"Are you in or out?" Jackson asked.
"I'm out," Pippen said.
The other Bulls were absolutely pulverized. Jackson looked in anguish at his assistants. "F—him," Cleamons snapped. "We play without him." Jackson called another timeout.
The irony could not be lost: This most successful of coaches, this one who best seemed to work with the modern athlete, was now the glaring victim of the most overt disobedience. There were 1.8 seconds left in Game 3 of the '94 conference semifinals, the Bulls and the Knicks were tied, and the star of the team (Jordan was away playing baseball) refused to go back on court because the coach had dared call for another player to get the shot. It was not just that everything Jackson stood for was being violated. Pippen also was denigrating the honor of Team, the very ethic of the game. And the whole ugly business was right there on national TV, better than Jerry Springer. One could even imagine that terminal Day-Glo phrase appearing as a graphic across Jackson's chest: Lost control of his team—those words that no coach survives.
Amazingly, Toni Kukoc, the player Jackson had assigned to take the shot, made it. But that was still tainted by Pippen's disgrace, and even as he left the court, Jackson was trying to suppress his anger and decide what to do. He had to act quickly, in that brief time before the press would be allowed to descend on the locker room. Then, a couple of minutes later, Jackson heard sobs coming from the shower. "It was Bill Cartwright, and he's not an emotional man," Jackson says. "But I knew what he was feeling. Everything we stood for had gone. In one moment everything had changed."
So Jackson spoke not at all to Pippen and only briefly to the players. "What was broken was sacred," he told the team. "What happened has hurt us. Now, you—you have to work this out." He knew Cartwright would take the lead. Jackson glanced at his watch. "You've got two minutes to get together, to talk softly between yourselves." Then Jackson led his coaches out of the room.
Cleamons says he still doesn't know what transpired afterward. "But I know this," he says, "the way Phil coaches, the players' bond was stronger than what Scottie did." Jackson, incredibly, grew even more in stature. Has any coach ever gained so by repudiation?
"I could feel Cartwright, feel them coming together," Jackson says. And then: "That's the fascinating thing that brought me back to the game this year. You reap so much from the relationships. You know, all we're really trying to do is just make music together, to create a format of harmony." If that is so, though, Jackson's Lakers must somehow learn to resemble a string quartet: It has no conductor, but the musicians take their lead from the first violin.
Jackson is a bit lonely now. His wife is going to visit him only periodically in Los Angeles, staying a continent away, back at their home in New York's Hudson Valley. "She wants to get out of the shadow of being an NBA wife," he explains. But he is a man comfortable with himself, who has done many things his way, body and soul. He is unpredictable. His brothers both rejected the fearful faith of their father and mother, but Jackson has kept one foot securely in the fold. So, do you still go to church?
"I go into a lot of churches," he replies. Bradley, in fact, played a significant role in Jackson's spiritual journey. He came to North Dakota back when they were young Knicks, and there Bradley dared speak a certain heresy to a meeting of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. "Bill emphasized that belief is personal," Jackson recalls, "and because faith is internal, your own religion doesn't have to satisfy the needs of others." For the PK whom everybody carefully watched, this was liberating, and eventually he became a Zen Christian. "Institutional religion doesn't attract me," he says, "but the philosophical nature of Christianity appeals to me. Love. Love thy neighbor. What also appeals to me is the emphasis Buddhism places on compassion. Love and compassion. I like that combination."