‘Coach Jackson Needs You to Be a Sacrificial Person Sometimes’

The first time I heard the phrase “sacrificial person,” I was in a college dorm room with my best friend, who happened to be an avid fan of the Cincinnati Bengals. We were watching a game on TV, and former Bengal coach Marvin Lewis said something along the lines of “I need you to be a sacrificial person sometimes.”

Getting off the dance floor and going to the balcony meaning is a quote that is taken from Coach Jackson Needs You to Be a Sacrificial Person Sometimes.

Phil Jackson, the former head coach of the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers, wasn’t hesitant to set his players against one another or to demonize members of his squad if he thought it would ultimately bring the club together. Horace Grant, a former Bulls power forward, was one of them.

As a motivating tool, Jackson noted, previous Bulls teams tried to blame their flaws on Grant. Grant’s desire to be the fall man may have contributed to his developing enmity with Michael Jordan.

Horace Grant was created a “sacrificial” figure by Phil Jackson and the Bulls in order to bring the squad together.


During his coaching career, Phil Jackson used several unusual techniques. Jackson never shied away from unconventional tactics in the quest of team success, whether it was spraying sage in the locker room or causing media controversy.

When Jackson initially took over the Bulls, his motivating strategies were equally intriguing.

In a 2012 interview with Positive Coaching Alliance, the 11-time champion recounted a tale about Horace Grant. One of Jackson’s assistant coaches basically exploited Grant’s love for the Marine Corps as a way of recommending he be used as a scapegoat when the squad wasn’t performing, according to Jackson.

“I believe Coach Jackson requires you to be the sacrificing guy at times, and when the team is struggling, he will lean on you to assist the squad become motivated.”

-Phil Jackson (2012), remembering a discussion with former Bull Horace Grant, his assistant.

According to Jackson, Grant originally approved of this strategy. Years of harsh criticism, on the other hand, had taken their toll on the Bulls’ power forward.

Grant eventually broke, according to Jackson, during a playoff series in which he had to defend Charles Barkley. That experience prompted Jackson to alter his approach with Grant and utilize positive reinforcement to improve the big man’s confidence, according to Jackson.

In the early 1990s, the blaming may have acted as a rallying cry for the Bulls dynasty. However, it’s easy to understand why Grant was frustrated by the continuous criticism around him, particularly when it came to Michael Jordan.

Michael Jordan and Horace Grant’s rivalry is still apparent.

The publication of ESPN’s The Last Dance, as well as the subsequent debate, heightened the perception of Horace Grant as a scapegoat for the Bulls. It also alluded to the strained relationship between Grant and Michael Jordan.

Jordan said Grant was the one who provided team information to former Chicago Tribune reporter Sam Smith, which became public knowledge when Smith’s book, The Jordan Rules, was published. Grant was unhappy about being in MJ’s shadow, according to several Bulls players, notably Will Perdue.

Grant denied giving Smith any information. He then went off on Jordan, implying that he could have pounded the Bulls’ star in a physical fight. Meanwhile, Smith added fuel to the flames by claiming Jordan wouldn’t let Grant eat after a poor game.

The relationship between MJ and The Enforcer is complex, and much of it seems to come from everyone — particularly Jordan — pointing fingers at Grant all the time.

Phil Jackson could have probably done more to intercede. However, it’s probable that the Zen Master believed that internal strife would ultimately pay off. The books of history would back him up.

Grant was a key member of the Bulls’ success, and he subsequently joined Jackson in Los Angeles.

Left to Right: Former Bulls head coach Phil Jackson holds up the NBA Coach of the Year trophy and Horace Grant makes a move during a game in December 1993

Left to Right: Former Bulls head coach Phil Jackson holds up the NBA Coach of the Year trophy and Horace Grant makes a move during a game in December 1993 Left to Right: Vincent Laforet/AFP via Getty Images | Phil Jackson (L) and Horace Grant (R) Doug Collier/AFP via Getty Images and Doug Collier/AFP via Getty Images

It’s debatable whether Horace Grant merited such a penalty. However, it is undeniable that he was an integral part of the Bulls’ success.

Grant was a hard worker who provided Chicago with a much-needed frontcourt presence. Between the Bulls’ first championship (in 1991) and the 1993-94 season, when he made his lone All-Star team, he averaged 13.8 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.2 blocks. In Chicago, the Augusta, Georgia native was named to two All-Defensive teams.

Grant’s greatest years were spent with the Bulls and the Orlando Magic, but he wasn’t through with Jackson. Grant began his career as a power forward with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000-01, when he won his fourth and last title. That season also marked the beginning of Jackson’s emphasis on agitating the rivalry between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.

As the two superstars of the Chicago Bulls teams of the 1990s, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen deserve the bulk of the credit. Grant’s blue-collar effort and hard-nosed approach, though, are unlikely to help Chicago win.

Phil Jackson’s tactics needed to be changed, and Grant’s dissatisfaction with being made a scapegoat is still present today. Winning, however, speaks for itself, and the Jackson-Grant collaboration produced a slew of good outcomes.

Basketball Reference provided the statistics.

RELATED: Phil Jackson Revealed How Much Kobe Bryant’s Lakers Teammates Wanted Him Out: ‘Kobe was a Juvenile Narcissist,’ says one source.

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