Welcoming Phil Jackson to New York – they could do worse

Phil JacksonBy: John Mignelli

To be a New York Knicks fan is to be a sadist in the most literal sense of the word. At the time of this printing, they’ve actually won six games in a row, albeit against six very weak teams. However, the feeling from within the Knicks’ corner of the sporting world is that this is a time of positivity in what has been a dreadful season.

I don’t watch the Milwaukee Bucks, I don’t watch the Orlando Magic and I don’t watch the Sacramento Kings, to name three of the many “bad teams” in the NBA. The Knicks are no better than the worst team in the league, but I do still watch them. Partly because they’re my favourite team in my favourite sport and it’s as much an obligation of mine to take in their games as it is to renew my passport every so often. Partly because I develop an itch of sentimentality – from re-watching videos of Walt Frazier playing in the high post or of Patrick Ewing’s wonderfully slender arms capped off with puffy white wristbands dropping a fade-away jumper from the left block – that can only be relieved by hearing the organ of Madison Square Garden.

This season has not gone particularly well, which is putting it in the most flattering terms. The Knicks are currently fighting tooth and nail for the final playoff spot in an Eastern Conference so abysmal that the idea of taking more Western Conference teams to the playoffs in place of Eastern teams has been frequently explored and considered.

It has gotten to the point that opposing star players competing on the Knicks’ home floor are celebrated and encouraged more than the woeful scrubs that don the team’s uniform. It’s also gotten to the point where a three-game losing streak is reluctantly accepted because it means that the team won a game just three games ago.

As I wrote earlier, cheering for the Knicks is to welcome pain and distraught. They don’t just deliver a consistent dosage of hurt and humiliation either, because that would be too cliché for a tortured sports franchise. The Knicks give you a glimmer of hope — that is the slightest reason to believe that the worst of times have passed — only to regress so epically that the current state of the team is actually worse than it was before, and this time there is no conceivable escape plan.

The Knicks do not just lose, the Knicks foray into the realm that is loss. Whether it’s a close game, a blowout, an inexplicable collapse or a promising playoff run followed by a season like this one’s, the consistent way that this franchise punches you in the gut and leaves you for dead is peerless and executed so unremittingly that it makes you wonder why you watch them at all.

Oftentimes I look at the age of current team owner James Dolan who, at nearly 60-years-old, will presumably die before I do, meaning that there will hopefully be one point in my life that the team is run by someone other than he. When Raymond Felton, the Knicks’ unfit and irksome starting point-guard, was arrested for unauthorized possession of a firearm, I immediately calculated the savings on the team’s payroll due to his possible incarceration before feeling even the slightest regard for the human life that was in potential jeopardy. While those may have been jarring sentences for you to read, you must understand that no true fan would disagree with those two thoughts.

It really is that bad for this team, but they say you can’t face your demons until you’ve hit rock bottom. So when I heard that Dolan was courting Phil Jackson — of 13 NBA championships (his first two coming as a player for the Knicks) — to take over the franchise’s front office, my first reaction was “Well there goes Jimmy D again. Finding a big name to be another short-term solution to yet another long-term problem.” In many cases this is totally true. Dolan will never admit that he is incapable of producing a winning basketball team, nor is that his priority. His primary objective with regards to running the Knicks is to pack Madison Square Garden on a nightly basis, maintain a strong revenue stream and rub elbows with the upper echelon of celebrities who happen to be taking in a basketball game. Make no mistake – winning is not the priority for Dolan.

Contrarily, Jackson is universally revered as one of the archetypal coaches in any sport. His combination of tactical planning and uncanny ability to harmonize even the brashest players to form a subservient unity is unparalleled. It’s also not an accident that he won 11 championships in a suit. Despite his mythological list of achievements though, it doesn’t mean he’ll be successful in an executive setting.

Sure, he could get Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal to go to their “happy places” but has he any concept of dollar figures, buyout clauses, or tax exceptions? I personally doubt it, and you can put me on the record as saying that I’m wary and skeptical about Jackson’s tenure as President of the Knicks.

But the more I thought about it, the more I erred on the side of recklessness. They really have nothing to lose. Certainly there is much to gain, like Carmelo Anthony’s signature and a cast of players that aren’t J.R. Smith, (all of which a half-decent basketball GM could attain), but a fresh rebuild under Jackson could transpire instead, so long as it actually leads somewhere.

Maybe Jackson isn’t the right person to turn the team around, but he’s just as good a person to take a risk on as there is. So why not hire him?

We have to accept the fact that some things in life are just out of our control, and whomever James Dolan wishes to employ is one such example. So if you’re a Knicks worshipper like I am, pull out your tie-dye’s instead of your throwbacks and pour yourself a cup of green tea in place of your Samuel Adams. It’s time to roll with the Zen Master. Where will we end up? I don’t know. But at least it won’t be where we are now.

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