- Johnette Howard, ESPN Staff Writer
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GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The overriding thought -- this was Phil Jackson's second choice as Knicks coach?! -- came barreling to mind sometime between the moment Derek Fisher gave his first sweeping, from-the-heart statement about how New York has historically been a city where special people come to chase their soaring dreams, and the end of his lyrical news conference when longtime MSG Network announcer Al Trautwig took back the microphone. Trautwig pointed out that he'd been to a lot of these Knicks coach introductions in his time and said, "Derek, I gotta tell you -- that was awesome."
Trautwig was right.
Fisher absolutely knocked his news conference out of the park Tuesday in his introductory appearance as the Knicks' 26th head coach. (It only feels like 24 of them have been hired in the past five years.)
We'll have to see if he's just as good at actually winning games, which would be nice since the Knicks reportedly gave him a five-year, $25 million contract. They're paying him like the Erik Spoelstras and Tom Thibodeaus of the league, though he's never coached a game.
But in the half hour or so that Fisher fielded questions, with Jackson sitting to his left, beaming like a proud dad, Fisher didn't set a foot wrong once.
Fisher exuded poise and intelligence and the sort of no-nonsense logic that made him sound eminently capable of confronting challenges head on. Before anyone could ask him, he admitted the concern that he's never been a head coach is "factually true," but said, "I am experienced. ... Basketball is a game that I'm experienced playing, understanding, leading in, guiding in, helping other people achieve the greatest gift in the world that a professional athlete can have, which is being a champion.
"That I do have experience in."
Fisher, 39, who won five rings with Jackson's Lakers, said he looked forward to sharing all of that knowledge with "our players, and helping us re-establish the championship culture that exists in the DNA of this organization and in this city. ... That's who we will become. It's who we are. ... It was almost 40 years ago, but it is here. It exists here. There have been teams that have walked the halls of the Garden that have experienced championship-level success."
Nobody said Steve who? -- as in Steve Kerr, who turned down the Knicks job to coach Golden State.
But nobody had to.
The longer Fisher spoke, the more one could understand all the stories about how Kobe Bryant, arguably the most driven player in the league, and no slouch himself when it comes to brains, absolutely loves Fisher.
Fisher speaks assertively, in can-do language. He was expansive about how he unequivocally wanted this job, how he foresees no problems striking a coach/mentor working relationship with Jackson, or grappling with the condition of the Knicks' roster and free-agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony's possible departure. Of Anthony, Fisher said, "We want him back."
Asked about the Knicks not having a No. 1 draft pick this year, and about their payroll being capped out -- Fisher again didn't take even a half-step backward.
Instead, he smiled a little and said, "I'm not as down on the roster and the team as some of you in the room are. I think there are some things we can do with this team that can be special right now."
That last statement had to sound like angels singing to long-suffering Knicks fans who are tired of the franchise's recent habit of always selling Someday rather than Today.
Jackson's influence on Fisher over the years, and the obvious affection and trust that exists between them, was evident the longer both of them spoke, too.
Jackson was clear during the search process that he wanted someone who believed in his triangle offense and would be an extension of himself on the floor. And Fisher -- who, remember, was with Jackson for nearly half of the 11 NBA titles Jackson won as a coach -- seems to fit that description even more comfortably than Kerr, a former general manager in Phoenix as well as a player for Jackson with the Chicago Bulls. Kerr may have privately had more qualms about Jackson being hands-on than Fisher does, and Kerr never threw off the same enthusiasm about being Knicks coach that Fisher exuded Tuesday when he said, "I look forward to this as much as anything in my professional life.
"This is not a ceremony, this is not for PR, this is not for Phil and I to hang out together as friends," Fisher firmly said. "We want to add more banners."
Fisher's speech is even marbled with many of the same themes Jackson touches on when he's at his Zen Master best. Buzzwords and phrases like "commitment," "accountability," "re-establishing a culture of success," "embracing the challenge" and "living greatness daily" all came up. Jackson said Fisher excels at speaking to other players' "spirits and hearts" and Fisher said the Knicks job was "an opportunity that spoke to me right away."
We'll have to wait to see how it turns out. But if nothing else, Tuesday's event was a good optic for the Knicks as they seek to attract star players to New York instead of seeing them constantly get away. And Fisher's first impression should assuage some of the early doubts about Jackson's slow start as team president (a job that he'd never held until now, either). Until the Fisher hiring, Jackson's only move of note had been signing Lamar Odom and getting jilted by ... oh, what was his name again?
By the end, Fisher and Jackson gave the feeling that not only could they make a persuasive and formidable team together, but that they're going to be fun to be around, too.
Fisher laughed a little as Jackson dryly volunteered how he was "chastised and rebuffed by the league" -- meaning fined $25,000 -- for publicly targeting Fisher for the job before the Oklahoma City Thunder, Fisher's previous team, were done playing nine days ago. Jackson also said while he and Knicks GM Steve Mills will handle the first meeting with Anthony about his pending free agency, after that "I may have Derek wear his five rings" when he sits down for his talk with Melo.
Then Phil got a little lyrical himself. Noting that "this generation of players is somewhat different than the one I grew up with ... listening to the Grateful Dead," Jackson smirked and called Fisher "hip-hop ready to get going with this group of guys and their language."
And again Fisher laughed.
"[Coaching] is a young man's job," Jackson added.
And Fisher is his man.
6dEthan Sherwood Strauss
7dMatt Walks, ESPN.com