Early into his first day on the job as president of the Knicks, Phil Jackson took raised measures to assure New York fans the one thing an entire generation of them seems to crave most was surely forthcoming.
An enchanted crowd played to Jackson’s every word and the legendary coach couldn’t have been any more spellbinding if he had walked into The Garden wearing 11 rings—make that 13— draped across his one, mighty finger.
“There’s no better place to win than New York City,” said the man who’s done it as he’s now being asked to do again from Chicago to L.A. “I can think of no better opportunity than the opportunities that I’ve had, three of the biggest cities and basketball franchises (Jackson also won two titles with the Knicks as a player) and now to come back where I started. It’s a great feeling.”
Over the next five years, at $12 million per, Jackson will be entrusted with restoring arguably the league’s most storied franchise. But if recent Knicks’ history is any indication of the job he faces, one can easily argue the point the most decorated coach of his generation well may have undersold himself.
Jackson is slated to have complete autonomy and full control of all basketball decisions, but then you don’t need Larry Brown to tell you what’s often said of the Knicks’ plans and what actually comes to be can quickly deteriorate into polar opposites, particularly whenever meddlesome owner James Dolan seems to involve himself.
For sure, Dolan made certain to say all the right things in what the franchise hopes will soon come to signify the organization’s defining moment of the still evolving new millennium.
“I am by no means an expert in basketball,” said Dolan. “I’m a fan, but my expertise lies in managing companies and new businesses. So I think I’m a little out of my element when it comes to the team. I’ve found myself in a position where I’ve needed to be more a part of the decision-making for a while. It wasn’t something necessarily that I wanted to do. But as chairman of the company, I felt obligated to do it.”
But there’s a price for ineptitude, and the Knicks have already paid dearly, subjected themselves to a cost so steep some even think Jackson may now be putting his own sterling reputation on the line in simply trying to dig the franchise from its abyss. On Tuesday, Jackson fielded question after question about what the Knicks falling short of the lofty goals he holds for them might do to his legacy.
“I think that this is an opportunity, and that’s what I look at it as, not as a possible failure chance,” said the man who has coached his teams to more career playoff victories (268) than the Knicks have earned in their 68-year history (186). “It’s just a wonderful opportunity to do something that I love, and that’s be with a basketball team, hopefully create a team that loves each other and plays with each other.”
If not the first order of business, certainly the most pressing figures to be what to do with All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony. The league’ No. 2 scorer can become a free-agent this summer and heretofore has given every indication he plans to take full-advantage of his potentially career-changing opportunity.
But that was before Phil Jackson came on board, before he declared for all to hear that “I have no problems with committing to saying Carmelo is in the future plans,” words that surely had to ring as music to Anthony’s ears.
Phil Jackson commands such respect and attention. Somehow, someway, the long floundering Knicks now hope to soon be cut from that same dominating image.