After the past three years, Phil Jackson deserves a better 2017
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Phil Jackson has had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad several years.
His tenure as the Knicks president has been a massive struggle, with the team going 17-65, 32-50 and 16-14, respectively, since he arrived in 2014. He is up against a perception that he has grown increasingly out of touch with the game and its players.
Sometimes perception is truth. Viewed on a modern-day chalkboard, the triangle offense he wants the Knicks to run looks like a cave drawing. He recently put his foot in his mouth when he referred to LeBron James’ business associates as a “posse,’’ a word James said carries racial connotations.
On Tuesday, Jackson tweeted that his engagement to Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss was over. It means he still has X’s and O’s but no hugs and kisses.
Tough times. Maybe this is the right moment to send a little love his way.
When Jackson joined the Knicks, he took on a huge challenge, no small thing for those of us who believed he was incapable of running from anywhere but the front of the pack.
He hasn’t succeeded in New York, at least not yet, and perhaps he’s not up to the job of rebuilding the team. But at least he has taken a swing at it. That was something I never thought he would do. It was unthinkable he would expose his legacy to the possibility of failure. This was the guy who wore the smug look of someone who believed he brought Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen those six NBA titles with the Bulls, not the other way around. This was the guy who probably received more credit than he deserved for coaching Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal to three titles and then Bryant to another two.
He won 11 championship rings as a head coach, which helps explain the not-so-humble name of his 2013 memoir, “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success.’’ For him to put that glittering reputation on the line, even a little bit, by joining the Knicks showed a man willing to place himself in a vulnerable position that had every possibility of not ending well. He knew he could be the front-office-suit version of Willie Mays in a Mets uniform.
Some media outlets have mocked him for being uninformed and out to lunch, which, given that he’s 71, is a cherry picking layup. Is there anything easier than the doddering grandfather trope?
The safest thing in the world would have been for him to retire from basketball after he left the Lakers in 2011, head to his home in Montana, visit his grandchildren on the West Coast and work on his relationship with Buss. Perhaps it was the right thing to do. Frankly, it’s what I would have done.
But he saw a challenge, and maybe his ego wanted to show critics like me that he could take a floundering franchise and build it into a winner, instead of his preferred method of signing on with a team already built to win.
I would question his judgment in trading for an injury prone Derrick Rose and signing a rapidly aging Joakim Noah. Perhaps he wants to prove to people that he’s more than the Superstar Whisperer, more than Dr. Phil.
He has been his own worst enemy at times. He always seems to be down a quart or two of humility. It’s still up for debate whether that is shyness dressed up as bravado, as his backers say, or whether that is simply haughtiness, as his critics say. But his perceived aloofness has made him inaccessible to the general public, and that’s too bad.
He should be a Chicago icon. I’m not sure he truly is. Maybe it’s simply part of a natural watering down — that after people are done praising Jordan and Pippen, there’s not much left over for anyone else. But he was a significant part of the Bulls’ dynasty.
In Chicago, he’s no Mike Ditka. He’s not even Joe Maddon, who, after only two seasons as the Cubs quirky, hipster manager, is well on his way to becoming a legend.
On the other hand, Jackson hasn’t worked as hard at selling himself as Ditka has, though it should be stated that no one has. Maddon has done some TV commercials for Binny’s Beverage Depot. Something tells me there will be more endorsements coming for him.
Phil is a complicated guy. Private, but given to the occasional public, poison-tipped criticism of someone else. A small-town man drawn to city lights. Alone in a crowd.
I hope 2017 treats him a little better.