On Tuesday morning, Phil Jackson returned to the scene of his first success in the NBA, Madison Square Garden. The 68 year-old former player and coach was present for a press conference in which it was announced that he signed a 5 year contract to be the President of the New York Knicks.
Named to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame several years ago, Jackson has compiled one of the most impressive marks in NBA history. He has the highest winning percentage of any NBA coach, .704, and his teams have won a record 11 NBA titles.
Jackson was also part of the two championship years of the New York franchise, 1970 and 1973, as a player. As a reminder of those highly respected teams, teammates Walt “Clyde’ Frazier and Dick Barnett, and the son of Dave DeBusschere were at the conference. Messages were read from another teammate, Willis Reed, and the daughter of their beloved, late coach “Red”’ Holtzman.
The happiest words that fans of the Knicks heard were spoken by owner James Dolan. He affirmed he would “willingly and gratefully cede authority” to Phil Jackson on basketball decisions. Dolan admitted, “I think I’m a little out of my element when it comes to the team. My whole job now is supporting them [Jackson and General Manager Steve Mills] in winning a championship.”
Dolan also said of Jackson, “Phil has a vision for the Knicks to put us on the path to success. Phil will be in charge of all basketball operations.”
Jackson accepted that statement as a proviso for his accepting the position with the Knicks, “I wouldn’t come if that hadn’t happened.”
After such great success with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, Jackson is returning where he began in the NBA. Although he has children, grandchildren and girlfriend living in California and must be there for medical treatments, Jackson will make the move east, “Moving to the city is difficult but important. I’ll be moving back and forth, but this is where I’ll establish myself.”
His experience has taught him, “This is the best place to play basketball. There’s no better place to win than in New York City. We’re going to make it here.”
He also explained the reason for accepting an executive rather than a position on the court, “I’m too old to play and too lame to coach. I got intrigued to enter into an executive, management position.”
Of the people Jackson was asked to comment on were Carmelo Anthony and current coach Mike Woodson. He spoke positively and carefully of each. Of Anthony he said, “I think Carmelo, as great a player as he is, has another level he can go to.” On the previous day, Anthony spoke with humility regarding cooperating with Jackson, “I’m still willing to learn. I haven’t won anything.”
Regarding Woodson, Jackson remarked, “Mike has shown he’s a very good basketball coach. He hopes the coach can lead the team the playoffs this year. He expected to meet with Woodson at the end of the season to discuss the future.
He spoke in relatively general terms of the principles he espouses, a team game and a system like the Triangle Offense, “I believe in system basketball.”
He expects 2015 to be the year of great improvement. There will be a larger number of renowned free agents available than this year. Jackson added, perhaps to encourage Anthony and the fans, “We’re looking forward to another solid contributor to help Carmelo.”