Phil Jackson on Michael Jordan’s push-off: ‘A helping hand to a broke down comrade’
When legendary coach Phil Jackson joined Twitter in March, it was a basketball nerd’s dream come true: access to the Zen Master’s unfiltered thoughts in real time. When it turned out Jackson was simply marketing a new book? Well, dream squashed, or at least deflated.
Consider the dream totally restored. On Monday night, Chris Paul hit a game-winning floater to give the Clippers a 2-0 series lead over the Grizzlies. Many observers quickly pointed to Paul’s use of his left arm against Tony Allen — two or three clearing swipes and then a light shove to create space — to assert that perhaps a hard-fought game shouldn’t have been decided on this particular play. Jackson waded into that discussion.
“Not only are offensive players able to push off, they can use off arm to shield off defense,” he noted. “Heisman offensive move.”
Of course, such a complaint opened him wide to charges of hypocrisy, seeing as how Jackson’s sixth ring with the Bulls was delivered by Michael Jordan on a game-winning jumper during Game 6 of the 1998 Finals, a shot set up by a slight shove of Jazz guard Bryon Russell.
As the clock ticked down, Jordan operated against Russell one-on-one, driving hard to his right before slamming on the brakes and applying his left hand to Russell’s backside to ensure that the Jazz guard’s momentum kept him going towards the paint. A “love tap” is how The Point Forward termed it during our recent rundown of 50 Jordan memories for his 50th birthday. From there, a quick crossover dribble, a Russell stumble, a nothing-but-net jumper, an iconic extended follow-through, a silent gym, and the rest was history.
“It was a great basketball play, they didn’t call it,” Russell told ESPN years later. “I thought it was [a foul]. Apparently the officials didn’t, so they didn’t call it. There’s nothing for me to be upset about it.”
But what say you, Jackson? How can you reconcile Paul’s “Heisman” move with Jordan’s infamous push-off? Both are fouls, or neither is a foul, right?
“As per MJ’s shot in Game 6,” Jackson reasoned. “That wasn’t a push off. It was a helping hand to a broke down comrade. :-)”
That is, without a doubt, one of the greatest smiley faces in NBA history.