It was Jackson's job to sell the system to the players, particularly Jordan, who openly derided it. The coach and the superstar played a constant game of give-and-take, Jackson at times turning the game over to Jordan in exchange for Jordan's sometimes sacrificing points for passes. "It was a difficult sell to Michael," says Jackson, "and it will continue to be difficult."
The compromise system worked to perfection in The Finals against the Lakers, as did Bach's stifling defense; the Bulls were simply an overpowering team in June. Whether or not they will be as overpowering this season is anyone's guess, but, obviously, Jackson's continued rapport with Jordan will be a major factor.
"Phil spent the first half of the year trying to build a solid foundation, getting everyone involved, and I understood that," said Jordan recently. "Yes, I was frustrated at times in the system, but, basically, I understood it. And in the second half of the season he was a little more free-wheeling, a little more willing to open it up. It worked. You have to say it worked, and I give him credit for it. Phil was good for our team, and that's what matters."
Off the floor, any coach of Jordan's has an even more difficult time. Before they almost magically peaked in June, the Bulls were not a particularly harmonious band of merry men. There was grumbling about Jordan from his teammates and complaints about the special treatment afforded him, much of it soon to become public in a book entitled Jordan Rules, written by Sam Smith of The Chicago Tribune. Both Jackson and Jordan are awaiting its publication in late fall, though not eagerly. Jackson defends whatever he did and still must do to accommodate Jordan.
"My first concern when I got the job was trying to treat Michael as equally as possible on the court," said Jackson. "That's what our offensive system is all about. But there is no possible way to treat him like every other player off the floor. He cannot walk downstairs in a hotel without being mobbed. I've walked past his room and seen eight, sometimes 10 service people—hotel employees!—outside his door, lurking to see if he comes out, flowers and candy all over the place. Unlike other players he has to have people travel with him to filter some of this out. We made our rules strict. His friends couldn't ride on the team bus or the team charter, but they could be with him on the road. There is a difference in the way he's treated, yes, but there's also a difference in the way he produces. A big difference. And that must be weighed. There are jealousies that other players must overcome. If they do, we'll be a great team. If they don't, it's going to be a long season."
If some Bulls resented the special treatment given Jordan, almost all of them appreciated the individual treatment they received from Jackson.
"This is not an easy team to coach," says veteran center Bill Cartwright. "There are so many guys who can really play, who really want to take all the big shots, and there were lots of times, of course, when Michael felt he could simply take over. One of the things Phil did was get Michael to accept his role. And the other thing he did was coach his players like individuals. With me, for example, he wanted to make sure I was healthy, make sure I was getting enough rest. And the fact that he cares about his players off the court gets through, too."
In some respects, 26-year-old Scottie Pippen is as difficult for a coach as Jordan is. Pippen's game was rough and undisciplined, and it was a constant struggle for Jackson to harness Pippen's extraordinary natural ability. Pippen is a proud and emotional man, too, and it took of every bit of Jacksonian diplomacy not only to teach him the finer points, but also to convince him they were necessary. Pippen improved so much last season that he landed a spot, with Jordan, on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team.
"The best thing that happened to us was that Scottie took to our coaching and trusted our intuition," says Jackson. "We encouraged him to provide certain skills. He worked, for example, on different backboard angles on his shots, when to take his shot, knowing when he had to score and when he didn't. The maturing of Scottie Pippen as a player was a major factor in our winning."
Indeed, Jackson searches constantly for ways to enlighten his players, to expand the limited frame of reference held by many modern-day athletes. The books, the side trips, the subliminal and overt messages he slips into game films, his prattling on about the lessons of history—all those, he hopes, will have some kind of effect. "I'd like to do more," says Jackson. "When we're in Washington I'd like to take the team to the Senate chamber instead of shoot-around. I'd like us all to go to an art museum. College coaches are able to do that kind of thing once in a while, but as a professional I have to be careful. Having to win the game gets in the way." But Jackson, somewhat the cockeyed idealist, plunges on, seeking to redefine the role of coach, to find a way to make a difference, probing, weighing, compromising. And one wonders when his restless mind will tell him to move on.