How the Greats Practice Mindfulness: Phil Jackson


When lockdowns happened in March of 2020 in response to the COVID-19, Americans found themselves looking for ways to entertain themselves. Thankfully, The Last Dance aired in April, providing solace for sports fans in a difficult time.  

While The Last Dance served as another reminder of Michael Jordan’s greatness, it also spotlighted Phil Jackson yet again. Phil Jackson won 11 NBA Championships as a coach and 2 NBA Championships as a player. NBA and sports fans widely regard him as one of the most brilliant and unique minds in sports history.

Watching the deeper dive into the Bulls dynasty, especially during the second three-peat, Jackson was masterful at motivating his talented roster. Beyond that, he had to troubleshoot personality issues with some of his top players. 

“More than anything else, what allowed the Bulls to sustain a high level of excellence was the players’ compassion for each other,” Jackson wrote in his book Sacred Hoops.

Dennis Rodman was known for his eccentric behavior and personality. He is one of the game’s all-time greatest defenders and rebounders but did not have a reputation as easy to coach. Yet, imperative to the Bulls’ success, the two connected.

“(Jackson) don’t look at me as a basketball player,” Rodman said in The Last Dance. “He looks at me as a great friend.”

On the All The Smoke podcast, Steve Kerr said, “The way Phil coached Dennis was genius.”

Phil achieved success as a coach not only through his basketball acumen but his focus on mental skills. Being in the moment and visualizing success are hallmarks of the legacy of his dynasties.

“Something we talked about a lot as a team was how to be in the moment,” Phil Jackson said. “Being able to visualize what might happen in those times. Michael so embraced this. I think that was the beauty of his game – he had all these abilities to adjust, not force his own predetermined idea but allow those things to come together for his game.”

Later in Sacred Hoops, Jackson wrote, “The secret is not thinking. That doesn’t mean being stupid. It means quieting the endless jabbering of thoughts so that your body can do instinctively what it’s been trained to do without the mind getting in the way.”

Phil has won championships with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and more of the greatest players of all-time. Many expect teams with this talent to win. Nothing is sure in sports, and Jackson proved a common thread between three separate, multiple championship runs.

Unlike the traditional idea of the red-faced yeller coach, the Zenmaster orchestrated an environment that promoted a mindful, present approach. He gave books to his players. He talked to them about meditation. He helped Michael Jordan tap into visualization to accentuate his crunch time prowess.

The Triangle offense and his defensive tactics were satisfactory. The masterful control of relationships of every kind using his own unique style was extraordinary.