Written by Shwin
In March of this year, Phil Jackson was introduced as the new President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks. Up here in Knick-land, we had long hoped for a person of Jackson’s caliber, someone who could stand up to owner James Dolan, to join the Knicks organization and begin cleaning house – but we never expected that day to come. Great things like that just didn’t happen to us. But somehow, some way, James Dolan had pulled a rabbit out of his ass and acquired Mr. Jackson. I had to pinch myself, we had the Zen Master.
A change in leadership, whether it is President of Basketball Operations, President of the United States, or Head Janitor, can make an big impact to morale (if not actually policy) immediately. New leaders usually come in with a long list of goals and aspirations, but more often than not, they have been brought in to clean up the shit left by their predecessors. Jackson was no exception.
While managing to scrap together a modicum of respect over the last few years in the Melo/Stoudemire/Chandler era, by and large, the Knicks were still recovering from more than a decade of overpaid stars, ill-conceived trades, and draft picks that were given away like the AmNew York newspaper in a sweaty subway station. The Knicks organization had tried repeatedly to bring in new talent to elevate the franchise to contender status, but often at too high a price. Sometimes even the good news felt like bad news (see: Amare, Melo, Bargnani).
But lo and behold, Phil Jackson, basketball philosopher, owner of 13 NBA championship rings, former coach of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neil and many more, had decided to work for – the Knicks??? By many accounts the stumblingest, bumblingest organization in the NBA, if not all of professional sports. The team owned by the meddlesome James Dolan, and best known for its unique strategy of buying high and selling low (see: Starbury, Eddy Curry, draft picks) had acquired one of basketball’s living legends.
Jackson immediately signaled that this was the start of a new era, a new mentality, and a renewed focus on basketball. In the months following his hiring, Jackson did the following:
- Fired a head coach (Mike Woodson)
- Hired a head coach (Derek Fisher)
- Made a difficult but prudent trade to give away the aging Tyson Chandler and our fat point guard, Raymond Felton
- Acquired 3 draft picks where the Knicks previously had none
- Acquired a quality veteran point guard in Jose Calderon, along with several more role players
- Re-signed Carmelo Anthony (thanks for the “discount”, Melo)
Jackson got a lot done in just 6 months, and I found myself fantasizing about a miracle trade to acquire a 2nd star, about flipping Andrea Bargnani for a center who can play defense, and about Carmelo hoisting the Larry O’Brien championship trophy on the floor of Madison Square Garden in 2016…
This is one of the powers of new leadership. It makes you believe that even if everything around you is the same as it used to be, maybe, just maybe, things are going to be different now. We will work smarter, we will sign a second star, we will win a championship, we will stop global warming, we will send a man to Mars! Hell, I think racism in America might be dead, after all! Where are the balloons and cupcakes!?
So this brings me to Barack Obama. I am a liberal. Not a bleeding blue liberal, but a liberal indeed. As Obama took office in 2009, I was amongst the millions who were swept up with feelings of hope and optimism for a more cooperative, a more harmonious, a more bipartisan future. In the coming years, these hopes and dreams plummeted back to Earth like a fat man on a hang glider. It became apparent that Barack Obama too had become a prisoner of our noxious political system, and much to my disappointment, he was not going to be the shining prince who would fix it.
Yet, as all the Hope-y Change-y-ness evaporated into the ether, I was left with one feeling toward the President of the United States that I had never experienced as an adult: “I might not always agree with him, but at least he’s not an idiot”. This is when I tell you that I’m 31 years old. You’re smart, I know you can do the math. You know what I’m saying, right*? I was reassured in knowing that Barack Obama was a smart man, an intellectual man even! What a rarity in these times, with politicians who are greater parts crony and egomaniac than they are intellectual.
I have a similar feeling today towards Phil Jackson. Eventually he will make a bad trade, or he won’t be able to sign the best free agent (I’m looking at you, Marc Gasol), but I will rest my head on my pillow knowing that we have a true basketball intellectual making the important decisions. Inevitably, when Amare gets injured in December, or JR shoots 38% for two months, or Jim Dolan rears his ugly head again, there will be calls to fire the head coach. There will be calls to blow up the team and start over. There may even be calls to fire Phil Jackson. But I won’t be screaming for blood with the anti-intellectuals, because I know we have the Zen Master at the helm.
Will Phil Jackson be the change we were hoping for? Will he be the Knicks’ shining prince? Will he bring us the championship? Maybe not, but I know he’s not an idiot, and that makes me happy.
* Ol’ GWB was not the smartest