Phil Jackson looked extremely comfortable and relaxed as he sat in a tall chair on the dais next to Knicks owner James Dolan where Jackson was introduced as the new team president during a press conference at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday morning.
After months of negotiations and cajoling from Dolan and super agent Irving Azoff, the 68-year-old Jackson ended a two-year NBA hiatus and brought his winning credentials (11 NBA championships as a coach in Chicago and Los Angeles, and two as a player with the Knicks in the 1970s) to help rebuild a franchise that is in shambles.
“There’s no better place to win than New York City. It’s special,’’ Jackson said. “I can think of no better opportunity than I’ve had in three of the biggest cities in America…than to now come back where I started it all.’’
Yes, this is so important Jackson is uprooting from his Los Angeles beachfront home to take up residence in New York to make it work, leaving behind the sand, the surf, and the sunshine for the grit, grime and the hustle of the Big Apple. He’s also leaving behind his fiancée, Jeannie Buss, who runs the LA Lakers, his four children and eight grandchildren to take on the rigors of reconstructing an NBA franchise.
If it works, it will be one of the greatest rebuilding projects since the Marshall Plan in Europe following World War II.
“It would be a pinnacle. It would be a capstone on a very remarkable career that I’ve had,’’ Jackson said.
If you’re going to dream, you might as well dream big.
Jackson, who looked out at a packed audience that included a mass of media and some of his Knicks teammates from his championship playing days, talked about his motivation for returning, how he would get along with Dolan, who has been known as a meddling owner, and Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks impetus superstar scorer.
He hit all the high points and with a soothing, reassuring voice Jackson put all the Knicks fed up fans at ease that he is the man to take the Knicks back to championship prominence.
Dolan said that he met Jackson at a party that Azoff threw at his home last November and he talked with Jackson for hours. After that conversation they decided to meet again to figure out how Jackson might be able to help the Knicks. Apparently Jackson made it clear early in that conversation that he had no interest in returning to coaching. Azoff brokered the deal between to have Jackson run the team.
The Knicks owner made it sound like Jackson had taken the weight of the world off his shoulders. He said Jackson has full control of all basketball operations and that he has willingly ceded control of the team.
When Dolan was asked about how difficult it was for him to give up control of the team to Jackson, he said, “Willingly and gratefully, yeah.’’
“I am by no means an expert in basketball,’’ Dolan said. “My expertise comes in managing businesses and companies. I’m a little out of my element in managing the team. As the chairman of the company at times I’ve felt an obligation to step in and help out. My whole job is about supporting them (Jackson and General Manager Steve Mills) in winning a championship. That’s a bit easier than what I had to do in the past.’’
That is excellent news for Jackson, if Dolan can indeed stay in the background.
Jackson, the Zen Master, will need to maintain all that calm and peace that he displayed at the press conference because he has stepped into the biggest three ring circus in New York City. He will be juggling chainsaws for the duration of that five year contract that he signed last week. Here is the triple threat: Dolan, the New York media and Carmelo Anthony. They will be a constant in whatever strategy that Jackson will deploy and will have a direct impact on his success.
The good news for Jackson is that he has a championship resume that will give him a solid three years with which to work before any criticism even touches him. There is a reason that managers of sports teams sign five year deals.
The Knicks management, taking its cues from Dolan, have been notoriously tight lipped with the media. Jackson, who likes to engage with the media, said that he isn’t going to change. He said he is going to be accessible to the media and that he will share as much information as possible.
“I hate prevaricators,’’ Jackson said. “I’m gonna not lie as president.’’
Jackson said he will be closely watching the Knicks, who have won six straight games and are making a push for the final spot in the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. He wants to see which players are willing to buy into his team-first philosophy.
It would appear that a player like Anthony, one of the best isolation players in the NBA, might not fit into that mold. But Jackson said Anthony fits solidly in whatever future plans he has with the team.
“Carmelo has had a scoring load to carry this season and he’s remarkable with that,’’ Jackson said. “He showed in the last Olympics, coming off the bench and playing a role and scoring, he showed that he can play a role if asked to play a role. I think that’s what players want to do. Carmelo will be fine. I see no problem with it.’’
Jackson has never worked in the front office of an NBA team, but he feels like he can make it work.
“This is an opportunity not as a possible failure chance,’’ Jackson said. “I think it’s a wonder opportunity to do something I love which is to be with a basketball team and create a team that loves to be with each other and play with each other.’’