“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.” ― Dr. Seuss
The Zen Master
Phil Jackson is arguably one of the most iconic and respected coaches in professional team sports.
He not only led the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers to a combined 11 NBA championships, but he also won 2 chips as a contributing player for the 70′ and 73′ New York Knicks.
His style of coaching was unorthodox, to say the least. He incorporated Eastern and Native American philosophies into his leadership repertoire. He’s been touted as the “Zen Master.”
Tai chi, meditation, lighting up sage to ward off evil energy, and having teams practice without the ball weren’t uncommon techniques under his coaching.
He was stern, calm, and a highly respected coach. However, he neglected confrontation or yelling at players. He was a big believer in letting intuition dictate the flow of the game, which some players used as wisdom to guide them on and off the basketball court.
Having coached two of the most iconic athletes of our time in Michael Jordan and the late Kobe Bryant, he had a way to use the ego of these superstars and direct their energy to complete the mission of working as one unit and ultimately setting out to win an NBA title. However, he bestowed upon them, much more.
Jackson was in the prime of his youth during the Summer of Love in the late 60s. It was the era of peace, Buffalo Springfield, and mind-altering substances that brought movies like Alice in Wonderland to the masses.
In other words, he was a bonified hippie.
Taming the Untamable
The Native American culture had a deep and profound impact on him, and he used this knowledge to bring out the best in Dennis Rodman, the self-professed, “bad boy,” of the league in the ’90s.
Rodman was in Jackson’s office one day and noticed Native American artifacts everywhere. Rodman then pulled out a necklace he wore from the Ponca Indians in Oklahoma. Jackon, who is familiar with the story of the necklace, told him that it’s representative of a Heyoka or a sacred clown.
In the traditions of the Dakota Tribes, a Heyoka is an anomaly-type figure. They were eccentric types that acted in contradiction to the tribe’s rules. However, they were granted the freedom to be themselves because the belief was that Heyokas were spiritually imprinted by the Thunderbird god in their dreams. Heyokas were accepted and revered for their strange and weird ways.
Heyokas used humor to help people transition to a place where they can absorb wisdom and healing energies. Rodman did this without knowing. His antics brought humor to life. During the 1998 NBA finals, Rodman deliberately missed practice so he could wrestle with Hulk Hogan on live television. I wouldn’t call his actions legendary, but certainly audacious and definitely humorous.
Laughter is the best medicine after all!
Phil Jackson told Rodman he was the Heyoka of the team, and they created a brotherly bond shortly after. Jackson understood Dennis, as he would call him. Under the veil of his antics off the court (partying, sex, drugs, multi-colored hair, etc..), when it came to basketball, Rodman was disciplined, showed up, and did the work that didn’t necessarily fill the stat sheet or make the ESPN highlights, but never the less were integral to the team’s success. Jackson knew this and didn’t chastise Rodman for being himself. It’s what the city of Chicago and basketball fans everywhere adored.
Rodman was weird, unapologetic, and most importantly, himself.
Jackson was a Heyoka in his own right. He was raised in Great Falls, Montana, and grew up playing with Native American children, at a time when it wasn’t considered proper to do so. His legacy is that of a backward person, a dreamer, and a soul that refuses to walk the common path. His coaching style was an example of that.
We all have elements of a Heyoka. Each one of us is a masterpiece created by the infinite to serve the world in our own unique and weird way. If you’ve found your inner calling, great! If not, I wish you the strength to continue the search.
We all have some level of weirdness in us.
The world needs more of it.
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