By Jason Keidel
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Perhaps the greatest business decision over the last 20 years — other than buying Apple stock — was a choice to coach a basketball team.And to not coach another.
In one move, Steve Kerr looked like Steve Jobs when he decided to stalk the sidelines for the Golden State Warriors, instead of pacing the haunted hardwood of Madison Square Garden for the wretched Knickerbockers.
The symmetry, and contrast, is astonishing. You use the same four numbers to construct their respective records. But the order is another thing. One team went 67-15, the other went 17-65. One team is one win from the NBA Finals, while the other was one loss from the worst record in the league.
The only pull for Kerr was his old boss, Phil Jackson. the Warriors were a 51-win team the year before, had a gifted core, led by the burgeoning league MVP Steph Curry. In a sport that increasingly relies on speed, ball handling, and sharpshooting, you could not find a better backcourt to fill that template than Curry and Klay Thompson.
The only argument for Kerr to come to NYC was Jackson, whose 13 rings would bring a collective karma back to MSG, where Jackson’s NBA journey began in he 1960s. They could recreate the magic and mojo they had in Chicago.
But that would be hard to do without Michael Jordan, of course, and maybe Kerr saw that. Maybe Kerr also realized that not even someone of Jackson’s gifts and gravitas could conquer the historic ineptitude that has reigned over The World’s Most Overrated Arena for the last two decades.
No doubt Kerr’s prescience was palpable when he spurned the Empire State for Golden State. But it’s hard to imagine it going any better for Kerr or any worse for the Knicks, who gave the head coaching job to Derek Fisher, surely a dual consolation prize.
Not only was Fisher not the Knicks’ first choice, you’d also imagine someone with Fisher’s fine character, experience, and intelligence had his eyes on other jobs. But a rookie coach doesn’t get to pick his first coaching gig. Unless you’re Steve Kerr, who had the serendipity of two offers from two coasts, of similar cash, but inverted cachet.
Not that this mess of a team, the most forlorn franchise in the league, is Fisher’s fault. To suggest the cupboard is bare assumes there’s a cupboard at all. Is any team more bereft of talent and temerity than the Knicks?
The Knicks couldn’t even get the lottery right. While praying for the top pick, expected to get the second pick, the Knicks stumbled down to he fourth. Sure, there will be a bona fide baller available, but that’s not the point. And few doubt the Knicks will pluck the wrong player, anyway.
This isn’t just a team that traded what few assets it had, it also committed a colossal chunk of its salary cap to Carmelo Anthony, who had given them his best years and didn’t come close to reaching the NBA Finals, much less win it. Despite all the evidence that Melo couldn’t lead a team to a title, the Knicks signed him to a $124 million contract. Maybe it’s not quite as toxic as the Allan Houston deal, but it’s not far off.
JR Smith and Iman Shumpert are flourishing in Cleveland, which says much about the physical metaphysical chasm between Melo and LeBron James. LeBron gets his players to play; Melo gets himself paid. In a sense, Melo is the perfect emblem of the Knicks — seductive, gifted, yet profoundly flawed. Like Madison Square Garden, which has somehow kept its toxic tentacles from poisoning the Rangers, while leaving its basketball entities in tatters.
This is also the franchise/building/boss that thought it prudent to place Isiah Thomas in charge of the New York Liberty. For anyone who wondered if Thomas still cast a surreal spell over James Dolan, this answers everything in the affirmative.
You’d think the last person to run a women’s basketball team is someone who’s been charged with sexual harassment, in the same town with his old team down the hall. Thomas was the leading man — so to speak — in a sexual harassment lawsuit that forced the Garden to vomit $11.6 million to a former female employee.
It has been met with more than a few arched eyebrows from the media, the masses, and within the WNBA, who see how incongruous this is. It seems to register with everyone but Dolan, who lords over the Knicks, MSG, and many misguided business practices.
The cable magnate still holds the remote. And for as long as he runs the Garden, he will hold New York sports fans hostage.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel