By Ed Harris
It’s official: Phil Jackson, aka “The Zen Master,” is officially a New York Knick. The tabloid-driven New York sports scene has just been given a gift – Jackson’s hiring as team president – that should keep on giving for quite some time.
Unless, that is, Jackson is fired by owner Chuck Dolan. It’s not as if this is Dolan’s first attempt to bring in a marquee name to revive a franchise, which is now 40 years removed from its last championship. Even the Israelites were allowed out of the desert after 40 years of wandering. Previous coaches during Dolan’s reign have included Hall of Famers Pat Riley, Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas. The wallet has been opened wide before.
Jackson’s exploits are well-known: 13 NBA championships, two as a player for the 1970s Knicks, and 11 as a coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Jackson’s coaching record is how he managed to win with such a veritable cast of nobodies. Only the most hardcore stats geek will have ever heard of obscure players such as Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Yet he took these lunch-bucket, blue-collar no-names all the way to the mountain top.
Less well-known are Jackson’s qualities as a professional colleague with his peers. Consider the comments of Jerry West about their relationship, or lack thereof, during their tenure with the Lakers. West is regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all-time, which would be resume enough for anyone. On top of that, the official logo of the NBA is based on his likeness. He is, literally, the embodiment of a professional basketball player.
This is what West had to say about Jackson, in his autobiography, “West by West”: “So one of the problems I had with Phil was this. His office was right near mine and when he would arrive in the morning, he would walk right past and never even bother to wave or duck his head in to say hello … Phil and I had no relationship. None. He didn’t want me around and had absolutely no respect for me – of that, I have no doubt.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Jackson successfully transitioned from player to coach. Now, at age 68 no less, attempting yet another transition, to team executive. His primary role is to hire a coach and evaluate playing talent. Is he up to the job? Does a man who – according to West – would not even begrudgingly say good morning to a co-worker who just happened to be a basketball legend, have what it takes to manage a front office?
Meanwhile, behind everything, sits an all-powerful owner. When Hosni Mubarak was in his final days as president and dictator of Egypt, he offered to step down, but reserve the power to resume his presidency. In other words, “I’ll keep control, but won’t meddle in day-to-day stuff, unless I feel I need to.”
Dolan has offered to do the same. Except, unlike Egypt, there is no military capable of deposing him. Should he decide to cashier Jackson, nothing will stand in his way.
Based on my own personal history as a Knicks fan growing up, I wish Jackson well. One of the greatest regrets of my childhood is that the Friday night of my Bar Mitzvah took place on the evening in which the Knicks defeated the Lakers in the seventh and deciding game of their epic 1970 NBA Final Series. I was leading prayers in a suburban New Jersey synagogue, while a one-hour ride away the fans in Madison Square Garden were celebrating the greatest game in franchise history.
May some future Jewish New York lad of tender age have the same experience again. Why should I be the only deprived kid?
Local indie author Ed Harris, who lives in Bellevue, was born in the Bronx and grew up in New Jersey. His rooting interests included the New York Knicks, Yankees and Giants. He moved to Seattle in 1990, drawn by the over-priced coffee and beauty of the Northwest, which he observes on a daily basis from the climate-controlled comfort of his home and car. Although 56 and bald, he once sported an ‘fro so thick and lush you could lose your hand in it. Write to Ed Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, “Fizz-Ed” at: www.edharrisauthor.com
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