When he preaches—not to put too fine a point on that verb—to his players, Jackson even emphasizes that love and compassion must not be applied only to their own team. Team, after all, is holy to Jackson, so the other team must also be shown honor. "At a certain level there's a belittling of your opponent, trying to break him down," Jackson says. "We try to get away from that. Honor competition, but remember, it is your opponents who make it possible for you to rise. So if you take your opponents apart, that hurts you."
Can a team yet without a leader, without a first violin, without a vision, without—for god's sake—a Jordan, understand these sorts of spiritual concepts and abide by them? "Teaching can be awkward," Jackson acknowledges, "and obviously the things I do aren't conventional, so there's more risk."
But there are different paths to salvation. West remembers Jack-son, the Knick. "He was a sneaky-good player," West says. "You'd go past him, and he'd deflect the ball. He wasn't fast enough to steal it, but he'd deflect it." The image applies just as well now. Phil Jackson is not a director. He is a deflector. But battles, at times, have been won on the oblique.