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The Sporting Life - Phil Jackson

by Jeff Moeller / Los Angeles Kings

The Kings’ recent and unprecedented playoff success – advancing to the Western Conference Finals this year after winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 – has helped the club garner a lot of new fans and introduce a lot of new people to our game.

Legendary basketball figure Phil Jackson is not new to hockey – his roots go back to the 1950s – but his activity on Twitter (see below) during the Kings’ playoff run helped bring even more notoriety to the team and to hockey on the whole. recently caught up with the 13-time NBA champion (11 as a coach and two as a player) and asked him the following questions: How do you describe your interest/knowledge/history when it comes to hockey?

Jackson: I started playing hockey in Great Falls, MT at the age of 7/8 years old. We had an outdoor park called Gibson Park that had a great big pond. We shoveled snow into banks and placed stones for goal posts. I had a neighborhood friend, Terry Casey, that was a couple years older and he went on to UND, where I attended college, and was an All-American hockey player. He was always the star on Gibson Park. My parents moved to Williston, ND in 1957 and there was a good hockey program there for my first two years in that town. They played teams from Weyburn and Regina, Sask., in a league, along with a couple of ND towns along the border. The program was discontinued under the town council and I began to focus on basketball. So 13 years old was the extent of my time on ice. I went to UND in Grand Forks, ND and the hockey program there is one of the best in the US. They had an unheated arena and even though I bundled up by the 3rd period my feet were ice blocks and I'd have to give it up. Besides Terry Casey having a great college career there was a number of the Sioux that went on to play in the NHL. The bulk of your career of course has been spent in LA, Chicago and New York. The Blackhawks won – in dramatic fashion – this year, and of course the Kings won in 2012. Have you tended to maybe follow those clubs more often than other NHL clubs?

Jackson: When I played for the NY Knicks we shared Madison Square Garden with the Rangers. I started to follow the NHL during those years. Harry Howell and I became friends due to both of use going through a spinal fusion in May, 1968. Harry had played 18 years for the Rangers and I had played 2=two for the Knicks. When the Garden emptied due to Westminster Dog Show or the Horse show in the fall we tended to go to the same cities on our road trips and I'd go watch the Rangers on the road. My time in Chicago I was able to attend a couple of games in the old Chicago Stadium, which were a special treat as has been mentioned. We had a good relationship with some of the Blackhawks, especially (Chris) Chelios, who was always hanging around the new building. We both went to the finals in 1991, although the Blackhawks got swept by the Penguins they had their run. In terms of culture, and understanding that you are looking at hockey from a distance, how do you compare the “team” aspects between NHL and NBA clubs?

Jackson: The ability of players to come together as one unit/one mind is quite evident in hockey. Because one person cannot dominate the game there is great focus on the players to be in synch with each other on both ends of the ice. Boston's run this past season through the playoffs was quite remarkable because they were able to overcome a huge obstacle in the first round and survive the Toronto series. It seemed to really bind their spirits together and make them quite a force, almost a team of destiny. However, they were defeated by a team that had greater team chemistry in a great series. I think having a shortened season allow the Blackhawks to ride that One-Mind effort from the success they had from day one. The long 80 game seasons make it hard to carry that spirit over six months. You have been quoted as saying, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” How do you view the hockey goalie, who -- in the four major sports leagues -- is really the only player who plays nearly every minute of every game?

Jackson: The hockey goalie is unique in all of sports since being on the ice 60 min is such a burden for any forward, center, or defensemen. I think they are the ones protected by the whole team. I've used a saying from Rudyard Kipling: The strength of the wolf is the pack and the strength of the pack is the wolf. I think hockey teams get great strength from their goalie. He represents the most vulnerable person on the team and his ability to "cover" for the team makes him a dominant figure. What basketball player -- who you have coached or played with or against -- would make the best hockey player and why?

Jackson: I hesitate to say who might have been a great hockey player of the basketball players I've seen or coached over the years. The difference in the two sports is so great -- one is played off the floor and the goal is 10 feet high with touch and tactile skill so important -- the other on ice and uses a low center of gravity to wedge/hedge scrum for the puck. However, usually great athletes find their way in most sports.

Photos by Kings team photographer Andrew D. Bernstein and courtesy NBAE via Getty Images. Bernstein is also a long-time NBA photographer and he and Jackson co-created a book in 2010 called ‘Journey to the Ring,’ a photo documentary book highlighting the championship season of the Lakers. See more here --

Special thanks to @JeanieBuss.

Follow the Kings Communications department on Twitter @LAKingsPR

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