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Jackson plays down talk of Red's record

SEVEN years have passed since Phil Jackson coached the Los Angeles Lakers to their third consecutive National Basketball Association championship in his first three seasons with the team.

He's definitely counting.

They lost to Detroit in the 2004 finals and again last year to Boston. Starting today against Orlando, Jackson gets a third chance to win his record 10th title, which would break a tie with fellow Hall of Fame coach Red Auerbach.

But he insists that's not his main motivation.

"It's just about this year, not about the 10th," he said.

Jackson joked about the value of possibly owning 10 championship rings, saying, "One for each finger and two thumbs."

He played against Auerbach's Boston teams, but never coached against the cigar-chomping coach with whom he said he had a "really competitive" relationship.

Auerbach, who died in October 2006, once downplayed Jackson's nine titles by saying the former New York Knicks player "picks his spots," implying that his championships were the result of coaching stars such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

The chance to surpass Auerbach and make history of his own might be a personal goal of Jackson's, but it trails what the team is trying to achieve, assistant coach Kurt Rambis said.

"Is he obsessed with it? Does he lose sleep over it? I seriously doubt it," he said.

Jackson turns 64 in September. He has undergone two hip replacement operations since October 2006 - using a cane at various times - and walks with a noticeable hitch in his step.

This season, he missed two road games because of pain and swelling in his lower legs caused by plantar fasciitis. He blamed late-night flights that aggravated the condition, which he plans to have doctors check out after the season ends.

Jackson credits team trainer Gary Vitti and his staff for working out his physical kinks, partly the result of his 12-year NBA playing career, and equipment manager Rudy Garciduenas for carrying his luggage on the road. "They keep me going every day," he said.

He didn't mention the role of his 47-year-old girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, a team executive and daughter of Lakers owner Jerry Buss. They've been together since shortly after Jackson began his first stint as coach of the team in 2000, and survived his one-season firing in 2004-05.

"I came back at the behest of the Buss family to coach this team back into playoff contention," he said.

In doing so, Jackson has toned down his intense approach and become more patient. He signed a two-year contract extension in 2007 for approximately US$24 million, which takes him through this season.

Twice in 40 years, Jackson has gotten away from the grind of NBA life that exists from October to June. The idea of permanently stepping away would be hard, he said.


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