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Former UND teammates recall Phil Jackson as a two-sport star

Phil Jackson delivers a pitch during his UND career in the mid-1960s. Photo courtesy of UND Athletics

GRAND FORKS—Supporters of University of North Dakota athletics remember Phil Jackson as the school's most prominent basketball alum.

Jackson, who was awarded the Sioux Award on Thursday night, Sept. 20, at the Alerus Center, played for the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets and coached the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers before serving as the Knicks' team president.

A pair of multi-sport UND teammates, however, remember the wild-throwing, lanky left-hander from Williston who played at the old, then-isolated UND baseball field.

"What was so hard is he was a lefty and his arm was outrageously long," UND basketball and baseball teammate Alex Cooley said. "You almost had to hit his hand if you swung at it. It was hard to detect coming from him."

The 6-foot-8 Jackson played baseball for the Fighting Sioux in 1965 and 1966.

"I was a left-handed hitter, and he was a left-handed pitcher, so you had to hang loose when you were up at the plate," former UND baseball and basketball teammate Jerry Schultz said. "He was a little wild."

Jackson threw six complete games in 1966, tied for eighth all-time at UND. He also recorded a pair of complete-game shutouts in 1966.

Jackson led the team in wins (five), earned-run average (2.30) and strikeouts (51) in 1965.

In 1966, he led the team in complete games (six) and strikeouts (74).

In 1966, UND played a non-conference game against Texas—losing 16-0.

"Phil started, and he got shelled," Cooley said. "I came in in relief, and I didn't do much better."

Cooley, a Grand Forks native who mostly lives in Phoenix now, used to go to NBA games in Arizona when Jackson was a coach. Jackson would leave tickets at the arena for his old teammate.

"I was able to get together after the games," Cooley said. "He was always the same guy through playing and coaching. He was very friendly and wanting to find out about mutual friends. He never got to be too standoffish."

Schultz, who now lives in Wheaton, Minn., says UND basketball teammates of Jackson used to gather in Chicago for reunions, but he hasn't been in touch with Jackson since he left Chicago for Los Angeles.

After college, Cooley was selected by Oakland in the Major League Baseball draft, while Schultz was picked by the New York Yankees.

Jackson, on the other hand, didn't play his final year of baseball at UND to concentrate on basketball.

"He probably made the right choice there," Cooley said.

Jackson was drafted as a second-round pick (17th overall) by the Knicks after graduating from UND in 1967. He played for the Knicks and Nets for 13 years, winning an NBA title with the Knicks in 1972-73.

As a coach, he led the Bulls to six NBA championships between 1989 and 1998. He then coached the Lakers, who won five championships with Jackson at the helm from 2000 to 2010.

The fastest coach in NBA history to 900 wins, Jackson led the Bulls to the best record in league history at 72-10 and was Coach of the Year in 1996.

Jackson was elected into the UND Athletic Hall of Fame in 1981 and enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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