By Jason Keidel
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If you had to choose between Michael & Scottie or Shaq & Kobe, which tandem would you take? There are sound arguments on each side, though six rings should beat three, even if the three should have been six. But it’s not a choice we have to make.
Fortunately for Phil Jackson, it’s not a choice he had to make, either. He won six in Chicago, five in Los Angeles, wrote a book, and called it a heyday, presumably retired and basking in the glow of unprecedented glory. It would take quite a siren call to lure Jackson from his meditative state over a steam in Montana, where he was born.
Now his second home beckons.
We know why the Knicks, who haven’t won an NBA title since Jackson played for them, want Jackson. But why would the interest be mutual?
Money won’t matter. Word is that the Knicks will offer Jackson $12 million per season, which would sound overwhelming for any other coach. But Jackson was making $10 million per season with a better team and still had Kobe and still left. Between the Bulls, Lakers, and endorsements, Jackson has to be near $100 million for his career.
So what do you offer the man with the most rings, cash, and cachet? As Jackson himself may so poignantly point out to one of his players, the answer comes from within.
The Knicks can only hope that Phil focuses on the only hole in his résumé (no matter how microscopic it is): he hasn’t won a title sans two surefire Hall-of-Famers in his starting lineup or an all-time, top-ten player (see: Kobe) who can take over any game.
And there’s the whole circle-of-life thing, the idea that Jackson could win where he first won, a career clicking shut and ending where he began. Of course, this isn’t the same city where Jackson played. Everything is different, including MSG. The building is in the same place, and the bustle of people pushing through Penn Station may seem familiar. But NYC is far more pacified and gentrified since the ‘70s.
The only familiar face in the crowd is Clyde Frazier, who probably taught Phil his first hardwood lessons, along with Red Holzman, whose memory Jackson still adores. Those Knicks personified Jackson’s coaching philosophy, a team-first mantra rooted in trusting your brethren. Once Jackson sold Jordan on the concept, it was off to the races.
Nostalgia can be a powerful recruiting inducement. Who among us wouldn’t reach back into the years and change a thing or two? We may not, however, be so eager to jump through the time portal if we won 11 NBA titles in between.
Should we even consider this? Is it fair to Mike Woodson, who has done a sublime job with the Knicks, to discuss his successor despite his success? The season isn’t even over and Woodson has already been fired and photographed with Isiah Thomas. Life isn’t fair, and as far as slights go, Woodson is doing better than most of us. And the Knicks’ current coach is smart enough to know that anytime Phil Jackson is free, any team would be silly not to at least ask for his services.
Jackson, 66, has had health problems (including hip and knee replacement surgeries), which could preclude any coaching duties. And the NBA’s travel schedule is tough on the brittle bones of former players who also stalked sidelines for decades thereafter.
Jackson often referred to the drain on his brain, and other body parts. Each season is a soap opera, particularly when your head coach has a .704 winning percentage, more rings than fingers, and a penchant for pinching his foes the wrong way. (Just ask Pat Riley.) Even from afar, it felt like we lived those journeys with Jackson. All of the poking, prodding, and teaching takes energy, and you wonder if he has any left.
The Knicks hope Phil Jackson has enough fuel in the tank for a final ride home.
Feel free to email me: Keidel.Jason@gmail.com
Do you think it would be “Zen Master” at his best in New York or pure disaster? Sound off in the comments below…