- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009

ORLANDO, Fla. | Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson would prefer not to discuss it with the final chapter of his team’s quest for a title still unwritten. But with a win Sunday against the Orlando Magic, Jackson will make history.

Jackson, whose Lakers lead the NBA Finals 3-1, stands tied with Boston Celtics great and George Washington alum Red Auerbach for first on the all-time coaching list with nine championships.

A title-clinching victory would elevate Jackson to a level no other coach has reached - and possibly never will reach considering Auerbach’s record has stood for 43 seasons.

Jackson - who won six championships while guiding Michael Jordan and the Bulls, took a year off, then won three straight titles as coach of the Lakers from 1999 to 2002 - has tried to fend off questions about whether he allows himself to imagine what winning No. 10 would feel like.

But he did allow for some leeway and said if he does win his 10th championship, it’s not fair to compare him to Auerbach, who in 1946 got his professional start coaching the Washington Capitols for three Basketball Association of America seasons before beginning his storied Celtics career in 1950.

Auerbach’s credentials, which include nine rings in 10 seasons (eight of them coming consecutively from 1958 to 1966), are too impressive, Jackson said.

“No, it’s not [a fair comparison],” Jackson said. “I think Red probably could have won two or three more championships. But I think he saw Bill [Russell], to kind of keep him involved, but he turned the team over to Bill in that general-manager role, and Bill went on to win a couple more championships, playing and coaching at that time. So it’s completely different.”

One of the knocks against Jackson over the years is that he has inherited teams on the cusp of winning a championship. In the 1988-89 season, the year before Jackson became Chicago’s coach, the Bulls reached the Eastern Conference finals, where the eventual champion Detroit Pistons eliminated them in six games. Two seasons later, the Bulls won the first of their six titles under Jackson. In Los Angeles, the Lakers won 61 regular-season games two years before Jackson arrived, but the Jazz swept them in the Western Conference finals.

Jackson also endures criticism for the talent he inherits. Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant combined for seven MVPs and 10 scoring titles with Jackson.

But in his coach’s defense, Bryant said Auerbach had a whole host of stars, including Russell, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, John Havlicek, Sam Jones and K.C. Jones.

“[Ten championships], that’s phenomenal,” Bryant said. “I can’t name one coach that won a championship with a bunch of scrubs, so that argument makes no sense. They kind of go hand in hand, I think, although Coach Auerbach also had a lot of lucky, very fortunate situations. But you have to have that. They’ve got to go hand in hand. But in my opinion [Jackson] is the best.”

In Bryant’s career, he has chased a different legacy - the one Jordan left. As the debate rages on over who’s better, the deciding factor is Jordan’s six rings as alpha dog to Bryant’s three as O’Neal’s sidekick.

Should Bryant and the Lakers win Sunday, he likely will win his first NBA Finals MVP after averaging 33.0 points, 8.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds in the first four games of this round.

But Bryant - who early in his career said he wanted to win eight championships - said for now he isn’t concerned with chasing Jordan.

“I’m trying to get this damn fourth one,” Bryant said with a laugh. “I’m just really happy to be in this moment right now and just trying to get this fourth one. We’re fortunate enough to be back in that situation, a fifth one. But I’m so happy right now to be in this situation, so we can just start with four.”

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