Jackson back to bolster Knicks and renew hopes of hoop dreams again

Most basketball fans with even the slightest bit of self-respect become worn out pretty quickly by whatever the New York Knicks are selling.

Jackson back to bolster Knicks and renew hopes of hoop dreams again

Starved of success for decades, the only thing that marks them out is that they talk a better game than any non-achieving team in history while being slightly less effective than Mayo and a shade more reliable than Newcastle United.

But of course it’s New York and it’s Madison Square Garden so the likes of me gets drawn in by what is the biggest sports story of the week in this city: the hiring of legendary coach Phil Jackson to an executive position at the club; a lofty role upstairs from where he will bestow on those around him the deep wisdom he is often credited for.

A name like Phil Jackson makes the likes of me sit up and listen. We stop our days, put down the pen and stop self-harming ourselves with the horrendous chore that is filling out the College Basketball March Madness Bracket (after minimal deliberation, mine spat out Michigan so I really need to go start another one).

The day stops in order to tune into the 11am presser on ESPN, to see what laid-back nuggets of brilliance are emitted by Phil Jackson.

He has just been appointed as the president of basketball operations at the Knicks and he will usher in another golden age or false dawn, depending how gullible you are.

He’s 68 now and is almost universally loved in the game. He doesn’t need to entertain us because everything he has ever done speaks for itself. His 11 NBA titles as a coach at the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan and then at the LA Lakers with Kobe Bryant set him apart.

But what makes his appointment by the Knicks extra significant is that he is a bridge to that distant (though illustrious) past, a player in the late-1960s and throughout the 1970s who won two rings at the Garden. Admittedly he was a bit-part player who came off the bench to fill his role as dogged defender, overshadowed by a more stylish set of Hall of Fame teammates but he was iconic for his hipster tendencies, cycling to games at Madison Square Garden from his apartment in Chelsea, not far from the alternative lifestyle mecca of Greenwich Village. He even put together a photographic record of the Knicks season when a spinal injury kept him out of the 1970 season.

After about two years of — at times — frenzied speculation, he moves back to New York with an even deeper self-regard and although those same apartments in Chelsea are a good deal more expensive, the fashion has gone full circle and he probably won’t feel out of place too much.

Although, he enters a set-up with little in the way of other options, it still smacks too much of desperation. Their preferred choice would have been that he coaches the mediocre Knicks who have oscillated between pitiful and vaguely promising all season.

But he struggled at the end of his tenure in LA, his large frame beset by numerous complications. He immediately ruled out coaching again and the Knicks went to plan B — installing one of the most successful coaching minds of all time into a position that’s almost as vital — or arguably more vital — in American sport.

He will be very much desk bound but he’s Phil Jackson and he will bring in good personnel to at least give the Knicks the ability to match their playing staff up with the many dollars available to them.

“Phil can do some good things with them because he’s gifted,” said his former star player and current Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan.

“Phil is fantastic at managing egos and personalities, getting everyone on the same page.”

There’s another intriguing angle to watch out for and that’s the fact that he will be working for James Dolan, the billionaire owner of the Knicks who is hated by press and fans alike, unable to leave noted figures of the game work without interference. But Dolan admitted yesterday he didn’t have the experience to match his fandom so if it ends badly with Jackson, it’ll be one common denominator too many for Dolan.

For the moment, the “Ring King” also known more commonly as the “Zen Master” will bask in his swan song in the game.

“There’s no better place to win than in New York City,” he said yesterday. “I’m back to where I started — it’s a great feeling.”

* e-mail: johnwriordan@gmail.com Twitter: JohnWRiordan

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