- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2008

LOS ANGELES

He is chasing a ghost, the Zen Master is. Phil Jackson cannot win, even if he eclipses Red Auerbach with a 10th championship.

The living rarely compare well to dead legends.

Both men are more alike than either cared to admit while Auerbach was around.

Auerbach always pointed to Jackson gravitating to the game’s best players, first Michael Jordan and then Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

This was intended to tweak the accomplishments of Jackson.

That was the competitor in Auerbach. There was a trace of arrogance, too.

The same characterization could be said of Jackson, one of the few NBA coaches who stands on a higher plane than his players.

Jackson is not afraid to call out his players, including Kobe Bryant.

They may have forged a lasting alliance this season but only after coming to an uneasy peace following Jackson’s first go-around with the Lakers.

Of the 2004 season, Jackson wrote, “I do know that there were many occasions this year when I felt like there was a psychological war going on between us.”

He penned that unflattering passage and others on Bryant in a book titled “The Last Season: A team in Search of Its Soul.”

Jackson knows how to work a playoff series. The work sometimes includes a pointed comment on the quality of the officiating or an unforgiving observation on one of his players, such as Lamar Odom appearing “confused” in Game 2.

Jackson always has enjoyed the mental battle of playoff basketball, just as Auerbach did.

Visitors to Boston Garden found the locker room to be either too cold in the winter or too hot in the spring. That was said to be Auerbach’s handiwork, and even if it wasn’t, he was not about to tell the opposition otherwise.

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