Commentary

Phil's leaning leaves heads scratching

The Lakers coach hints he'll retire, shocking a captive audience

Updated: June 23, 2010, 9:05 PM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

Phil JacksonGarrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesPhil Jackson's news that he's leaning toward retiring sent shockwaves through a group of media not expecting him to show his cards so soon.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- He said it with a smile, not a smirk. Faster than he normally speaks, but no less decisive.

"I haven't made up my mind," Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I'm leaning towards retiring, but I haven't made up my mind."

The words landed with a thud. For a couple seconds, the entire press room at the Lakers' training facility was speechless.

After the championship, the parade and the delicious afterglow of beating the Boston Celtics, absolutely no one expected Jackson to say what he'd just said.

No way he'd leave with a chance to three-peat. No way he'd abandon Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in their primes. No way he'd simply walk away. Right?

Jackson's retirement has been a possibility for so many years, we've all grown a bit complacent about it. Inevitable, but inscrutable.

Over the years, Jackson has had fun with the topic. Leaning on podiums, feeling sentimental about a last trip through Charlotte, N.C., joking about never being good with commitment.

It's all been a fun dance, until a little before 1 p.m. on Wednesday when it was thuddingly real.

The Los Angeles Times' Brad Turner, who has covered Jackson longer than just about anyone in the room, finally came up with something to say.

"You're leaning toward retirement, huh? It got quiet on that one in here. So when are you going to make that decision?"

Jackson answered immediately, his thoughts seemingly collected.

"I think I've said before: Going to get through these medical things and then take a week and make the decision," he said.

"Some of it's about health, and some of it's about, just, that's the way I feel right now."

As he talked, a million questions ran through your head.

Was this just a negotiating ploy? Is he just tired after another long season? He's always tired, maybe this is just too soon to be asking the question? Did he get some bad medical news this week? Dang, poor soccer is gonna get bumped off the front pages because of this?

And then, finally, knowing Phil ... if he actually were to retire, wouldn't something this unorthodox actually be the way he'd do it? One final, mysterious play just to remind everyone that nothing in life is predictable.

Jackson had spent the last two days saying goodbye to the Lakers players, presumably for the summer, but now perhaps forever.

Each had emerged from their exit meetings expressing a desire for him to return, but saying that they were waiting on his decision like the rest of us.

Their reactions offered few clues. So you wonder just what Jackson may have told them, and whether they'd be as surprised by the direction Jackson says he's leaning as we all were.

General manager Mitch Kupchak came down about a half hour later and seemed to still be processing the news.

"I would be very surprised," Kupchak said, when asked if he'd be surprised if Jackson ended up retiring. "I think, as a coach, this is in your blood.

"But Phil's always been a little different, and he might take a little different approach to this than we might."

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

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