It was the biggest “Screw You” in hoops history.
Phil Jackson is not coaching the Lakers today because Jimmy Buss and Jackson do not like each other and never have.
It's that simple and that complex.
In the battle of wills between one incredibly immature 52-year-old fortunate son and the most accomplished coach in NBA history, the fortunate son simply couldn't summon the maturity to put his personal animosity aside and do what was best for the organization.
Forget all the blather, bullshit and spin barraging Lakers fans for the last 24 hours.
There was one obstacle and one obstacle only to Jackson coaching the Lakers for a third stint: Buss's massive, but insecure, ego.
Now Buss's “sources” and his minions in the media are lying about Jackson and his supposedly unacceptable demands as the reason he didn't get the job.
But Jackson never demanded an ownership stake in the team.
Jackson never demanded that he be excused from traveling to road games.
And Jackson never demanded total control of personnel decisions.
Those on-the-record denials all come straight from Kurt Rambis, a former Lakers player and coach who is close to Jackson. His reputation for candor and truth-telling is far greater than Buss's. “No money was discussed,” Rambis told ESPN. “All of these things that are out there about partial ownership, and lack of travel, and no practice time — all of that stuff is categorically false. None of those conversations ever happened. Ever. It was about whether or not he wanted to come and coach the team.”
Then Rambis made sure he will never have another job with the Lakers as long as little Jimmy Buss is in charge.
“If you're talking about having success and having someone who knows how to guide a team to an NBA title, Phil is that guy,” he said. “There's no second, third, fourth or fifth choice at this point in time. He's that guy. I don't know if Jim Buss knows one system from another in terms of how it fits with players, or what works best for players.”
The best proof that Rambis is right: both sides told the media after they met Saturday morning that the Lakers had told Jackson he was their first choice and could have the weekend to think it over. Jackson's agent, Todd Musburger, was scheduled to fly into L.A. Monday morning and was prepared to sign a deal later Monday.
But instead of living up to his word, Buss reached a deal with Mike D'Antoni late Sunday night WITHOUT EVER INTERVIEWING HIM IN PERSON. Why the incredible rush? Was he afraid that the coach fired by the New York Knicks just eight months ago was about to sign a deal with someone else?
The reason for all the Laker spin that started early Monday: Buss knew the shocked, enraged fans had to be given a plausible reason why Jackson, the people's choice, wasn't hired to replace the fired Mike Brown.
After being slimed all day Monday by the Lakers, Jackson finally put out a statement that laid down the sequence of events that led to the great big FUCK U from Buss.
“Saturday morning, Jim Buss called to ask if he could come and visit. I didn't solicit or ask for the opportunity but I welcomed both him and Mitch Kupchak into my home to discuss the possibility of my return to the Lakers as head coach,” Jackson said.
“We talked for over an hour and a half. No contractual terms were discussed and we concluded with a handshake and an understanding that I would have until Monday to come back to them with my decision. I did convey to them that I did have the confidence that I could do the job.”
Then, while Jackson was sleeping in Playa Del Rey with his long-time girlfriend, Buss's sister Jeanie Buss, came perhaps the most famous midnight call since Paul Revere's “One if by land, two if by sea.”
This midnight call didn't change American history. But it changed Lakers history and the destiny of all those involved: Jackson, Buss, Kobe Bryant, free-agent-to-be Dwight Howard and the millions of Laker Nation fans around the world, salivating for Jackson's return.
“I was awakened at midnight Sunday by a phone call from Mitch Kupchak. He told me that the Lakers had signed Mike D'Antoni to a three-year agreement and that they felt he was the best coach for the team. The decision is of course theirs to make. I am gratified by the groundswell of support from the Laker fans who encouraged my return and it is the principal reason why I considered the possibility.”
Jackson's agent, Musburger, backed up Rambis' denial that any excessive demands had been made. And really, how could they have been made since there never were any formal negotiations?
“There were no demands, outrageous or otherwise,” Musburger told ESPN. “To say that he wanted control or that he wanted a zillion dollars or that he wanted equity, those were not topics discussed in the meeting between Kupchak, Buss and Phil. If the Lakers didn't spread those things, the fact they didn't take an affirmative stance to correct the record is very troublesome.”
Musburger accused Buss of dealing in bad faith: “Phil is someone who brought nothing but trophies to their bookcase and value to the franchise,” Musburger said. “He deserved to be dealt with honestly…Don't say to someone you've got until Monday and then roust him from slumber at midnight to say, 'By the way we hired somebody else.' That's just not fair dealing and Phil deserved fair dealing. He's a good faith person and he was dealt with poorly. It is indicative of the shabby way that organization is being run.”
That new-found shabby Lakers way started during the 2010-11 season, when Jimmy Buss, the team's executive vice president, made it clear to one and all that his Daddy, 78-year-old team owner Jerry Buss, had put him in charge.
After the Lakers were swept by the eventual NBA champion Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 playoffs, Buss made no attempt to retain Jackson, who mentioned at his last press conference that he had no relationship with the younger Buss and had not spoken to him all year.
Then Buss set out to fire everyone associated with Jackson and brought in Mike Brown as his own hire rather than hire Jackson's preferred replacement, long-time assistant and former player Brian Shaw. The topper: He personally moved into Jackson's old office.
After one year of truly ugly hoops under Brown and another second-round exit, Buss signed off on Brown installing the Princeton offense, an elaborate scheme designed for teams lacking athletic ability. It features lots of back-door cuts and endless passing predicated on every player being able to hit outside shots. In other words, exactly the wrong offense for the Lakers. Then, when the Lakers stumbled to a 1-4 start because they couldn't function in the new offense, Buss panicked and fired Brown without having Jackson or anyone else lined up to take his place.
The Brown firing took place last Friday morning. By Friday night L.A. was ablaze with rumors of Jackson's imminent return, and the fans were chanting “We want Phil” during the win over Golden State. By Saturday afternoon a Lakers source was telling the L.A. Times there was a 95 percent chance Jackson would be back.
Now Buss has made another crazy, reckless decision. D'Antoni's run-and-gun offense is predicated on no post play and sleek young athletes who can run up and down the court firing three-pointers faster than the opposition can stop them. Yet their night-in, night-out advantage is having two of the best post players in the league in Howard and Pau Gasol. Even worse, five of the Laker's top six players are 32 or older and there isn't a greyhound among them. Only the 26-year-old Howard fits the profile of a D'Antoni player.
D'Antoni disdains defense and was fired by the Knicks because he refused to take it seriously. While the Lakers offense was problematic, the talent was too good for it to remain a chronic issue. Their real problem is their leaky defense, and D'Antoni does nothing to fix that.
Kobe Bryant is well into the third act of his incredible career and has one more year on his contract after this season. He endorsed Jackson's return and slipped out of practice Monday without addressing the media circus gathered at the El Segundo practice facility.
The real x-factor here is Howard, who is in his ninth season and wants desperately to start winning titles as he enters the prime of his career. If the Lakers don't at least make it to the Finals, he could easily bolt next summer when he becomes a free agent. For that reason alone, Buss should have put aside his personal feelings and done what was best for the team and for Howard.
There's a long American tradition of the off-spring of wildly successful businessmen screwing up the franchise and running it into the ditch. But it usually happens with the third or fourth generation. Exhibit A locally: the Chandlers and the L.A. Times.
Jimmy Buss has now positioned the Lakers to prematurely join that tragic tradition — all because that baseball cap he insists on wearing everywhere to hide his balding blonde mane must have cut off the blood flow to his brain.
He thought he was giving a big “screw you” to Jackson.
But the real big “screw you” was to Lakers Nation.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @paulteetor