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Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior and Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson

December 21, 2017

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My new boss this year is a huge Phil Jackson fan and recommended these books. Combined, they’re the story of Phil Jackson’s career and his Zen philosophy of coaching. Sacred Hoops was published in 1995, after the first Bulls-era three-peat (but before the second). Eleven Rings was published in 2013, after five total championships with the Lakers. Jackson’s career is unmatched by a long shot, and his unorthodox style is an interesting story in its own right. Eleven Rings is somewhat redundant if you’ve already ready Sacred Hoops, but both books are packed with insight.

Like most guys my age, I was a Bulls fan during the Jordan era. I was also living in Illinois, so a lot of the basketball stories of Sacred Hoops were interesting, and I remember some of the games and hype around the team. Phil’s particular gift for getting big egos (Jordan/Pippen/Rodman, Kobe/Shaq) to work together is legendary, but I was more interested in the Bulls stories than the Lakers. Personal preference.

But the most valuable part of both books are the insights into building a team that can be both compassionate and highly competitive. His system of offense—the triangle—allows for creativity and adaptability. It also requires players to work for the betterment of the team, to deeply trust their teammates and sometimes sacrifice their own stats.

I run a large creative team and found a lot of relevant insight throughout both books. One of my favorites is his advice to “give them lots of room and encourage them to be mischievous.” He has dozens of examples of seeking the right ways to take highly sensitive, highly talented people and put them in a position that allows them to do their thing, with the opportunity to succeed, but also motivates them to push themselves of their own volition and ambition (vs out of fear or intimidation). All very relevant.

And he talks about the need for work that is meaningful and thus spiritual:

By “spiritual” I don’t mean religious. I mean the act of self discovery that happens when you step beyond your routine way of seeing the world…“Work is holy, sacred, and uplifting when it springs from who we are, when it builds a relationship to our unfolding journey,” writes activist, teacher, and lay monk Wayne Teasdale in A Monk In the World. “For work to be sacred, it must be connected to our spiritual realization. Our work has to represent our passion, our desire to contribute to our culture, especially to the development of others.”

Jackson’s ego peeks through from time to time, but I’d say he’s earned it. And it’s offset by the moments he talks about doubting himself, the mistakes he made and the times he strayed from his own ideal. It’s comforting to hear about not just the championships but the struggles of one of the greatest coaches of all time.

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