Word on the Street

Phil Jackson Face (fil jak’-suhn fas) noun. A facial expression that simultaneously conveys both supreme annoyance and resigned acceptance.

Usage example:Every time fellow baller Johan sends one of his patented no-look passes sailing out of bounds, I make the Phil Jackson Face.”

Word history: The term was semi-coined by Bill Simmons in his article Take a retro look at Game 2 and then more fully explained in Kobe ’09: Change we can believe in? I say “semi-coined” because Simmons actually called it The “Should I point out to him that MJ would have absolutely passed there?” Face. Here’s the excerpt:

My favorite image of the 2009 Finals was Phil’s face after Kobe went one-on-four at the end of Game 2, something I jokingly called The “Should I point out to him that MJ would have absolutely passed there?” Face in my column.

You know what his reaction reminded me of? Being married. Spend enough time with a person and you accept their strengths and weaknesses for what they are. For instance, I am messy. I leave clothes on the floor. I will make coffee in the morning, mistakenly leave a little coffee on the counter and not clean it up. I’m just selfishly absentminded about little things like that. My companion at the time (who by the way is still around in a none marrige kind-of-way), stopped complaining about it around two years ago. When I do those things now, she just makes the Phil Jackson Face. Crap. As if to say: How did I get stuck with him. It’s not even worth getting into it. The plusses outweigh the minuses. Let’s move forward. Jackson never made that face with his first wife (Jordan); with his second wife (Kobe), he makes it every so often. You could say they’re an imperfect match, and if you want to keep the domestic analogy going, they even legally separated in 2004 after a couple of unhappy years. Now they might go on like this indefinitely.

Word trivia: My buddy, lets call him Mister P is the absolute master of the Phil Jackson Face, so much so that I’d rename it the “Mister P Face” if he was famous (outside of our pickup league, anyway). Even more than Chris (who is a hardwood bastard in his own right), Mister P simply CANNOT stand playing on a team with one or more crummy players. When a lousy shooter forces up a hotly contested 20-footer (hereafter referred to as a “Kobe”) instead of passing to a wide open Mister P – and, sadly, this happens a lot – he’ll turn, give me an extended Phil Jackson Face (usually with a slight head tilt thrown in for good measure), and then trudge slowly down court. (As you probably already know if you play pickup ball, defensive apathy kicks in almost immediately for players who don’t receive passes on open looks.)

As alluded to in the usage example, I make this face at least once a night when teamed up with Chris. He has this move in which he drives hard, jumps in the air, and then throws a two-handed behind-the-head pass that occasionally looks brilliant but usually results in a turnover or a teammate scrambling madly to prevent the turnover. Of course, I know how this maneuver became part of C’s repertoire: Larry Bird did it all the time, and it’s prominently featured in a passing montage during Larry Bird: A Basketball Legend. Keep in mind that the degree of difficulty of passes featured in a Larry Bird highlight film is pretty high. There probably should be a disclaimer that says: “Do not attempt these moves, mortal fool!”

There’s also a time during almost every pickup game when my features get frozen in the Phil Jackson Face …and that’s game point. Everybody wants to be the hero, especially if it’s a close game. It’s almost as if the ball is carrying a virus that’s 100 percent contagious, and that virus fills its victim’s mind with one all-consuming thought: MUST SHOOT. And, of course, the opposing team usually picks up their defensive intensity, which means that the “good” looks get further and further away from the hoop, until guys start chucking it up from near midcourt. (“BUT I WAS OPEN!”) Strategies that worked all game will be carelessly abandoned at game point for one-on-one drives into traffic, leaning half-hooks, turn-around jumpers from impossible distances, and any other bad shot you want to name/describe. But you know it’s going to happen, so most of the time the Phil Jackson Face is all you can do.

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Labels: Larry Bird / Kobe Bryant / Michael Jordan (MJ) / Phil Jackson / 2009 NBA Finals / NBA / Word on the Street

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