, perhaps an all-too-important tweak in practice structure, a word-of-the-day suggestion, or even a smile and a "let's figure this one out together" tone that may separate the good from the great. A sea captain sees it all before the ship arrives. That which the eyes observe allow the brain to process. And vice versa.
Only the disgruntled and disillusioned fail to decipher the code of the visionary.
The so-called "stuff" that Neel refers to is a way of thinking, a philosophy of coaching, a manner in which players are dealt with as malleable beings, both blemished and brilliant. The yin and yang in Phil Jackson's coaching facility are constantly undergoing adaptations that, over time, manage to suggest the best is yet to come. He has transformed himself since the days as a Bulls assistant, from a wiry, sharp bladed elbow and mustache man, who once walked the Armory sidelines for the Patroons in Albany, into SoCals' shaman, a wise and old L.A. medicine man of sorts with but one empty championship ring digit -- and a knowledge of basketball and its complicated web of money and management that transcends those before him. He utilizes aspects of sociology and psychology to stress his values and to twist personalities into becoming one, like a rhythmic, sweet tasting candy cane that one was a mess of colors and flavors.
Be it a spliced film set to motivational music with scenes of Hollywood and hardwood, or an impromptu team trip for bonding purposes, or an exercise in visualization, he thinks the game. He sees the game. He feels the game.
He energizes it and it energizes him, though one could never interpret that by looking at him on the sidelines now, looking bemused, amused, or even apathetic at times. To Jackson, it's a game that reaches far beyond the painted lines of any basketball court and way outside the confines of any simple mind.
What remains fruitful is his unabashed way in which he will yell at a player, challenge a veteran, or simply state that his experienced star -- the one who most likely will not play for another coach and seems to coach more than the master himself -- shot it too many times and forced the issue.
It is often stated that players win games while coaches lose them. Players bury the buckets. They steal the show.
Coaches may lose games. Too often, though, they have already lost the players...and long before tip-off.
Jackson may drop another contest. But he will gain much more in the end. His players will thank him. He will embrace his megastar. His fingers will finally be full. And just maybe, as master chef, he will gain a few more believers.