Phil Jackson has 13 NBA Championship rings (as a player and coach). He is known as the Zen Master. He was selected in 1967 by the New York Knicks in the second round. He was the sixth man on the New York Knicks 1973 championship (he did not play for their 1969-1970 season because of an injury, but was still on the roster for that championship too). He was Michael Jordan’s coach for all six of his championships. He managed the egos of Shaquille O’Neil and Kobe Bryant on the way to back-to-back-to-back championships for the Los Angeles Lakers. He won two more championships with Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. Now, the Zen Master, Phil Jackson, re-joins the New York Knicks and was officially introduced to the media as their team president.
James Dolan, the egotistical and hardheaded owner of the Knicks described the announcement as a historic moment in New York Knicks history. Dolan noted that it has been a disappointing season, not only for the fans, but also for himself; he has a habit of saying this year in and year out. One year removed from making the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s number two seed, the Knicks find themselves in a similar spot this year, on the outskirts of the playoff picture. But the new hiring is nothing but positive, no one else in league history has had more success running a team.
James Dolan said that the Zen Master would be in charge of all basketball decisions. This is a great thing to hear for all Knicks fans as they’ve watched their owner shoot down decisions on personal and make his own ill-advised, bull-headed decisions to the chagrin of fans. After Dolan gave his opening remarks, Phil Jackson, speaking for the first time as new team president, made a statement and answered questions from the media. From the start he made it clear he is not going to change his ways, only the Knicks. He talked candidly, stating it is important for the Knicks to build a team, even doling out a, there is no ‘I’ in team. He mentioned past championships, which is a sticking point with fans and a selling point for the organization. A team game was stressed, many times, and he intends to change the offense, perhaps to his famed triangle offense. The Zen Master wants the offensive system to follows a list of basketball fundamentals that he gave to owner James Dolan; his secret recipe for success perhaps? For Knicks fans, all of these points are welcomed remarks. There were many questions as to how much involvement their new president will have. From the get-go, it seems Phil Jackson will be running the Knicks similar to the way Pat Riley has run the Miami Heat, which is to win championships.
Jackson also informed media members that there will be closed walls, which comes as no surprise since the Hall of Fame coach is known to hold his cards close. Almost like a, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours kind of way, he asked for the media’s support, saying he will try his best to work with them when he can and asked that the fans and media create a positive environment for the Knicks to play in. This is an interesting point because the New York media is notorious for swaying their opinions between praising or crucifying as simple as the wind blows. New York Knicks fans are just as polarizing, known to cheer till their heart’s content one night, and mercilessly boo the next. Now officially introduced as team president, Phil Jackson will have to learn to navigate the tough New York media and Knicks fans. He is expected to achieve a lot, and the fans will have no problem letting him know if he is not up to par.
Jackson also said he is looking forward to working with the Knicks head coach, Mike Woodson, and hopes that the team makes the playoffs. Woodson has had a tough season but he did turn the team into a contender after taking the reigns from Mike D’Antoni. His job is safe for the rest of the year, but the two will talk after the season. If Knicks don’t make the playoffs Woodson’s coaching days in New York are sure to be done. If he can get the Knicks on a run like the Brooklyn Nets, then he may be safe for another year. There has also been a lot of talk surrounding TNT analyst Steve Kerr whom Jackson has expressed interest in bringing in as coach. He coached Kerr on the Chicago Bulls. This is just another question to be answered in, what expects to be, an exciting off-season.
The new team president talked at length about team personal. With regards to Carmelo Anthony, by far the Knicks best player, Jackson said there is no doubt that he will be part of the Knicks future plans and that he is committed to him, saying he believes he has another level to reach. This is welcome news considering Anthony is the best thing going for the Knicks right now. The Zen Master believes Anthony will have no problem playing his role when a new system is instituted. Anthony came off the bench for Team USA Basketball in the last Olympics, something he normally doesn’t do, but excelled at. It would be a shock if he became the Knicks sixth-man and that is not what was implied (he’s under contract to make $25 million next year). Rather, it shows that Jackson has faith that Carmelo can excel in any role he asked to play. In regards to the rest of the team, Jackson isn’t expected to make any immediate changes, but will be watching to see who plays well together and go from there. He did mention that he wants to build a team that plays consistently well on a night-to-night basis and wants to add another scorer to play alongside Anthony. He frequently alluded to an extra emphasis on team play and less on individual statistics and selfish play, something fans have complained about in the past.
The Zen Master was very pleasant in the news conference as well. When asked if it will be difficult moving to New York he said yes, because it was 80 degrees in Los Angeles and 30 in New York; this received a laugh from the media. He then said there is an energy in New York, one that he enjoys and hopes that the players feed off of. These types of remarks are a welcome sight as most New York coaches don’t handle the media with such grace. This only further supports his nickname as Zen Master. He’s been given a five year contract and said if he can bring the Knicks back to their days of glory it will be a cap stone on his remarkable career. He’s already proved he can be part of a team that wins championships, as well as coach championship teams. Success in New York would make it a hat trick for Jackson, if he delivers.
It’s been 41 years since the New York Knicks have won a championship. Since, they’ve made the finals twice with Patrick Ewing, arguably the best Knick ever, but never won. New York fans have suffered through years of terrible teams built by team presidents who were routinely run out-of-town after their poor decisions. There was the Isiah Thomas and Stephon Marbury years, often referred to as the dark days for Knicks fans. Then the rebuilding years where the Knicks traded big name players like children trade pieces of candy. In 2010 Amare Stoudemire joined the team and later that year they traded for Carmelo Anthony. They made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and their first winning season since 2000. The team continued to trend positively last season when the Knicks were a number two seed in the Eastern Conference, but failed to get past the second round. Unfortunately for Knicks fans, one year later they are back to their old ways.
Though Jackson has a penchant for turning teams around and making the impossible a reality, his new position will be no simple task. Knicks owner James Dolan said he is willing and grateful to pass over the reigns of the team. That sounds fine and well, but when the two disagree on a player or contract, which is sure to happen, will Dolan stick to his remarks or regress back to his usual self? Either way, as history has shown, team presidents have been newly introduced for the New York Knicks about every five years, the exact length of Phil Jackson’s contract. Is that a bad omen, or just coincidence? Only time will tell.
Commentary by Chris Dragicevich
New York Knicks Press Conference