The Tao of Luke: A coaching style built by championship mentors

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Updated: December 7, 2017

10:01 AM ET

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — There are times when Rob Pelinka will walk down the hallway from his office at the UCLA Health Training Center, past Magic Johnson’s office, where a flat-screen television is almost always tuned to sports shows, and down to Luke Walton‘s office.

Sometimes, the sounds of the Grateful Dead and other ’70s classic rock will be blaring out of the head coach’s office as Walton gets “in the zone.” Other times, Pelinka will find the room as quiet as a library, with Walton deep in meditation.

“I usually keep going when I see that,” the Los Angeles Lakers’ general manager said, laughing. “Man, I keep it moving. I wait until he is back in the present.”

Luke Walton’s present, however, is deeply connected to his past and to a collection of champions who had the most influence on his life: From his father, Hall of Famer Bill Walton, to his longtime coach and mentor, 11-time champion Phil Jackson, to the first boss of his coaching career, Steve Kerr, who collected five rings as a player and already has two more with the Warriors.

It takes a certain type of unflappable personality to handle coaching in the entertainment capital of the world with a point guard who has Hollywood-sized hype and comes with the most opinionated father in all of sports. Perhaps the type of even-keeled personality that has been molded by Walton’s eclectic championship collection of mentors.


JEANIE BUSS POPS her head into an early October practice and finds Walton gathering his team at the center of the court to discuss the shooting in Las Vegas that took 58 lives just days before the Lakers are set to play a preseason game there.

The Lakers’ owner watches the team meeting and sees Jackson’s Zen fingerprints all over it.

“[Jackson] knew that Luke was going to be somebody that would be a great coach,” Buss said at the espnW: Women + Sports Summit in early October. “So now because of that relationship, he was talking to them about the emotions that people were feeling, and he was encouraging them to share how they were feeling.

“I thought this is like a touch of something that Phil brought to him, and I was so proud of what he was doing with these young men.”

During the 2009-10 season, Walton was limited to 29 games because of a back injury and felt like he wasn’t part of a Lakers team that was coming off a championship and on its way to another one.

“I was lost,” he said.