By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Professorial in demeanor and as laidback as a Californian surfer in his approach, Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson has always instilled a great sense of calmness and confidence in his teams.
When the going gets tough, as it inevitably does in the NBA playoffs, the ice-cool Jackson can be relied on to keep a level head when players struggle to maintain poise and purpose.
The 64-year-old has won a record 10 NBA Championship rings, first with the Chicago Bulls and then with the Lakers, and has long been regarded as one of the greatest coaches of all time.
All-Star guard Kobe Bryant, the leading player on a Lakers team vying for the 2010 NBA title against the Boston Celtics, has no hesitation citing Jackson's best attribute as a coach.
"I think it's his ability to bring people together," said Bryant. "He continues to coach the group, continues to coach unity and chemistry and togetherness. When you're together, you can withstand adversity. If you're not, you can easily break apart and become a team of individuals."
Born to evangelical minister parents, Jackson is renowned for his "Zen" philosophy and triangle offense, a complicated but highly successful strategy that relies upon unselfish and committed team work.
With the triangle or triple-post offense, he transformed a Chicago team built around the brilliant individual talent of Michael Jordan into six-time champions between 1991 and 1998.
He also adapted the strategy around a dominant center, Shaquille O'Neal, to help the Lakers win three consecutive NBA titles from 2000-2002.
"The system is far too intricate to be mastered in a short period of time which is why repetition is essential," Jackson wrote in his 2004 book The Last Season.
"On average, players need a couple of years to grasp the triangle's complexities," he said of a system in which constantly moving players have a variety of passing and scoring options at their disposal.
"Championships are secured by team, not individual, performances. Michael Jordan, as superb as he was, did not win a ring until he and his team mates discovered how to excel consistently within the parameters of the triangle."
Jackson played for the New York Knicks as a forward in the 1970s and he adopted much of their unselfish, team-oriented style when he later switched to a coaching career.
He has steadily built success upon success, becoming the fastest NBA coach to post 900 career victories and last year overhauling Red Auerbach for a record 10th championship ring.
With the Lakers leading the Celtics 1-0 in the best-of-seven 2010 Finals, an 11th ring is only three wins away for Jackson, the "Zen Master" of basketball.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)