Jackson-Auerbach titles rivalry obscures legends' core similarities
Over the next couple of weeks, those sounds you could be hearing throughout New England and the far-flung terrain of Celtics Nation are roiling stomachs, gnashing teeth and perhaps even full-throated howls. For if the Lakers subdue the Magic in the NBA Finals -- it says here that they will, though it will not be easy, and keep in mind that I picked the Lakers over the Celtics in 2008 so what do I know --
Unthinkable that the old cigar-smoking genius, the patriarch with a hard East Coast crust, would have one fewer ring than a bohemian who once wore what he describes as "an Ecuadorian straw hat" with a blue parrot feather stuck in the brim to a job interview with the Bulls. He didn't get the gig. Not that time anyway.
Indeed, you can hardly imagine two coaches seemingly more different than Auerbach and Jackson, products of their own vastly different generations. But I don't want to go too far down that road, for I see their similarities as much as their differences. Jackson and Auerbach represent, in one respect, different ends of an evolutionary chain -- namely, the hated coach.
Auerbach was hated almost anywhere outside of Boston (but especially in L.A.) for his no-holds-barred-maybe-he's-breaking-the-rules competitiveness. Which amounts to arrogance. Jackson draws scorn from almost anywhere outside of L.A. and presumably Chicago (but especially in Boston) for his above-the-fray, I'm-smarter-than-anyone style of coaching. Which amounts to arrogance.
But that is part of their game. Neither ever cared about popularity. They both knew that to succeed in this ticking-time-bomb world of egotistical athletes, energy-sapping schedules and 24/7 critics, a coach must become a personality himself. He needs a strong personae, an aura, someone with a celebrity to match that of those over whom he holds sway. Or he won't be holding sway very long.
Indeed, has any really successful basketball coach been wildly popular? Don't blurt out UCLA's
I'm not going to say that
But it's worth noting that Daly wasn't in the prime-team, prime-time spotlight as long as Auerbach or Jackson. (Neither was
But even if Jackson loses this coaching duel to Orlando's
Auerbach's manner suggested that he believed -- or pretended to believe -- that he was the only worthwhile coach who ever lived. But that's not what he really thought. I once heard him rail against a Coach of the Year choice because it wasn't Riley, the hated Lakers rival. "They never give that damn award to people who win championships," he said. "I thought that was the idea."
It would've been fun to watch Auerbach and Jackson coach against each other, the former fussing and fuming and pacing the sideline, the latter sitting there with that Zen-like calm, calling his timeouts according to some inner clock, running the game with a seeming caprice that actually comes from a fundamental plan. There would inevitably come a time when they would torch each other in public, Auerbach with a straight-to-the-point rant, Jackson with a witty, circuitous insult. But winners almost always respect other winners, and, my best guess is, if they were pressed to tell the truth, here's what each would say about the other: He's a great coach.