By Steve Silverman
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Phil Jackson played his hand out during an interview on HBO’s Real Sports that is soon to hit the air waves.
Jackson is the NBA’s all-time championship winning coach who has won titles by blending talents and massaging egos of players like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
He was appreciated by players and fans when he led the Bulls to six championships in the 1990s. His disdain for Bulls general manager Jerry Krause was at least a factor in the decision to dismantle that team, so Jackson took his talents to Los Angeles.
He did the near impossible by taking the Lakers to five more championships. A total of 11 championships allowed him to pass Celtics legend Red Auerbach for the most championships coached in NBA history.
Jackson detractors point to the talent level he had on both rosters as a way to diminish the achievement. Jackson never failed to acknowledge how great players like Jordan, O’Neal and Bryant were. But he would also point out the pitfalls of coaching players with such massive egos. That’s a major talent in and of itself.
There is no doubting Jackson, who has always been a thoughtful man and a thorough coach. His own ego has also developed to epic proportions over the years. It does not diminish from his achievements, but it may get in the way of reality from time to time.
Jackson has never said officially that he wants to get back in the coaching business after leaving the Lakers at the end of last season, but rumors have abounded that he is ready to return to the sidelines or at least get himself a front-office position so he could have a Pat Riley-type role with a contending franchise.
No position would seem to fit Jackson’s resume more than the New York Knicks. Jackson, of course, was a reserve player on the Knicks’ championship teams in 1970 and 1973. He was no superstar, but he would come off the bench and play defense, rebound and make an occasional shot. He may have been an awkward-looking performer, but he made key contributions. There has never been another player who was more effective at defending the inbounds pass late in the game than the long-limbed Jackson.
Jackson told HBO that the Knicks did not reach out to him and inquire about his level of interest in coaching the team that he played for under Red Holzman. He says he’s glad they didn’t call because he would have turned them down. He says the Knicks players like Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire don’t mesh well together and have turned the Knicks into a “clumsy” team.
What seems like an insult – “I wouldn’t have taken that job even if they asked” – is nothing more than a cover-up for hurt feelings. It’s impossible to think that Jackson wouldn’t have taken the job and figured out how to blend Anthony and Stoudemire how to blend together.
In fact, what seems like an insult may be the seeds of campaigning for the job in 2013-14. The Knicks’ head coaching job belongs to Mike Woodson. The team seemed to respond to him fairly well after he took over for Mike D’Antoni. But does that mean Woodson will be successful next season and turn the Knicks into a consistent regular-season team with the attributes of a championship contender?
He’s a long way from that. If he fails, Knicks owner Jim Dolan knows that Jackson may very well still be out there waiting. By calling out the Knicks as “clumsy,” he has already identified what their primary weakness is. That one word defines how he would try to fix the Knicks if he did have the opportunity.
Jackson may have dismissed the team with that assessment, but he quickly came back and called the New York franchise special. Who else but an 11-time championship coach should have the opportunity to fix this broken team?
It is a match that was probably made in the bowels of Madison Square Garden decades ago. It’s a match that almost certainly needs to become reality.
Perhaps next year, maybe the year after. The 66-year-old Jackson still has some time before his coaching window shuts completely. This is the job he needs to have. Not for his ego, but because it would be a sensational fit.
Jackson knows it. Do the Knicks?
Would Jackson been the ideal fit? Is the door still open for Jackson one day leading the Knicks? Let us know…
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy).