Heavens open | VailDaily.com

Heavens open

Don Rogers

The storm might have been the star of the event. It came and went while the main attraction, Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson, struggled to be heard over the jack hammer rain, thunder and tent whipping at 4Eagle Ranch Friday night.Then, the instant Jackson gave way to Pat Hamilton to sing, the beast went quiet, providing only light percussion to her guitar and voice for John Lennon’s “Imagine.””Imagine no heaven. Above us only sky.” Yeah right. Seems the heavens had just finished opening up on Jackson. No matter. A lot of wallets have opened, too, for Swift Eagle, a new charitable foundation that already has helped Eagle County residents in need. Sponsorships for the evening from businesses, banks, Tom Bakhus by donating 4Eagle’s services. The several hundred people who paid $100 each to be there. Ginn Clubs & Resorts, who bought tickets for 50 high school athletes and coaches. Jackson, who spoke without his usual fee to a crowd that included best friends from his high school basketball team and teammate Dave Haakenson’s 94-year-old mother in from North Dakota.Actually, I enjoyed the rising storm during Jackson’s talk, considering that much of it dealt with Native Americans. He spoke a lot about eagles swooping, sweat lodges, vision quests, naming ceremonies, and the legendary dog soldiers who staked themselves out during attack to try to allow the rest of camp to escape while they made their last stands. Giving their all for their community. You can’t out-give an Indian, Jackson noted.We’re all related, he said, in this great human family with our nearly identical gene pool. This close in time to Katrina, the weather was making a similar point. Our troubles here may seem small on the grand scale, but we do have them, too. Some are as serious for individuals in Eagle County as anyone in New Orleans, although obviously the suffering there is much wider spread. But so is the current tide of help. The tent roof whipped, the thunder boomed and the rain beat hard. I got the message.A group of friends who have lived here for decades came up with the idea for a local charitable foundation named Swift Eagle. They all had invested in a treasure hunt years ago, which led to a vivid dream Haakenson had about finding the loot, which led eventually to the friends deciding to start the foundation regardless of the treasure. Jackson, Haakenson’s friend since the sixth grade in North Dakota, agreed to serve as honorary chairman and speak to help raise funds. In too short of summary, that’s how Jackson came to be competing Friday night with one loud thunderstorm. Impressions of the coach? Naturally, lots and lots of people sought his hand and his ear, and he seemed patient with all. When we met and chatted for a few minutes, he paid a lot more attention to my 17-year-old son, Ben, than me. No faster way to a father’s heart than focusing on his offspring. Later I opened Jackson’s latest book, “The Last Season: A team in search of its soul,” and found a photo of the coach giving a press conference with his grown children standing behind him. One’s name is Ben, with the same long blondish curly hair, hint of a goatee, and a familiar faraway expression I sometimes see on my son’s face. Looks pretty short compared to his dad, too. If not dead ringers for each other, these two Bens at least look related.This is a fan’s presumption, since of course I don’t know the guy at all. But I’ve always felt kindred to Jackson. Surely a large part of it is pure obsession for basketball. And no doubt we all like to associate ourselves with winners. My family and I lived near Chicago during most of the Bulls’ run of six NBA championships, and I never could shake off my childhood team of teams, the Lakers, who won three in a row under Jackson. Hard not to like all that. But I also appreciate his influence on how his teams play the game, win or lose – defense first, pros playing (almost) college-like in a ball-sharing offense. I share many of his ideas about leadership. I admire his calm when even we mere fans are chewing our fingers clear down to knuckle bone. He – sometimes alone – seems to understand full well it’s a game. Iraq and New Orleans and the people whom Swift Eagle will help, those are the realities worthy of our worry. I liked how he hugged his friend Haakenson near the podium before fighting with the thunder and torrent and turbulence to speak to us. That alone told me everything I needed to know about the guy. Eagle County has a friend in Phil Jackson.Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado