Today, it became official. Phil Jackson is the new President of the New York Knicks. Jackson signed a five year, $60 million contract.
This story has been percolating for about a week now. I have a colleague who is a big L.A. Lakers fan. (He also roots for the Yankees, but yet thrives in Boston.) He made the case that Jackson was using the Knicks as leverage against the Lakers. His longtime girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, is President of the Lakers. But if Jackson wanted back in I don’t think he would have needed to use the Knicks as leverage. Alas, this theory was wishful thinking on the part of Lakers fans.
No, Jackson wants another challenge. He wants to conquer Everest and in the NBA that is the Knicks. The Knicks haven’t won the NBA title in over 40 years. The last Knicks team to go all the way included future U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, Willis Reed, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Henry Bibby and, of course, Phil Jackson. The only New York based sports team that has endured a longer championship drought is the Jets in the NFL.
Although, the Knicks did reach the NBA playoffs three seasons in a row, they have been a largely underachieving team over the past decade with the team going through the likes of Isiah Thomas, Larry Brown, and Mike D’Antoni despite flashes of greatness as witnessed during Linsanity two years ago. With the Nets having moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn this season, the Knicks aren’t the only game in town anymore. The Knicks needed to make a big splash and getting the coach with more NBA championships than anyone else will certainly do it. Jackson has won 11 NBA championships as a head coach — six with the Chicago Bulls and five with the Lakers.
Of course, there are two big questions: Will Carmelo Anthony remain a Knick? Will Mike Woodson remain as head coach? If you asked me a week ago, I would have said no and no. But from the moment Jackson’s name surfaced, a fire has been lit under the Knicks. They have won a season high six games in a row. The Knicks are only four and a half games back of the Atlanta Hawks for the eighth seed in the NBA Eastern Conference playoff hunt with 15 games left to play. The only problem is the Hawks have won five in a row. A playoff appearance this season is unlikely, but a strong finish might be enough to prevent Jackson from rebuilding the team from scratch.
Well, according to Stephen A. Smith, Melo isn’t interested in working with Jackson and will probably leave New York as a free agent. If the Knicks continue to play well, I think Woodson might have bought himself a reprieve. But Jackson’s Zen might not transmit through the executive suites. Sooner or later, Jackson is going to name himself head coach. Is there a better candidate out there? Yes, he had prostate cancer and he’s nearing 70. But he’s hungry again and somehow I don’t think being President of the Knicks will satisfy that hunger. This hunger will only be satiated if he steps back on the hardwood.