Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Phil Jackson, in GF, urges 'right thing' in UND nickname resolution

Alumnus and legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson urged the University of North Dakota today to "do the right thing" and try to resolve the highly emotional Fighting Sioux logo and nickname controversy.

Alumnus and legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson urged the University of North Dakota today to "do the right thing" and try to resolve the highly emotional Fighting Sioux logo and nickname controversy.

While he did not directly call for discontinuing the logo and nickname he wore as a star basketball player more than four decades ago, Jackson seemed to lean in that direction.

"Objectification of people is limiting to ourselves" as well as to the people objectified, Jackson said at a UND convocation at which he received an honorary doctor of letters degree.

He said he had been "asked by my Lakota friends to speak out" on the logo issue, which has steeped the university in controversy in recent years. In a legal settlement last year with the NCAA, which had threatened to punish the school if it didn't change the nickname, UND agreed to drop it if it is unable to reach an understanding with namesake tribes in North Dakota within three years.

Coach of nine NBA championship teams, six in Chicago and three in Los Angeles, Jackson starred as a basketball player in the mid-1960s before embarking on a playing career, during which he won two championship rings with the New York Knicks.


After receiving the degree, Jackson talked about his life since his days on campus, living up to one of his own nicknames -- the Zen master - by quoting, among others, the philoso-phers Plato and Soren Kierkegaard, the poet A. E. Housman, the singer Bob Dylan and Buddha.

"For the son of a minister, those college days were mind-opening," he said, and they set him on a life course that embraced meditation, spirituality and change. He spoke with pride of changes that have occurred in society, including civil rights and equality for minorities and women, because individuals and groups raised their voices and brought light to difficult issues.

And it is time, he suggested, for resolution of a nagging issue "in our own backyard," at UND.

He asked the university and its trustees, "What is to be gained by keeping the Fighting Sioux" name and logo, and what is to be lost by giving it up.

"We have a chance to do the right thing," Jackson said.

Earlier today, Jackson mingled with students at the UND Indian Center, where he was greeted by an honor song and received gifts -- a blanket, some sage and sweet grass and a beaded medallion in the Lakers' colors of purple and yellow.

"My wife, Deanna, was up till 4 a.m. making it," said B.J. Rainbow, president of the Indian students group, which has actively opposed retention of the Fighting Sioux nickname.

"He said we need to move on together" and somehow leave the divisive nickname issue behind, Rainbow said. "It was good to hear from someone of his stature, an alumnus."


Jackson was expected to speak to the nickname issue again during a 5 p.m. "Great Conversations" question-and-answer session today at Chester Fritz Auditorium.

Questions were submitted in advance by members of the public. Bob Boyd, a UND admin-istrator who was to deliver questions to Jackson, said that neither the university nor Jackson declared any subject off limits.

About 750, faculty and others heard Jackson speak at the earlier convocation, including Gov. John Hoeven, former Gov. Al Olson -- and at least one young man wearing a Michael Jordan No. 23 jersey. Jordan was one of the superstars Jackson coached and shaped into a team player at Chicago before moving on to Los Angeles and attempting the same with such stars as Kobe Bryant.

Olson said he was a counselor at Boys State when Jackson attended as a high school sen-ior, and UND Coach Bill Fitch asked for his help in getting Rugby, N.D., basketball star Paul Presthus to consider attending UND. Presthus indicated he was sold on going to Minnesota, Olson said, and he reported that to Fitch.

"He said, That's OK. I've got Phil Jackson.'"

Hoeven introduced Jackson and acted as first cheerleader. After the traditional, some-what formal academic opening to the convocation, with deans and other UND leaders marching into the auditorium in their academic robes, Hoeven strode to the microphone and hollered, "Let's make some serious noise for Coach Phil Jackson! Whaddya say?"

After a full minute of whoops, hollers, whistles and stamping of feet, the governor said, "You were just waiting to cut loose with that, weren't you?"

Hoeven said that Jackson deserved recognition not only for his athletic achievements but for his intelligence and his humanity.


"He is somebody who cares about people and takes the time to learn about them as indi-viduals so they can realize their potential," he said.

Hoeven presented Jackson with a North Dakota license plate, "LUV ND," to take back to Los Angeles.

Receiving the degree -- it was a reach for new UND President Robert Kelly and Dean Mar-tha Potvin to drape the doctor of letters hood around the still lanky honoree -- Jackson said he was humbled by "the wonderful honor."

Noting that it had been almost 20 years since he was last at UND, and 25 years since he last participated in a UND event (when he was named to the university's athletic hall of fame), Jackson said he remembered thinking "how quickly fame fleets." He couldn't have expected then, as his playing career was ending, that he would achieve even greater fame by coaching.

Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to chaga@gfherald.com .

What To Read Next
Get Local