BY CHAYIM TAUBER
Phil Jackson, “The Zen Master” and owner of 13 championship rings (11 as a coach and 2 as a player for the New York Knicks) has returned to his basketball roots in New York, this time taking on a new role of team president.
Jackson’s arrival brings the promise of change for the Knicks faithful: better times, better basketball and better management. Will it be so? Or will Jackson fall into the same abyss of prior regimes?
For the 40 minutes that Phil Jackson took center-stage at Madison Square Garden this morning, there was not a flicker of doubt as to who was in control. Jackson was composed, he was witty, and he was smart. He left himself a couple of open “emergency exits” should things fall apart with the Knicks when he cited his medical issues (that need attention in LA) and his familial obligations (most of whom reside in LA) and of course, how much he misses the weather already; but the overall tone of the press conference was one of change.
The dawning of a new era as Jackson instantly assuaged fears that the media freeze-out by Dolan and his administration would continue saying that he’ll “be accessible” and will have a “good and long relationship” with the New York media.
Jackson addressed several topics ranging from Mike Woodson (“a very good coach having a very bad year”) to Carmelo Anthony about whom he’s made comments in the past. Jackson stated that Carmelo is very much a part of the Knicks plans moving forward and that he’s someone that Jackson could win with.
Jackson confirmed that his deal was for 5 years and that the autonomy promised him by owner James Dolan was crucial in his decision to accept the roll: “I wouldn’t be here if not for that.”
Jackson doesn’t necessarily plan on implementing the vaunted triangle offense for which he’s most famous, but he does want there to be fluidity and teamwork. Ball movement, players cutting, crashing the glass and getting back defensively were all mentioned by Jackson as his version of what a basketball team should be doing and should look like.
“This is a franchise that developed an identity back in the ‘60s that was consistently playing team basketball for seven, eight years….The idea of developing a culture is an overwrought word in the NBA right now, but I think that’s the cache that brought me here,” Jackson said to the packed crowd.
Of course, in the past Jackson developed winning cultures as a head coach. Achieving this goal as a team president will be another matter entirely.
The most important takeaway from the press conference wasn’t said by Phil Jackson but rather, by Dolan. When asked if he was taking a step back and finally ceding control of the organization, Dolan chuckled and replied “willfully and gratefully.”
No words have ever sounded sweeter to Knicks fans who have vilified the owner for his habit of meddling in basketball affairs, to the extent that a rally/protest had been scheduled for tomorrow, March 19 outside of MSG to protest Dolan as an owner. Dolan went on to say that he is a businessman, not a basketball expert and that Jackson and GM Steve Mills were in fact the basketball experts.
All the right things were said. Everything Knicks fans could have wanted to see, they did.
Whether this is Dolan being on his best behavior while on his first date with the pretty girl he’d been courting or if this is actually the dawn of a new era is yet to be seen.
But that time has come. Dolan is no longer wooing Phil Jackson who in turn is no longer playing hard to get, while batting his lashes at the Lakers. The two are finally married – the hard part starts now.