Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior
Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty Hyperion: New York, 1995.
256 pp., $22.95 (cloth)

On Phil Jackson’s first trip to New York as a professional basketball player, he was driven into the city by Knicks coach Red Holzman. On the way, someone threw a rock at the car and smashed the windshield. After determining that nobody was hurt, Holzman turned to the gangly rookie and said, “Well, that’s New York City, Phil. If you can take that, you’ll do just fine.” Jackson learned a valuable lesson from his new coach: “Don’t let anger—or heavy objects thrown from overpasses—cloud the mind.” For more than a quarter century, Jackson has continued to struggle toward awareness. While many coaches openly credit Christianity for their victories, the highly successful coach of the Chicago Bulls may be the only American coach to openly acknowledge Eastern influences.

“The point of Zen practice is to make you aware of the thoughts that run your life as they arise and diminish their power over you,” he writes in Sacred Hoops. “The more skilled I became at watching my thoughts in zazen practice, the more focused I became as a player. . . . I also developed an intimate knowledge of my mental processes on the basketball court.”

Phil Jackson.
Phil Jackson.

As a player, Jackson was a curiosity, a gawky long-armed defensive specialist who was not afraid to do the dirty work on a talented team. Even then, the press and the fans knew he dabbled in the “counterculture.” Jackson was trying to find an alternative to the benign Christianity practiced by his father and the more rigid Pentecostal Christianity of his mother.

Jackson’s upbringing in North Dakota and Montana gave him a deep respect for Native American spirituality. An older brother later introduced him to Zen during the off-seasons, and when Jackson’s first marriage broke up, he moved into a loft in Manhattan and became friendly with a “lapsed Catholic turned fundamentalist Muslim named Hakim.” On road trips, Jackson was reading books on spirituality and sitting with Zen groups.

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