Phil Jackson finally opens up about failed stint as Knicks president

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Stefan Bondy, New York Daily News
·5 min read
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Nearly four years after he was fired, Phil Jackson finally opened up about his failed stint as Knicks president, acknowledging he felt like a “major disappointment” while also assigning blame to the media, fans and Carmelo Anthony.

“It was best to leave and I think as a favor, (James) Dolan relieved me of the job,” said a candid Jackson on “The Curious Leader” podcast, hosted by former Lakers player Cody Karl. “I think he actually did me a favor.”

Jackson, 75, detailed several crisis points in his four seasons with the Knicks, which ended with an awful record and about $24 million remaining on his contract. But he steered much of the conversation to his persecution in a media that “was decidedly against the organization and they were looking for whatever they can do throw aspersions.”

The Zen Master even compared himself to the former United States’ president.

“I kind of understand Trump had to live with probably for his first 3 1/4 u00bd years in office with the media,” Jackson said.

At the same time, Jackson explained and admitted several mistakes in his strategy. It was his first time talking openly about probably the biggest disappointment of his NBA career.

On hiring and firing Derek Fisher, Jackson seemed to reference the incident with Matt Barnes as a tipping point. Fisher had flown across the country during training camp and was punched in the face by Barnes for being with his ex-fiance. Unsubstantiated rumors started surfacing about Fisher dating the girlfriend’s of current players. Fisher was fired about three months after the incident.

“Derek Fisher, I thought, was one of my top leaders of the Lakers team and a guy who understood the relationship of players to a game and offensively how the (triangle) system plays,” Jackson said. “He was himself caught up in a personal situation. It was a distraction. And at best, undermined his authority with the team.”

Jackson then installed Kurt Rambis as coach and triangle liaison. He admitted the strategy of trying to coach from the front office failed.

“Perhaps the best thing I could’ve done was just coach the team myself. But I wasn’t physically able to do that,” Jackson, who was dealing with health issues, said. “I had to convey that through people, I chose to step in. It didn’t seem to work out. And as a consequence I thought we had the talent but we never found that niche, that ability to just play beyond talent and play concise, connected, organized basketball.”

On his inability to win with Carmelo Anthony, Jackson said his star player wasn’t a natural leader and couldn’t be harnessed by the coaching staff. Under Jackson, the three head coaches were Fisher, Rambis and Jeff Hornacek.

“Carmelo, I think, wanted to be a leader, but I don’t think he completely knew how to be a leader as a player,” Jackson said. “And I think that the strength of his personality was intimidating to some of the coaches that were asked to coach the team. And so there wasn’t this compliance that has to happen between players and coaches. And as much I tried to interject my own beliefs, I don’t think you’re close enough to the ground in that situation to really be effective in dictating how things are going to be done.”

When he first took over, Jackson signed Anthony to a five-year contract with a no-trade clause, which became an impediment when the executive publicly pushed to trade the All-Star. Anthony, however, resisted a trade until after Jackson was fired.

“I wanted to trade Carmelo and ... he’s got a no-trade clause that they asked for, but I suggested that if there was a situation — and I asked them to trade, I wanted them to be compliant with it,” Jackson said. “And you can have all your choices that you want but I want you to go along with the idea that maybe when your time has come with being with the Knicks. So that was met without compliance.”

In objecting about his treatment by the media, Jackson brought up the reaction to his tweet about Anthony and how “I learned you don’t change a spot on a leopard.” It was interpreted as a dig at Anthony’s inability to thrive in the triangle like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. Jackson said that Anthony’s agent — Leon Rose, who coincidentally now is the Knicks president — was upset about the tweet.

“(What I meant by the tweet was Carmelo’s) not either one of those guys. I think the offense can work for him but he’s not that type of player,” Jackson said. “You don’t change a player to fit a mold.”

Jackson was also blasted by LeBron James for referring to his business partners as “posse.” It was labeled a racist comment and James said he lost all respect for the Hall of Fame coach.

“There was a lot of distortion that went into it,” Jackson said on the podcast. “And texting and media was a big part of it … But I used that terminology that we used a lot. And it was roundly made a racist remark or whatever it was that can be thrown into the mix.”

Jackson added that the media took Anthony’s side in their feud and that led to his dismissal. He also said the passionate fanbase can be a detriment to progress.

“I think that Jim felt like I was facing too big of an uphill climb and relieved me of the job because he just saw the media was going to be backing Carmelo in this situation,” Jackson said. “And I was going to be the guy taking the lumps.”

“It felt like a major disappointment to have to go through that and not being able to turn that thing around because it’s a heartbeat of New York. It’s a big part of what they like — their basketball team. There are long devoted Knick fans and I appreciate their desire but I think they get in the way of the team a lot of times.”

Jackson didn’t delve into Kristaps Porzingis skipping his exit meeting, working with Steve Mills or signing Joakim Noah for $72 million, but there’s still time because there’s an upcoming Part 2 of the podcast.