Goodbye to the Bulls

Article excerpt

The coach of the '90s tells why he's walking away and why he thinks Michael will quit, too

AFTER NINE YEARS AND SIX NBA championships as coach of the Chicago Bulls, Phil Jackson is-literally- packing it in. Days after Michael Jordan's heroics defeated the Utah Jazz, the 52-year-old Zen-Christian philosopher-coach was cleaning out his office at the team's practice center in Deerfield, Ill. In an exclusive interview with NEWSWEEK'S John Capouya, he sounded tired but happy-especially when talking about his "warriors," Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and "the magic that this team had."

NEWSWEEK: After you won game six, you and Michael were hugging on the court and you maid something to him. What did you tell him?

JACKSON: I said it was just a magical ending, and that I don't know how much more a person can do in this game.

Sounds pretty final.

Yeah, for me it's the perfect conclusion to a wonderful team. There's nothing we can do to top this anymore. Now it's my time to step back from the game for a while.

You definitely won't coach anywhere in the NBA this coming season?

Right.

There's been speculation that you were being forced to leave by [Bulls chairman] Jerry Reinsdorf and [general manager] Jerry Krause. But you say you're leaving willingly?

Oh, yes. In fact, I met with Mr. Reinsdorfin the last couple of days and he said, "If you want to comeback, I'm offering you the opportunity." [Reinsdorf could not be reached for comment.] I said, no, it's time for me to step away and enjoy some different things.

Like what?

I don't know. In a few days, my wife and I will he leaving for Turkey with [former Knicks teammate and former senator] Bill Bradley. Later, I'll definitely take some time to do spiritual, solitary things--retreats, monastery visits.

Now, since Michael has said that he will only play for you and you're not coaching, where does that leave him?

I appreciate his sentiments, but we talked about releasing each other from those kinds of obligations this year. If he needs to come back, he should feel totally free.

Will he come back? Should he?

There's no doubt Michael can still be an effective player in the NBA. And he's grown even more adept at the mental game, breaking opponents down. But he has lost his endurance somewhat, his resiliency in back-to-back games in an 82-game season. He knows it, we all know it. I think that there could never be a better time than after this final game-what he did is like Babe Ruth hitting a grand slam in the seventh game of the World Series-and there could be no more perfect ending. …