On Monday June 6, 2016, American Express presented the American Express Teamed Up Event with former NBA great and current TNT broadcaster Shaquille O’Neal and legendary coach and current Knicks president Phil Jackson.
The two legends discussed this year’s NBA Finals, as well as the general collective and individual challenges of winning at the highest level. Hannah Storm, friends of both Shaq and Phil, and ESPN analyst, served as the curator and host of the event.
The American Express Teamed Up event began with the group first speaking about the NBA Finals, which at the time was 2-0 in favor of the Golden State Warriors. As someone who has been down 2-0 in an NBA Finals and still won the championship, Shaq spoke about what it takes to make such a comeback.
“You always have to believe. You always have to throw it in the air so I went in after we were down 0-2 and told the guys ‘if you think we’re not going to win, we’re not going to win,” said O’Neal. He also added that Coach Pat Riley “did a couple crazy speeches” that he couldn’t tell us about. O’Neal did however tell a story where Riley put his head in a bucket of life for 3 minutes, to the disbelief of the team, to show the power of believing.
“He almost died. But he did it,” Shaq recalled.
Jackson, who won 6 of his 11 coaching championships with Michael Jordan, said LeBron James needed to have a Jordan-like attitude to pull his team out from this deficit. He specifically recalled the Jordan pull his team out of an 0-2 hole against the the Knicks in the 1993 Eastern Conference finals. With the Bulls down two games to none, Jordan found motivation after reading article in the New York Times that criticized him for spending an off- day at an Atlantic City casino. He went on to lead the Bulls to four straight victories, averaging 32.2 points, including a 54-point performance in Game 4.
“I think it’s going to take something for LeBron to step into that. Put his cape on and say, ‘I’m going to have to take over a lot of this series, doing the things beyond my level or my normal capacity.’ He’s been a team player up until this point, but I think he’s going to have to step beyond that,” said Jackson.
Shaq followed that sentiment by saying, “ I knew it was always my job to play well and takeover, adding that he’s a “very sensitive guy” and didn’t want to “wake up the next day and read that it was my fault.”
After talking about the current championship series, the audience was treated to some insight into the relationship between Shaq and Phil, a relationship that netted 3 consecutive championships.
Shaq gave a lot of credit to his former coach’s ability to remain calm saying that “if the general doesn’t panicked ten the troops won’t panic. Because he didn’t panic, he didn’t give us room to panic.”
Phil, commonly referred to as the “Zen Master” because of his calm demeanor explained that his calm style of catching actually came from an incident when he was the lead singer of a band where he first learned he needed to control his thoughts.
“I was so upset about this lead singing role. My voice was changing I was 15. I couldn’t reach that note all the time and it was a performance and I got so emotionally upset, I caused myself some weight full moments of stress,” recalled Jackson.
Phil also talked about his introduction to coaching, telling the story of playing for the Knicks, getting hurt and missing the season in which they won a championship, the 1969-1970 season. He spent that season on the bench next to his coach Red Holzmam and credits that experience with teaching him how to see the game and handle players.
Besides gaining basketball knowledge from 2 legends of the sport, the crowd at this Teamed Up event learned, and even witnessed some of Shaq infamous antics. The night began by Shaq messing with event staff, not allowing for one of them to properly introduce Hannah Storm. As the night went on, we learned that Shaq would do things such as fall asleep during team meditations or come to practice in nothing but his shoes.
“it definitely kept the team light and lively,” said Jackson.
During the event, Shaq even pulled a fan on stage, calling him “beautiful.”
The night ended with a couple of questions from fans where we learned that Phil Jackson regrets his brief broadcasting career and that Shaq wants to skydive in the near future.
Overall, the American Express Teamed Up Event was an informative and very entertaining talk between 2 friends, as well as 2 greats in their craft.