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The head Bull rides off into the sunset

Jackson ends his run with Chicago; will Jordan, Pippen follow?

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Posted: Monday June 22, 1998 06:01 PM

  Jackson departure was no surprise to his players (AP)

DEERFIELD, Illinois (AP) -- Phil Jackson said his last good-byes to the Chicago Bulls today, clearing out his office and driving off on his red-and-black motorcycle.

"I'm not going to speak about `could have, would have, should have,'" he said at the team's practice facility. "It was time to go. I've been pushing at this horn a little bit the last couple of years about leaving and being ready to leave. It's my time to go. It's the right time."

And the coach had it in writing. He climbed on his motorcycle -- signed by all his players -- for one last ride home.

Jackson had said all year that this season, his ninth, was his last. Even after the Bulls won their sixth championship in eight years, the coach turned down an offer from Chicago chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to coach for one more year.

Despite his often strained relations with general manager Jerry Krause, Jackson said he was leaving because it was his time and he wanted to go out on top.

He doesn't have another job, and he has no other plans right now except to leave this week for a vacation in Turkey with his wife, June, and former New York Knicks teammate and U.S. senator Bill Bradley.

"I don't know if there is a basketball challenge," Jackson said. "I'll have to wait and see if one presents itself."

Reinsdorf and Krause were both at the practice facility, but neither was available.

Jackson's departure wasn't a surprise to his players, Bill Wennington said. The team had dinner at Michael Jordan's restaurant after a citywide celebration in Grant Park last Tuesday, and Wennington said it was understood Jackson was leaving.

"It was real liberating for all of us," Jackson said. "One of the things we said last week was that we were going to support each other with whatever decisions we have to make because it's a personal time now and people have to do that for themselves.

"Whatever paths people may have to take, one thing they can't take away from us is the bonds we've made together winning these championships."

Now that Jackson's made it official, what happens to the rest of the Bulls? Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and six others on the 12-man playoff roster are free agents.

Jordan once said he would play only for Jackson, though he's retreated from that lately. Pippen, unhappy after years of being undervalued and underpaid, has said repeatedly he would rather go somewhere else, but he too has softened his stance. Rodman wants to return, but only if the rest of the gang comes back.

In an interview with Newsweek, Jackson said he thinks Jordan, who scored the title-winning basket as the Bulls beat the Utah Jazz in six games, will retire.

"I can't imagine him doing it again. I don't know but I anticipate that's how he feels," Jackson told Newsweek.

Jordan's decision probably will hinge on who replaces Jackson. Iowa State coach Tim Floyd is a Krause favorite, but it's unlikely Jordan would play for him.

But Jordan would probably play for George Karl or Roy Williams, both with North Carolina roots. Karl is out of a job after being fired by the Seattle SuperSonics a few weeks ago. Williams has said many times he's happy at Kansas.

"All of the principals involved have individual reasons for whatever choices they make," said Todd Musburger, Jackson's agent. "It's an individual decision, and I know if Michael decides to return, he will have Phil's blessing."

In the NBA of the 1990s, where players hop from team to team in search of more money and playing time, the intense loyalty of Jackson's players was unusual, though not surprising.

The ex-hippie and Zen master was a motivator, mediator and basketball maestro all in one, able to blend the egos and personalities of such diverse players and talents like Jordan, Pippen and Rodman. He was able to get through to his players and relate to them with, as Jordan refers to it, "that Zen Buddhism stuff."

He found a style that suited all of them and showcased each of them, and out of that he created a team for the ages.

His style was unique -- not many other NBA coaches would go to a bookstore and pick out a book for each of his players before the first West Coast road trip of the year -- but it worked. Under Jackson, the Bulls won six titles and the 1995-96 squad went 72-10, the best record in league history.

Jackson has the highest winning percentage of any coach in NBA regular-season (.738) and playoff (.730) history. He was coach of the year in 1996.

Jackson spent 11 of his 13 NBA seasons as a player with the Knicks, and was a member of their 1973 championship team. He worked his way up through the coaching ranks, coaching the Albany Patroons of the CBA for five years -- often driving the team van with one hand while working The New York Times crossword puzzle with the other.

He became the Bulls' coach on July 10, 1989, replacing the fired Doug Collins for whom he had been an assistant the previous two seasons.

 

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