60 Inspirational Phil Jackson Quotes | The Zen Master

motivational quotes Dec 06, 2023
phil jackson quotes

Words of wisdom from "The Zen Master"

Phil Jackson was one of the greatest and most successful coaches in NBA history. Known for his unique coaching philosophy and Zen-like approach, Jackson left a positive impact on the game of basketball.

During his 20 year NBA coaching career, Phil Jackson won 11 NBA championships, 1,155 regular season games, 229 playoff games, and an NBA Coach of the Year award.

He won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990's and five more rings with the Los Angeles Lakers throughout the 2000's. 

Jackson was known for implementing the triangle offense, an offense based on spacing and constant player and ball movement.

Phil had the ability to connect with his players on a deeper level, cultivating a sense of unity and trust amongst his teams. He emphasized mindfulness, teamwork, and sacrificing individual success for team success.

His profound insights and philosophical approach to coaching became his trademark. Phil was really good at instilling a winning mindset in his players, while also promoting personal growth and development.

These Phil Jackson quotes and sayings will give you a glimpse into the mind of the one they called, "The Zen Master."

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Phil Jackson Famous Team Quotes

Coach Jackson was known for instilling a team-first culture among his teams.

Phil coached some of the best players in NBA history including Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O'Neal. Convincing players of that caliber to make sacrifices that were for the good of the team was no small feat.

Phil's ability to get his entire time to buy-in to a team-oriented mindset, especially his top players, is one of the things that made him such a special coach.

As you'll see in the following quotes, Coach Jackson understood how important teamwork was to success which is why he placed so much emphasis on it throughout his career.



1. "The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team."

2. "Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the ‘Me’ for the ‘We.’"

3. "Before a vision (dream) can become a reality, it must be owned by every member of the group."

4. "The sign of a great player is how much he elevates his colleagues’ performance."

5. "Basketball is a sport that involves the subtle interweaving of players at full speed to the point where they are thinking and moving as one."

6. "Basketball is a great mystery. You can do everything right. You can have the perfect mix of talent and the best system of offense in the game. You can devise a foolproof defensive strategy and prepare your players for every possible eventuality. But if the players don't have a sense of oneness as a group, your efforts won't pay off. And the bond that unites a team can be so fragile, so elusive."

7. "What moves me is watching young men bond together and tap into the magic that arises when they focus with their whole heart and soul on something greater than themselves. Once you've experienced that, it's something you never forget."

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Coaching And Leadership Quotes From Phil Jackson

Phil had a different style of coaching and leadership than other coaches. He didn't yell often, instead, he tried to learn as much as he could about his players.

He wanted to know what made them tick, what motivated them. Phil had a way of knowing what buttons to push to get the most out of his players.

He never treated any player the same, but he did treat them all fairly and with the team in mind.

8. "My philosophy is that you don't motivate players with speeches; you have motivated players that you draft. That's where they come in, and those are the guys that are competitive. You can not teach competitiveness."

9. "There's a lot of chatter in basketball and, rightfully, you want players to be talking to each other... But sometimes in practice, it gets too verbose... so I tried to take things out of the ordinary and make them special so they'd understand the difference." 


10. "You can’t force your will on people. If you want them to act differently, you need to inspire them to change themselves."

11. "I think the most important thing about coaching is that you have to have a sense of confidence about what you're doing. You have to be a salesman, and you have to get your players, particularly your leaders, to believe in what you're trying to accomplish on the basketball floor."

12. "You have to be able to psychologically help your players, support-wise, be in touch with them, so I think managing people is very important."

13. "A coach’s main job is to reawaken a spirit in which the players can blend together effortlessly."

14. "I think the most rewarding part of the job, and I think most coaches would say it, is practice. If you have it, a very good practice in which you have 12 guys participate, and they can really get something out of it, lose themselves in practice."

15. "As a leader your job is to do everything in your power to create the perfect conditions for success by benching your ego and inspiring your team to play the game the right way. But at some point, you need to let go and turn yourself over to the basketball gods. The soul of success is surrendering to what is."



16. "Leadership is not about forcing your will on others. It’s about mastering the art of letting go."

17. "Coaching is about, “How do I get people to play at their peak level?” It is a spiritual quest. And if it’s not that, you don’t have a challenge, you don’t have a mission. Forming a brotherhood and trying to move it forward – that’s what coaching is."

18. "People think I would never take on a team that has no legitimate chance to win a championship, This is one of the major misconceptions about me. Success can be measured in many different ways... Either way, I would find the challenge invigorating."

19. "I don't believe in curfews, because you can't treat men like they were boys without forfeiting a certain level of trust."

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Mindfulness Quotes By Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson was well known for his mindful approach to basketball.

He skillfully weaved both basketball and mindfulness together which gave him a "Zen-like" approach to the game and to coaching. As a result, he was given the nickname "The Zen Master."

Phil's calmness, poise, and emphasis on the present really define the type of coach he was. He instilled these principles in his players as well which helped them achieve success in all scenarios, but all especially in high intensity, pressure moments.

20. "If you have a clear mind… you won’t have to search for direction. Direction will come to you."

21. "Winning is important to me, but what brings me real joy is the experience of being fully engaged in whatever I’m doing."


22. "If you give the future all your attention, the present will pass you by."

23. "In basketball – as in life – true joy comes from being fully present in each and every moment, not just when things are going your way."

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Best Phil Jackson Quotes About Life

Coach Jackson knew that there was more to life than just basketball. This is why he focused on helping his players on the court, but also off the court.

He understood that the principles he coached with such as mindfulness and teamwork would benefit his players not just in basketball, but in life too.

24. "Always keep an open mind and a compassionate heart."

25. "Like life, basketball is messy and unpredictable. It has its way with you, no matter how hard you try to control it. The trick is to experience each moment with a clear mind and an open heart. When you do that, the game – and life – will take care of itself."


26. "Your problems never cease. They just change."

27. "No one plays this or any game perfectly. It’s the guy who recovers from his mistakes who wins."

28. "If we can accept whatever hand we've been dealt - no matter how unwelcome - the way to proceed eventually becomes clear."

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Phil Jackson Zen Sayings

Known as "The Zen Master," Phil was always good for a zen saying or two throughout his career.

29. "I gave it my body and mind, but I have kept my soul."

30. "Love is the force that ignites the spirit and binds teams together."

31. "If you meet the Buddha in the lane, feed him the ball."  


32. "Wisdom is always an overmatch for strength."

33. "The bigger your head, the easier to fill your shoes."

34. "I'm not trying to find answers anymore. I'm trying to live what I know."

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Motivational Phil Jackson Quotes About Basketball

When it came to basketball, Phil emphasized teamwork, spacing, passing, and constant movement.

He was a big proponent of dribble penetration to the basket in order to break the defense down.

35. "Basketball is a simple game. Your goal is penetration, get the ball close to the basket, and there are three ways to do that. Pass, dribble and offensive rebound."

36. "Approach the game with no preset agendas and you'll probably come away surprised at your overall efforts."

37. "The greatness of Michael Jordan is his competitive drive. The weakness of Michael Jordan is his competitive drive."

38. "Basketball is sharing."



39. "Not only is there more to life than basketball, there’s a lot more to basketball than basketball."

40. "Kobe was hell-bent on surpassing Jordan as the greatest player in the game. His obsession with Michael was striking. When we played in Chicago that season, I orchestrated a meeting between the two of them, thinking that Michael might help shift Kobe's attitude toward selfless teamwork. After they shook hands, the first words out of Kobe's mouth were, 'You know I can kick your *** one on one.'"

41. "The ideal way to win a championship is step by step."

42. "An acrobatic dunk will make it onto Sports Center. A simple, unspectacular bounce pass in the rhythm of the offense will not. System basketball has been replaced by players who want to be the system."

43. "Basketball, unlike football with its prescribed routes, is an improvisational game, similar to jazz. If someone drops a note, someone else must step into the vacuum and drive the beat that sustains the team."

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Quotes From Phil Jackson's Book, Eleven Rings

Phil Jackson has written quite a few books in his lifetime. These quotes come from his most recent book, Eleven Rings." 

In this book, Phil provides the reader with many lessons that he learned throughout his playing career and coaching career.

Here are some of the best quotes from that book:

44. "When the mind is allowed to relax, inspiration often follows."



45. "The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome. The ride is a lot more fun that way."

46. "Fall down seven times. Stand up eight. JAPANESE PROVERB"

47. "Think lightly of yourself and think deeply of the world. MIYAMOTO MUSASHI"

48. "The unconscious mind is a terrific solver of complex problems when the conscious mind is busy elsewhere or, perhaps better yet, not overtaxed at all."

49. "There’s a Zen saying I often cite that goes, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” The point: Stay focused on the task at hand rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future."

50. "When we called time-out with twenty-five seconds to go,” he re-called, “we went into the huddle and Phil said, ‘Michael, I want you to take the last shot,’ and Michael said, ‘You know, Phil, I don’t feel comfortable in these situations. So maybe we ought to go in another direction.’ Then Scottie said, ‘You know, Phil, Michael said in his commercial that he’s been asked to do this twenty-six times and he’s failed. So why don’t we go to Steve."

51. "That’s why at the start of every season I always encouraged players to focus on the journey rather than the goal. What matters most is playing the game the right way and having the courage to grow, as human beings as well as basketball players. When you do that, the ring takes care of itself."



52. "In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few."

53. "The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. JOSEPH CAMPBELL"

54. "Maslow puts it, “The great lesson from the true mystics . . . [is] that the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s backyard."

55. "To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself. SØREN KIERKEGAARD"

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Other Phil Jackson Words Of Wisdom

56. "As much as we pump iron and we run to build our strength up, we need to build our mental strength up...so we can focus...so we can be in concert with one another."

57. "But trying to eliminate anger never works. The more you try to suppress it, the more likely it is to erupt later in a more virulent form. A better approach is to become as intimate as possible with how anger works on your mind and body so that you can transform its underlying energy into something productive."

58. "Albert Einstein once described his rules of work: “One: Out of clutter, find simplicity. Two: From discord, find harmony. Three: In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."

59. "Yes, victory is sweet, but it doesn’t necessarily make life any easier the next season or even the next day."

60. "Once you’ve done the mental work, there comes a point you have to throw yourself into the action and put your heart on the line. That means not only being brave but being compassionate towards yourself, your teammates, and your opponents."

More motivational basketball quotes:

• Kobe Bryant | Shaq | Michael Jordan | Steph Curry | LeBron James | Kyrie Irving | Kevin Durant  | Allen Iverson | Larry Bird  | Coach John Wooden | Coach K  | Coach Pat Summitt | Coach Jim Valvano  | All

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