More meaningful to young Phil, athletics was the one place where he was not the devout outsider but, instead, just another teammate, a regular fella. The team came to mean even more to him because his parents played out something of a gender reversal. His father, Charles, was the softer, more compassionate pastor, while his proselytizing mother, Elisabeth, was the more dominating presence. "I think that because emotions came first for my father, that's one reason why friendship has seemed so natural, and the bonding of teams has been so important to me," Jackson says—adding sardonically, "On the other hand, because of my mother's influence, I had a tendency to be affected more by the intellectual nature of any woman." He searches for the right words, then says, "Matters of the heart were not always easy with me. I had to unlearn a lot of things about women."
The influence of Team was strengthened all the more when Jackson landed as a sub on Red Holzman's New York Knicks, which came to boast a classic cohesive unit—Reed, Frazier, DeBusschere, Monroe, Bradley—in which basketball's eternal conflict between the individual and the group was played out in the most tender balance. In every other team sport, the role of each player is more defined than it is in basketball, as David Halberstam neatly illustrated in his biography of Jordan, Playing for Keeps. Halberstam writes how Tex Winter, Jackson's assistant, the apostle of the Triangle, used to remind Jordan of the bromide, "There's no I in team."
"Yeah," Jordan would reply, "but there is in win"
For ultimately, all the mumbo-jumbo aside, simply to achieve a felicitous equilibrium between the best player(s) and the whole unit is what usually determines success in basketball. The Triangle, which seeks to promote that classic balance, is hardly new; Winter himself learned it playing with Bill Sharman and Alex Han-num way back in 1947 at Southern Cal under coach Sam Barry, who called the offense "the center opposite." And the Triangle is especially tantalizing for players because it permits more of them to handle the ball (hooray!) but requires each man to exhibit more self-denial (boo!). This probably has never occurred to Jackson, the born-first fundamentalist, but the Triangle may appeal to him so because it best represents Satan's temptation, basketball division. Jim Cleamons, another of Jackson's assistants, installed the Triangle when he became the Dallas Mavericks' coach in '96. It didn't work, Cleamons says, for the simple reason that as the Mavericks each got the ball, "they all thought they should be the Man."
So the Triangle is not just a matter of learning a new formation by rote. Apparently it can't work unless the players are devoted to the team—and, by extension, to the coach. Luc Longley, who played center for Jackson in Chicago, saw that, saw about Jackson what Jackson had seen about Reagan: that the leader's belief in a well-expressed message might be more important than the message itself. "If you're committed to something, other people sense that and are prepared to be committed to it as well," Longley says. Jackson was never deluded that all the Bulls always fell for his sundry meditations and divertissements. Some of them (Jordan included) sometimes snickered and rolled their eyes. But enough of them surrendered, together, to what Longley identifies as Jackson's "presence and his spirit."
"The best coaches," says West, "all have a great belief in themselves, and then all, in their unique way, do one thing: They get players to buy in." It is the utter definition of how sweet Jackson smelled in Chicago.
The classic coaches in the past, though, ruled from on high. My way or the highway. "Controlaholics," Jackson calls them. He, however, appears to draw his authority up, from the team, which seems to invest him with even more confidence in himself and his players. "I've never known anybody to handle crisis the way Phil does," Winter says. "He's able to read the big picture and not let the emotions of the moment control him. Things are going bad on the court, and I'll be screaming at Phil to take a timeout: 'Hey, you better start coaching, and earn mat fabulous salary of yours.' But he's likely to say, 'Ah, let 'em work it out themselves.' It's amazing how many times they do."
"Above all," says Jackson, "you must contribute your whole self and not just your athletic self. Look at San Antonio. They really dedicated themselves to the team. They joined in a prayer group. But there are all sorts of belief systems. I've used the concept of the tribe. I think that makes it easier, more comfortable. You're a society, a club. The point is to build respect, to help one another."
At its most basic, basketball comes down to these lines, written by Rudyard Kipling in The Second Jungle Book, that Jackson read to the Bulls before playoff games: "For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf,/ and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack."
There it is, winning basketball distilled. Then, with all of basketball America watching, Scottie Pippen said no, he wouldn't do what the coach told him to do.