Bet you didn't expect Phil Jackson's coaching career to end like that, huh? Yes, as everyone knows by know, the Los Angeles Lakers lost Game 4 to the Dallas Mavericks by 36 points, getting swept out of the 2011 NBA Playoffs and doing so while throwing in two classless ejections. Despite all the uneasiness the league and its fans feel with Jackson, there's a sense that he deserved much better than the final effort he got on Sunday.
And he certainly did. But at the same time, Jackson has spent a lot of his final season looking like he did after Game 4: emotionally detached and with an odd peace of mind. Andrew Sharp hit the nail on the head here: Jackson's final game really typified Jackson's persona. As his team crumbled around him, Jackson didn't lose his cool. You could argue that he even seemed amused himself by it, as if he knew it would happen and was only waiting for his players to come back to him and say, 'You know what, Phil? You were right. We should have listened to you.' It's the same look he had after the 2004 season collapsed in flames, and that led to one of the most famous sports books of all time. Maybe Jackson has another one coming.
Regardless, for any other coach, you might argue that they lost their team. For Jackson, though, it's possible he simply reached a higher level of understanding. He must have realized that, at a certain point, he is responsible for only so much. If the players won't heed the message, there isn't all that much he could do. As he descends into retirement (at least for now), that's the lasting image I'll always have of him. He understood that his job was to teach his players how to fish, not to give them food.