How Would Buddha Coach The Lakers?

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - June 22, 2005
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One of the main points of Zen Buddhism is intuitive understanding. If we accept this as fact then we must also ask whether recycled Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson is really the “Zen Master” as we have been led to believe.

Jackson was basically canned less than a year ago by the most dysfunctional member of the NBA family. He ripped the team’s best player in the press, wrote a book about how difficult coaching was and hinted that he may never again wander onto a basketball court.

Phil was upset. He felt he gave the team his best and they repaid him by getting rid of their anchor and bowing to the whims of someone with an ego to match his own. Easy to understand.

The second noble truth of Buddhism deals with the origin of suffering. Buddha found that suffering is the result of desire and ignorance. Jackson, while traversing the streams of Montana in search for enlightenment, seems to have discovered that his suffering was caused by the desire of others to be more important than himself and their ignorance in believing they were correct. With reassurances by G.M. Mitch Kupchak, the two Busses — Jerry, the owner, and Jenny, the squeeze — and a slight nod from Kobe himself, Jackson eliminated the causes and pocketed a cool $10 mil a year. Suffering is also the result of want, and Phil is looking for peace. And a new wing for his fishing lodge.

Intuitive understanding, mentioned earlier, can mean that words have no definite meaning and that logic is often irrelevant. Maybe that’s the problem with the Lakers. Confused by the basic premise. An entire team misinformed about the teachings of the man who traded riches for understanding all conveniently squeezed through the personal filter of a former low scoring forward. Can it be they just didn’t understand the master’s teachings?


A common analogy often told by the practicers of Zen is “I owe everything to my teacher because he taught me nothing.” Wasn’t that Bryant’s statement to the press after Jackson’s tenure had ended? Follow the evidence trail between the Lakers’ guard and the main Eastern religion and we find an interesting connection. Kobe the player. Kobe a city in Japan. Japan a primarily Buddhist country. Buddhism embraces the Eightfold Path. Bryant’s jersey number is eight. Mere happenstance? The ramblings of a mad man? Buddhism says there’s no such thing as a coincidence. Not too sure where he stood on the slightly disturbed.

Maybe it would have been better if the Lakers had embraced a different philosophy. Western minds more in tune to Western ideas. That kind of thing.

Socrates, as related by Plato, said, “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” Talk about an idea to embrace.

Maybe Jackson and the bunch really were chanting buddham saranam gacchami, dhammam saranam gacchami, sangham saranam gacchami (I go to the Buddha for refuge, I go to the dharma for refuge, I go to the Sangha for refuge) before each game. Maybe the Zen Master is the philosophical King of Pop. Or maybe the Lakers — who so embody the high-priced, style over substance, me-first attitude of professional sports — are not spiritually confused but just plain screwed up.

As bright as Siddartha Gautama was, he’s no match for these guys. Buddha figured that if we can eradicate desire, all sorrows and pains will come to an end. The Zen Master and his horde have only figured that so long as they get theirs, then everything else can fall in behind.

Which is a far cry from enlightenment.

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