Phil Jackson’s coaching brilliance has been on full display in “The Last Dance” documentary series.
It’s clear why Jackson is a Hall of Fame coach who led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships and the Lakers to five. He kept the Bulls in tact after two shocking incidents threatened to tear the team apart in back-to-back seasons.
The first incident happened with the score tied and 1.8 seconds left in Game 3 of the Bulls' Eastern Conference semifinals series against New York in 1994. Jackson drew up a play for Toni Kukoc, which deeply offended Scottie Pippen, who then refused to go back into the game.
“I felt like it was an insult coming from Phil,” Pippen said in the documentary. “I was the most dangerous guy on our team so why are you asking me to take the ball out?”
After the timeout, Pippen sat on the bench. Jackson asked him if he was in or out. Pippen said he was out.
“(Expletive) him," Jackson said, according to Steve Kerr. "Pete Myers, come on in.”
Kukoc hit the game-winning shot but the locker room was tense. Jackson spoke first.
“It’s affected us as a whole team, Scottie, that you did this,” Jackson recalled saying in the documentary.
Bill Cartwright, the team's co-captain, also expressed his disappointment in Pippen's decision. He delivered a heartfelt speech and even cried, according to Kerr. Pippen eventually apologized to the team.
That Bulls recovered from that incident but it forever stained Pippen's career.
“The next day I get a call from Michael,” Jackson recalled in the documentary. “He said, ‘I don’t know if Scottie is ever going to live this down.'"
The Bulls overcame another intense moment the following season during a scrimmage in training camp in 1995 when Kerr was guarding Jordan, who was notorious for pushing his teammates to the edge in an attempt to bring out the best in them.
They started getting really physical with each other -- and Kerr refused to back down.
“I have a lot of patience as a human being, but I tend to snap at some point, because I'm extremely competitive, too,” Kerr said in the documentary. “I'm just not really good enough to back it up usually. But I'm going, I'm going to fight.“
Kerr hit Jordan and Jordan punched him.
“He just hauls off and hits me in the chest, and I just haul off and hit him right in the (expletive) eye,” Jordan recalled. “Phil just throws me out of practice.”
Jackson talked to Jordan after practice, but he didn’t have to coax him into any hollow apologies. Jordan knew he was out of line and called Kerr to apologize.
Kerr said it made their relationship better and a deeper mutual respect was born from that incident.
Those were two of Jackson’s finest moments, navigating the Bulls through two events that could've fractured the team.