- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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Before Phil Jackson decided to try to lead the Knicks to the Promised Land, he and Jim Dolan had “a meeting of the minds” in the desert.
In an excerpt of his book “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty” which appears in the New York Daily News, Jackson details how two meetings with Dolan led to his return to the Knicks as team president.
Jackson wrote about how Irving Azoff, a music industry executive who manages The Eagles among others, set up his meeting with Dolan at Azoff’s birthday party. Jackson says he and Dolan spoke about “the plight of the Knicks for an hour or so” in early December before deciding to pick up their conversation again after the holidays at Jerry’s Deli, a New York style deli in Marina Del Rey, Calif.
There, Jackson and Dolan spoke about what exact role he would want if he joined the Knicks and how he’d “need to know what was happening on a daily basis.”
Jackson writes that Steve Mills flew to Los Angeles and the two devised a plan for how they could work together as team president and general manager.
What intrigued me about the job was the opportunity to re-create the culture from the ground up, much as I had hoped to do with the ill-starred franchise in Seattle. Jim had pledged to give me full authority over the basketball operations and a free hand to make whatever changes were necessary to bring another championship to New York.
Jackson though wondered about the Knicks’ dismal situation with high-priced salaries that hampered their salary cap situation and a lack of assets like first-round picks.
Before Jackson signed on, he decided to take Dolan and Mills on a ride through the desert near Palm Springs. Dolan asked Jackson to “design an outdoor adventure” for the three and Jackson had a guide lead them through “a wild chase across the desert in all-terrain vehicles to see how much future colleagues would respond to hostile territory.”
That trip removed any doubts I had about moving forward. Under the clear desert sky, Jim and I had a meeting of the minds and we set a date in mid-March for my return to the Knicks.
When I arrived in New York, my first job was to stabilize the direction of the Knicks and get everybody in the organization speaking in one voice about where we were headed. I wasn’t talking about making a quick turnaround, but building a strong, sustainable future for the team based on the principles of teamwork and selflessness outlined in this book.
For me, the key is building trust. I don’t want to be the kind of president who huddles privately with the GM and keeps everyone else in the dark. In my new role, I’m not going to be as hands-on with the team as I was as a coach, but I can open up the circle and make sure everybody with good ideas gets a chance to be heard.
We have some talented people in this organization, but they need more direction. Our scouts and analysts also need to align the tons of information on potential prospects they churn out every day with our long-range vision for the team. To that end, we’re planning to analyze every team in the league and figure out as a group what’s driving them, so that we can make moves now that will make sense three to five years down the road.
Jackson said he also wants to address the “team’s culture of indifference” and “re-establish the sense of professional responsibility.”
Resilience isn’t the Knicks’ biggest problem, however. When I talked to the players in the postseason, many of them said that they really liked their teammates off-court, but not everybody was on the same page when they hit the floor. And, contrary to media reports, they didn’t blame the coach for their lack of harmony; they blamed themselves. They hadn’t been willing, they confessed, to make the sacrifices necessary to join together as a team.
Jackson knows the task that lies ahead of him is as tall as the Empire State Building. And he knows the good feelings created by his arrival to New York will soon disappear if the Knicks don’t turn things around.
No question, I have a big job ahead of me. Now that we’ve hired Derek Fisher as the new head coach, we need to bring in a some new players to complement Carmelo (who has decided to stay with the Knicks), change the team chemistry and give the team more of the grit and character New York is famous for. Derek was an exceptional leader when he played for me on the Lakers and I’m certain he’ll inspire the players to meld together and play the game the right way.
Soon, the honeymoon will be over. I can already sense the sharks circling in the water. But that doesn’t bother me. What matters now is waking up every morning and getting a chance to do something I’ve always dreamed of: re-awakening the team that Red Holzman built, the team that changed my life forever.
3dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann