As my colleagues here at the newspaper can attest, Zen is a foreign concept in the life of a journalist. Daily deadlines, endless games of phone tag, on the fly revisions and the recurring stresses of press day are simply something we come to live with. If I’m going to stop and smell the roses, it’s going to be because I’ve got to write 600 words on the new garden that was just planted outside city hall.
But I’ve been thinking a lot about meditation recently, with the announcement that the Zen master himself, Phil Jackson is riding into town to help fix the New York Knicks.
With his 13 championship rings, his ties to the Knicks franchise and his prickly—yet professorial demeanor—it’s easy to see why people are so eager to see this far-eastern philosophizing basketball coach as the savior to this rotting carcass of a franchise. Though Phil’s health and age might be keeping him from actually coaching the team, it seems a given that his presence in the front office alone might create some sort of permeating sense of calm throughout an organization that sorely needs it.
For too many years, no matter what type of product the Knicks have been putting out on the court, the situation in the front office has always been—to put it mildly—an unmitigated disaster.
The Isaiah Thomas years, marred by inexplicable roster moves and the Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment scandal; the Donnie Walsh years—cut short when owner James Dolan decided to systematically freeze out the one executive responsible for turning the Knicks into a winner. The decision-making branch of this franchise has largely been miserable for the past 15 years.
And that comes down to Dolan.
How will he co-exist with Jackson? On one hand, the lassiez-faire attitude he showed during the Isaiah years—no doubt as a result of his admiration for everything Thomas accomplished as a player—might serve him well here. Jackson might be new to the front office game, but he’s a keen basketball mind. On the other hand, will Phil’s Zen philosophy survive in the cauldron of Madison Square Garden’s craziness?
As much as Dolan has sworn that Jackson will be left to his own devices, that typical Dolan approach hasn’t abated since Jackson signed with the team. At the press conference to announce the deal, MSG officials refused to allow questions from reporters, like the Daily News’ Frank Isola, who have been critical of the team in the past. At the Knicks game against Indiana later that week, Dolan reportedly hired a drum group to perform outside the arena—coincidentally on a day in which displeased Knicks fans had scheduled an anti-Knick protest.
Phil has always enjoyed a spirited—if sometimes frosty—relationship with the media. He has showed no mercy in tweaking his players or his employers in the press and is never at a loss for a good sound byte. Dolan on the other hand, treats the press either as an extension of the Knick brand or as an enemy to be silenced at all costs.
The question remains, which philosophy will win out? Will the enlightened Phil Jackson bring an end to New York’s dark ages? Or will Jackson, two years from now, find himself with bad knees, waning patience with a terrible roster and little support from the higher ups?
If anyone’s up to the challenge, it would seem like Jackson would be the guy. Let’s just see how long it takes him to take this smoldering pile of rubble and turn it into a peaceful little rock garden.
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