A Lakers Fan Helped the Knicks Land Phil Jackson

by March 19, 2014

A front-office job in Los Angeles was never offered to Phil Jackson, who began to look back East thanks to a highly-influential and well-connected Lakers fan. After spending time with New York Knicks owner James Dolan in the desert — seriously, you can’t make this stuff up
– Jackson was introduced as the new team president on Tuesday. Per the LA and NY Times:

Irving Azoff, a music mogul who has long held courtside seats at Staples Center, hosted the December party at which Jackson and Knicks owner James Dolan began informal discussions about Jackson’s joining his team’s front office.

Three months later, Jackson was introduced as the Knicks’ president.

Dolan mentioned Azoff during Jackson’s news conference at Madison Square Garden, thanking the former Live Nation Entertainment chairman for putting him in touch with the legendary coach.

“And if this doesn’t go well,” Dolan said, laughing, “we’ll blame you, OK? But I know it will.”

A desperate search for solutions had taken Mr. Dolan into the desert, where he was joined by Steve Mills, then the team’s president and general manager; a guide; and a fourth member of their party, who was suddenly missing. One minute, they were zigzagging over dusty trails in their ATVs. Then, Mr. Dolan looked back. No one was there. “We lost Phil,” he said.

Phil Jackson, the celebrated coach and famed free spirit, had taken his own path. He eventually caught up with the group, and they retreated to the Madison Club, an exclusive community in La Quinta, Calif., to continue their bonding weekend.

Less than three weeks later, Mr. Dolan on Tuesday made public his latest plan for turning around the ailing basketball team, giving Mr. Jackson, who has won 11 N.B.A. titles as a coach but never worked in a front office, the title of team president. Something so routine for other teams — a news conference to introduce a new executive — suggested a sea change at Madison Square Garden.

“Getting somebody like Phil Jackson to come in and build the team is sort of like getting Einstein to help you with your math homework,” Mr. Dolan said.

During the interview, Mr. Dolan reconstructed his courtship of Mr. Jackson — and reiterated that he had given Mr. Jackson full autonomy to make the Knicks’ basketball-related decisions. As evidence, he mentioned how earlier in the day he had seen Mr. Jackson and Mr. Mills discussing what they should do with two players who were on 10-day contracts with the team.

“And I walked over and said: ‘You know what? I don’t need to know,’ ” Mr. Dolan recalled. “ ‘Just tell me what you all decide.’ ”

He added: “They’re going to come in, and they’re going to tell me what they want to do. They’re going to tell me how much it costs, and I’m going to say yes — assuming it doesn’t bankrupt the company. I don’t think they’ll come in with a bankrupt-the-company scenario, but I’ve told them that I’m willing to spend. We need a championship here.”