He said goodbye in May of 2011 with a wry smile, not a tear. Whatever emotion Phil Jackson had on the day he officially retired as the Los Angeles Lakers coach had long since been felt. His last words were ones of gratitude, not nostalgia.
"I said what I wanted to say, so I don't want to belabor this at all," Jackson said then to the assembled media at the Lakers' training facility. "Just wanted to come down and thank the L.A. fans. The Laker fans particularly have been generous to me. When I first came here they thanked me for coming to L.A. I hope they thank me for leaving."
Three years have passed since that day, and until he finally signed on to be the new president of the New York Knicks, it never really felt like Jackson had left.
Over the past three years, he's been neither coach nor consultant. His fiancée, Jeanie Buss, is the one still receiving Laker paychecks, not him. But in his absence, Jackson's presence has only grown larger among the Lakers and their fans. By remaining in the shadows, his enormous shadow has hung over the franchise.
People got used to it that way. It was comforting to know Jackson was still there, close by. Just a tweet away. That also made it hard for other things to grow, but it was better than the alternative.
When legendary owner Dr. Jerry Buss passed away last February, Jackson was still the one subsuming that patriarchal role in this very strange, dysfunctional saga. The Lakers and their fans never really had to stare into the abyss in front of them.
Now they do. That it took a full week for Jackson to formally sign on as the Knicks president after word of their serious mutual interest leaked only prolonged the torture for Laker fans.
They don't want to say goodbye. This does not feel good. There is no relief now that it's finally over.
There is a whole lot of anger and desperation and hurt. There will be for a while. Most of it will be directed at executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss, who was positioned by his father's last will and testament to become the reason there is no room in Lakerland to give Jackson the kind of power and influence he has been promised with the Knicks.
The rest will be scattered into the cosmos.
There are a number of theories as to why Dr. Buss set things up the way he did for his six children. He could've chosen one of them as king or queen. He could've looked outside the family for a conservator of the flame. Magic Johnson or Jerry West or Jackson would've gladly accepted.
Instead he told them to work together. That plan had been discussed in detail with the Buss children for many years. There were no surprises at the end. This was always how it was going to be.
Palace courtiers couldn't help but wonder how long that arrangement would last. Would one sibling stage a coup? Would the others be forced to choose sides? Maybe that's what Dr. Buss actually wanted to happen. He couldn't, as a father, choose any one of his children above the others so he constructed a framework to encourage ruthlessness. The Lakers should be taken, not inherited.
It's a great theory. Full of intrigue and written like a "Game of Thrones" script.