Shaquille O'Neal Recalls Favorite Phil Jackson Anecdote with Iconic Quote

Exploring the nuances of Phil Jackson's coaching rhetoric.

by Nouman Rasool
Shaquille O'Neal Recalls Favorite Phil Jackson Anecdote with Iconic Quote
© Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Phil Jackson, often celebrated as one of the greatest coaches in the history of the NBA, is as renowned for his unorthodox methods as he is for his impressive championship tally. His coaching tenure with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers left behind a trail of memorable stories, many of which highlight his distinctive approach to leadership.

One such anecdote comes from NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal, who recently recounted his favorite Phil Jackson moment during an episode of his podcast. O'Neal described how Jackson would use a whistle to command attention during practices.

"Phil had this thing: when he went [whistles], he wanted you to look up, he wanted you to call the play," O'Neal explained. However, an incident involving former teammate Robert Horry deviated from the usual routine. According to O'Neal, during one practice, the team ignored Jackson's whistle, leading to a pointed exchange during a timeout.

"He looks at Robert Horry and goes, 'Hey, I'm your master. When I whistle, you look up,'" O'Neal recounted. Horry, unamused and direct, retorted, "I'm from Alabama. You ain't my goddamn master. I don't play that."

Contextual Clash Explained

Jackson's comment, while metaphorical, touched a nerve given Alabama’s fraught racial history.

However, O'Neal was quick to clarify that Jackson’s words were not intended as they sounded but were merely his way of asserting authority over the team dynamics. Despite the initial shock, Horry, who spent four seasons under Jackson and won multiple championships, understood the context of his coach's words and often credited him for fostering a cohesive team spirit.

Horry’s response to Jackson also underscores the periodic need to "check" the coach, a sentiment Horry shared even as he defended Jackson against accusations of racism by fellow NBA veteran Scottie Pippen. Their relationship, built on deep mutual trust, exemplified the complex interactions that often characterized Jackson’s tenure.

Jackson's coaching style extended beyond conventional methods. In his autobiography, "Shaq Uncut: My Story," O'Neal shares another peculiar practice involving an Indian drum and sage burning, which Jackson used as tools for meditation and team bonding.

This method, while unconventional, was part of what made Jackson’s coaching memorable and, arguably, effective. Phil Jackson's legacy is a tapestry of strategic genius and quirky anecdotes, illustrating a coach who not only designed basketball strategies but also crafted unique ways to engage and lead his players.

His approach, although sometimes controversial, undeniably contributed to his teams’ many successes and left an indelible mark on the NBA.