A Look into Phil Jackson’s Roots in the State of North Dakota

Played Baseball and Basketball at UND

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The ESPN docuseries “Last Dance” highlighting the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan’s six titles from 1991-98, continues to be the most watched documentary with over 6.5 million viewers on Sunday night’s.
If you were watching this past Sunday’s episodes 3 and 4, the head coach of that team, Phil Jackson, had some of his journey to coaching and basketball revealed and much of it started right here in North Dakota.

After moving from Great Falls, Montana as a child, Jackson graduated from Williston High School winning the 1963 state basketball championship as a member of the coyotes. It was off to college and the University of North Dakota to continue playing basketball and baseball soon after. Jackson has said in the past, UND was the right choice for him because it gave him the opportunity to develop.

As a Fighting Sioux, Jackson played under head coach Bill Fitch from 1964 to 67, leading them to three division two tournament appearances. Fitch went on to the Basketball Hall of Fame and is the tenth winningest coach in NBA history.

Under Fitch, Jackson was a two-time All-American and conference player of the year moving on to the NBA for twelve seasons as a player, despite many looks as a prospect for the MLB, before beginning his coaching career in Puerto Rico, the CBA’s Albany patroons, and on to the Bulls bench incorporating the triangle offense to success.

From there, the rest was history, winning the championship 11 times as a coach, the most in any north american sports league, with the Bulls and later the Los Angeles Lakers molding the playing careers of the Jordan and the late great Kobe Bryant.

He’s the 1992 Theodore Roosevelt Roughrider award winner given to prominent North Dakota figures.

Fighting Hawks men’s basketball coach Paul Sather on how Jackson’s remembered in the Grand Forks community.

“I’ve had people come up to me and say Phil Jackson was their babysitter for their kids. At one of the football functions in the fall, I had a gal come up and say that,”  Sather said. “What you find out is that he was a student athlete here and what you learn is that a lot of people who have been around North Dakota for a long long time and remember him as that 18,19 year old student athlete here and its just fun to hear some of those stories.”

Episodes 5 and 6 air this Sunday as part of a 10-episode series.

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