Buddhism is a major Asian religion studied and practiced in countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Although Buddhism is a growing religion throughout the world, in particular, the practice of meditation is spreading in the West. The United States has a center for Buddhists in Hawaii and New York and also a Buddhist community has been established in California. (Hewitt, 13-14) But even closer to home for most is the practicing of Zen Buddhism on the basketball court by former Chicago Bulls and present Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson. In this essay I will discuss how Jackson has incorporated some of the practices of Zen Buddhism into his and the players of his teams lives and how it has been effective for the game and the lives of those involved. I will also touch on his use of combined Zen and Christianity along with his extended interest in the Lakota Sioux.
“The Chicago Bulls’ Buddha-like guru Phil Jackson inks the richest coaching deal in N.B.A. history ($6 million for one last season [with the Bulls])” (Notebook, 11). There may be some sound reasoning behind this. Michael Jordan was quoted on how some team members are starting to use Jackson’s religion to help them win, “It’s that Zen Buddhism stuff. We’re practicing smiling when we may be frustrated inside so we can relieve some tension. It’s an art form” (Quotables, 1). Jackson speaks in depth to his team about ejecting selfishness and egotism (Eckman, 3). “He describes Jordan in the late 80’s as a player who tried to beat the other team by himself” (Zen Teamwork). He not only helped lead Jordan to play like a star but led the Bulls to be a winning team. He and several of his former players believe that this is partially due to what they practiced in the years Jackson was coach. Not only did they study basketball, as writer Frank Deford for Sports Illustrated noted in a cover story on Jackson, they took part in “group meditations and pregame ‘nap time’” (84). Not to mention poetry and assigned books (83). These things may sound odd but as one of the beliefs of Zen says, “Don’t get caught up in only one way of doing things; and don’t look at things from just one point of view. If you try another way, or change your point of view, the results will always be different” (Chung, 99). Jackson definitely looks at and coaches basketball from a different point of view then most coaches, and his outcome with the Bulls was definitely different.
Speaking on the art of coaching on page 79-80 of his book Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior Jackson explains that,
“One of the main jobs of a coach is to reawaken that spirit so that the players can blend together effortlessly. It’s often an uphill fight. The ego-driven culture of basketball, and society in general, militates against cultivating this kind of selfless action, even for members of a team whose success as individuals in tied directly to the group performance. Our society places such a high premium on...