New York to ‘Zen Master’ Phil Jackson: This ain’t L.A.

 

Sources: Sports Illustrated, National Basketball Association, Biography.com. Graphic: Tobey - The Washington Post.
Sources: Sports Illustrated, National Basketball Association, Biography.com. Graphic: Tobey – The Washington Post.

At his first news conference as president of the New York Knicks yesterday, Phil Jackson reminisced about the day he arrived in New York in 1967 as a Knicks recruit fresh out of college.

Picked up at the airport by the coach, Red Holzman, Jackson was sitting in the passenger  seat when a rock landed on the car, dropped from an overpass above the Van Wyck Expressway.

It cracked the windshield of Holzman’s Impala. Holzman, Jackson recalled,  “looked up and said, ‘you know, New York is not the easiest place to live. But if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.’ That is where the phrase started. I swear. So we are going to make it here.”

Make it in Manhattan? The collective response of most New York sportswriters Tuesday was “Oh, yeah?”

While Jackson is often treated like a god or at least “some sort of basketball-hippie cowboy-shaman,” as Rolling Stone put it, New York’s press corps wasn’t feeling very worshipful Tuesday about the author of “Sacred Hoops,” among other titles.

Mike Lupica wrote in the New York Daily News: “The way to bet is that this will end badly,” with “Jackson as likely to throw up his hands and limp back to California as ride a lead float through the Canyon of Heroes because the Knicks have won their first NBA championship since 1973.”

“Jackson should be afraid. Very, very afraid.” wrote ESPN’s Ian O’Connor.

In recent years, the Knicks have been doing badly, very, badly. And the thrust of the commentary was that turning the team around will take a lot more than even the huge presence of Jackson, especially as long as the team is owned by James Dolan.

Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson hoists the trophy aloft after the Bulls beat the Utah Jazz 90-86 in Game 6 to win the NBA championship in Chicago, June 13, 1997.(Morry Gash/AP)
Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson hoists the trophy aloft after the Bulls beat the Utah Jazz 90-86 in Game 6 to win the NBA championship in Chicago, June 13, 1997.(Morry Gash/AP)

Jackson was coach of the Chicago Bulls from 1989 until 1998, when the team starring Michael Jordan won six NBA titles. He moved to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he won another five. He practices what he calls a “holistic” approach to basketball, influenced by Eastern philosophers.

Jackson has become a popular philosopher himself. (See his full bibliography, starting with his most recent, “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success” and including “Sacred Hoops.”)

New York’s sportwriters were unimpressed by that too:

Phil Taylor at Sports Illustrated wrote:

The franchise has a long history of paying people for success they’ve had somewhere else, for someone else. New York tries to pluck the fruit from other people’s yards rather than trying to plant its own seeds, and it doesn’t matter if that fruit is overripe. The Knicks don’t care that Jackson is 68, three years removed from NBA work and apparently interested in running the organization by remote control from the ranch or by the beach. To them, he still looks like a flawless red apple.

The new president of the Knicks, wrote ESPN’s Ian O’Connor:

…needs to understand something up front: He’s not going to pocket $60 million over five years, leave the Knicks more or less as he found them and then blind the fans with the reflection off his 11 rings won in Chicago and Los Angeles while blaming the easiest of targets, James Dolan, in yet another of his books, this one titled “Sacred Oops.”

Fred Barbash, the editor of Morning Mix, is a former National Editor and London Bureau Chief for the Washington Post.
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