13 rings. 11 as a coach and two as a player, both with this very franchise. It’s important that Phil Jackson has seen this city at it’s basketball pinnacle. He understands how thirsty New York is for an NBA championship, and what it’s like to be on top. Now, the Zen Master has come full circle, back in New York for a task taller than the Empire State Building.
Jackson could have had a cushy front office job in Los Angeles, where he would do no wrong for Jeanie Buss. Heck, he could’ve even picked the Detroit Pistons, who are lightyears ahead of New York’s rebuilding project. But Phil wanted New York. He wanted the challenge. He wanted to bring his Zen Philosophy to the Mecca. Even though it took a hefty paycheck to get him here, it’s clear that he wants to help the Knicks. It’s even clearer the Knicks need his help. It’s a match made in heaven.
But it was clear that Donnie Walsh and New York was a match made in heaven too. Walsh was born and raised in The Big Apple, and had decades of basketball expertise under his belt. However, none of that mattered when James Dolan wanted his way. Walsh spent close to three years devising a plan to help build New York into the NBA’s premier destination, only to have it torn down by the man upstairs. The owner needed to have Amar’e Stoudemire’s uninsured knees, even if it meant spending $100 million of the precious cap space that Walsh spent countless hours of manpower to get. The owner needed to pull the trigger on the then-largest trade in NBA history, just so he could have his precious superstar. The hiring of Phil Jackson really only matters if Dolan is willing to release his iron grip. For someone with a resume like Jackson has, something tells me he will.
There’s plenty of reason for skepticism about Phil. The Knicks have had legendary figures within the confines of Madison Square Garden before. The only forgettable season of Larry Brown’s Hall of Fame career came here in New York and Lenny Wilkens couldn’t last a full season with the Knicks, despite being the NBA’s most winningest coach at the time.
But Phil wasn’t brought here to coach, at least not initially. Jackson is expected to take on a Pat Riley-type role as President of Basketball Operations, but at this point, you would think he’s being made the Mayor of New York City. Let’s not anoint him the next coming just yet. Keep in mind that he’ll be learning on the fly at age 68, and given his health condition, he probably won’t be as hands on as we’ll all want him to be. Just because he’s trying to be like Riley, doesn’t mean he’ll automatically be able to attract guys like LeBron James, or pull off trades for the Shaquille O’Neals of the world. It does’t even mean that he’ll be able to retain Carmelo Anthony come July.
Still, it’s progress. Someone like Phil will give the organization some stability. If it’s someone that Dolan trusts, then Knicks fans should certainly have no problem trusting him too. There’s really no downside to having someone with 13 championship rings in your front office. Hiring Phil might not equate to immediate success, but at this point, it doesn’t hurt.