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PHIL'S POSSE ON THE CROWDED LAKERS BENCH SITS THE BRAIN TRUST JACKSON LEANS HEAVILY ON IN HOPES OF GAINING A COMPETITIVE EDGE.

Byline: VINCENT BONSIGNORE

Staff WRITE

When Lakers coach Phil Jackson was playing for the New York Knicks championship team in 1973, the Knicks bench consisted of 12 players, head coach Red Holzman and trainer Danny Whalen.

My, how things have changed.

When Jackson and the Lakers take their seats tonight for Game 4 of the NBA Finals, they'll be joined by three assistant coaches and team trainer Gary Vitti.

But that's only half the story. Directly behind Jackson and his players -- and right in front of the paying fans -- sits another group of team personnel, ranging from special assistants and equipment managers to doctors, gurus, strength and conditioning experts, athletic performance directors and athletic performance coordinators.

So many specialists, so little space.

So many, in fact, that when the Daily News tried to take a photo of the entire support group sitting behind the Lakers bench, it couldn't fit everyone in the lens.

It's just another example of how professional sports keeps getting bigger and more specialized.

As overdone as it may seem, everyone has a role in the Lakers quest for the NBA title, albeit it most work behind the scenes.

Jackson is notorious for leaning heavily on his assistants, assigning each a group of opposing teams to scout and analyze in the hope of gleaning some sort of competitive edge. No surprise, then, that he has more coaches than seats to accommodate them on the actual bench.

He's also loyal, which is why so many staff members followed him to Los Angeles after working with him to Chicago. Assistants Jim Cleamons and Frank Hamblen, and athletic performance director Chip Schaeffer all worked with Jackson in Chicago, as did offensive guru Tex Winter, the godfather of Jackson's triangle offense.

Lastly, he's a proactive thinker, which is why he was open to the idea of bringing in Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a special assistant to work with the Lakers big men.

Specifically Andrew Bynum, who Abdul-Jabbar has worked extensively with since Bynum joined the team three years ago directly out of high school.

Put it all together and you have a support staff fit for a champion.

vincent.bonsignore@dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

5 photos, box

Photo:

(1 - color) Lakers coach Phil Jackson call the shots during Game 3 of the NBA Finals surrounded by (front row, from left) Brian Shaw, Kurt Rambis, Frank Hambien, Gary Vitti, (back row, from left) Tex Winter, Chip Schaeffer, Jim Cleamons and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. For a description of each one's role, go to page. 6

Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer

(2 -- color) Kobe Bryant talks with Tex Winter.

(3 -- color) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar instructs Andrew Bynum.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

(4 -- color) Pau Gasol listens to assistant coach Kurt Rambis.

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

(5) no caption (Phil Jackson and the rest of the Lakers' coaching staff)

Photo/Box:

THE GUYS BEHIND THE GUY
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 12, 2008
Words:487
Previous Article:WOLF DEVOURS DODGERS MLB: PADRES LEFT-HANDER SHUTS DOWN FORMER TEAM FOR SEVEN INNINGS. SAN DIEGO 4, DODGERS 1.
Next Article:ALL EYES WILL BE ON PHIL, TIGER GOLF: TOP TWO PLAYERS PAIRED FOR FIRST TWO ROUNDS OF U.S. OPEN.


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