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Phil Jackson wins his opening Knicks press conference preaching culture change

Mar 18, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT

New York Knicks Press Conference Getty Images

It doesn’t get him a 14th ring, but Phil Jackson won his first press conference in New York.

Jackson was formally introduced as the Knicks team president at a press conference on Tuesday. He won it by talking culture change — and for a day at least getting the organization to walk that talk. Jackson talked about a fundamental shift in how the Knicks operate that will build a potential championship foundation. And he also played to the fans.

“There is no better place to win than New York City,” said Jackson, who won two rings as a Knicks player in the 1970s before his Hall of Fame coaching career. “It really is something that is special. It had a definite impact on my decision to come here.”

Jackson said the word “culture” gets overused in the NBA but that is what got him the job, the promise of change. Evidence of that culture change: Owner James Dolan had barely said two words publicly (save for some scripted comments) in the past seven years, but after this press conference where Jackson talks about the Knicks needing to be open and honest — with the fans, with the media and most importantly with the players — Dolan agreed to an interview on a New York radio station.

More than that, Dolan said all the right things about pulling out of his role of making basketball decisions and leaving that to Jackson — who Dolan signed to a five-year contract at a reported $12 million a season. Dolan said he would cede power to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.”

“The two gentlemen to my left here are the two experts in basketball, I am by no means an expert in basketball,” Dolan said while Knicks fans nodded at home. “I’m a fan but my expertise lies in managing companies and business. I think I’m a little out of my element when it comes to the team, I found myself in a position where I needed to be more a part of the decision making for a while. It wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to do but as the chairman of the company I felt obligated to do. And I am happy now that we have a team in Phil and Steve to do that. My whole job now is about supporting them in winning a championship. That’s a lot easier than what I had to do in the past.”

We’ll see if he can stick to those words. Jackson certainly knows about winning teams and focused on the system and team aspects of the game in his comments.

“We want to build a team,” Jackson said. “A team doesn’t have an ‘I’ in it. We’ve used that expression a few times as coaches, but this is a franchise that developed a team back in the 1960s that was consistently playing team basketball for seven, eight years (and won titles)…

“I believe in system basketball. (Knicks GM) Steve Mills came out of Princeton. I came out of a system that we ran here in New York in which team basketball was an important aspect of playing. We believe that is what we want to accomplish here.”

Jackson said he wants free agent to be Carmelo Anthony to be part of that future.

“There is no doubt about Carmelo being one of the top scorers in the league, maybe the best individual, isolation players in the game,” Jackson said. “I have no problem committing to saying Carmelo is in the future plans. There are a number of things I see Carmelo doing as he moves forward, and I think I’m on record from a year ago saying that Carmelo, as great a player as he is, still has another level he can go to. I hope together with the team we create we can get there.”

Dolan said talks with Jackson started before Christmas at the home of Irving Azoff (the manager of bands such as Dolan’s favorite The Eagles, as well as acts ranging from Christina Aguilera to Van Halen). Dolan started pitching the idea of Jackson coaching the Knicks and was quickly shot down, but the conversations steered toward Jackson in a front office role.

With that Jackson laid out his vision of the organization and how to turn it around to Dolan — that includes a more open relationship with the media and doing more public speaking. For now Dolan has bought in.

“This is someone who knows about winning, about the importance of a clear vision and how to install a culture that ensures a team wins, like his team did when his team played for the Knicks,” Dolan said. “Now that vision comes back to New York.”

Jackson said he wants to be “established” in New York but will split time between there and California, where his fiancee Jeanie Buss (co-owner of the Lakers) and much of the rest of his family lives.

That can work fine (although will become an issue if the Knicks don’t win) — Jackson is not going to be the details guy, that’s Mills. Jackson said he didn’t know that he would be spending a lot of time at the Portsmouth Invitational or other scouting spots, that physically (with two replaced hips, one replaced knee and likely another knee replacement in his future) he is not up for that kind of grind.

What Jackson is there to provide is the big picture things. He is a name and personality that can recruit free agents, he can help put in place an on court system that will move the Knicks away from the isolation heavy ball of the past years.

More than that, he can take what had been a secretive and dysfunctional organization and disinfect it with sunshine — open up the windows and let the light in. Not completely, but there is no reason for a basketball organization to have a terse (sometimes hostile) relationship with the media, to have players looking over their shoulders at the politics of the organization.

The real question is will Dolan let him do that, and if so for how long?

For a day, it looks like Jackson is winning.

If he can keep on winning and really change the culture, the Knicks will be winning, too.

  1. nykfanwakemeupin2015 - Mar 18, 2014 at 12:56 PM

    Def called out Woodson indirectly by saying that players lack certain skills they should have learned in JR High School. I belive 100% unless we really start tanking that Dolan stays clear from everything. When those questions came up you could see they both were slightly uncomfortable but dolan deflected well even had a sense of humor about ticket prices.

    As a Knicks fan I am so happy about this. I really hope he is at the Pacers game tomorrow night. The place will be on fire and the knicks will beat the pacers. Take it to the bank……

    • mackcarrington - Mar 18, 2014 at 1:09 PM

      So, because players didn’t learn “certain skills” in Jr. high school, THAT’S calling out Woodson?
      Wouldn’t that be calling out their Jr. high, HS, and college coaches?
      How do you think Woodson is responsible for what someone didn’t learn in Jr. High school?

      • nykfanwakemeupin2015 - Mar 18, 2014 at 3:12 PM

        I perceived it as current mistakes that needed to be fixed on the Knicks. I guess it could be to the NBA as a whole.

    • unxpexted1 - Mar 18, 2014 at 1:34 PM

      I think that was an indictment on the NBA as a whole.

    • genericcommenter - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:31 PM

      I don’t think NBA coaches are expected to teach guys how to play basketball. They are there to coach NBA caliber players.

      • ranfan12 - Mar 18, 2014 at 6:46 PM

        yeah, that’s what the trainers are for lol

  2. hammerhead5573 - Mar 18, 2014 at 12:56 PM

    “The word team doesn’t have an I in it” Hey Phil ask Mello how that’s spelled, think you might be surprised.

    • alexb1234 - Mar 18, 2014 at 1:03 PM

      your name hammerhead is fitting….that was dumb…..some people just hate melo for no reason.,,

  3. 1historian - Mar 18, 2014 at 1:05 PM

    Jackson is Jackson – all those rings say that he is a man to be taken seriously.

    BUT – He has no front office experience, and Dolan will NOT be able to STFU and stay out of the way for long.

    I give it a year at most.

    I am a Celtics fan and I approved this message.

    • goirishgo - Mar 18, 2014 at 1:22 PM

      Good to see you here, 1historian!

      Changing the culture of a team of 12 players – especially as a coach who can directly impact each player’s future – is a little simpler than changing the culture of an entire organization that has very deep-rooted dysfunction. Don’t get me wrong, as I’m not downplaying the incredible success Jackson had as a coach. I just don’t think he’ll have all the control he thinks he’ll have in this new role.

    • alexb1234 - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:16 PM

      FYI – Riley had no front office experience before he took over the Heat….how’s that worked out?

      • miamatt - Mar 18, 2014 at 3:34 PM

        You are correct, but the situations are completely different.

        Riley has always been in Miami full time, he is a presence at every Heat practice. Even now, almost 20 years after he joined the Heat, Riley still goes out to scout college basketball. Not only that, but when he arrived in Miami he had a trade-able asset (Glen Rice) who he was able to flip for Alonzo Mourning and start the rebuild right away. There really is nothing the Knicks can do for about two years -though if he convinces Melo to stay you could count that as a positive step.

        This is not even bringing up the obvious differences between Mickey Arison and James Dolan.

        I am not saying it cannot work. I agree that the lack of experience doesn’t necessarily amount to a major problem. What I am saying is that Jackson not wanting to be a continual, year-round presence in all things Knicks, along with the complete lack of draft picks, cap room, and trade-able assets, raises major red flags for me.

  4. hammerhead5573 - Mar 18, 2014 at 1:21 PM

    Hey Alex, at what point did I say I hated Melo? Right I didn’t. Just because I called him out for what he is, doesn’t mean I hate him. In fact, that’s odd you would say that, I hate absolutely no one. Stooge.

    • alexb1234 - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:49 PM

      when did i directly say u hate melo? i said some people hate melo for no reason….guilty conscience?

      it seems like u r one of those that just look at the negatives regarding melo and ignore the positives….like by the end of the season melo will be 40th ALL TIME in scoring at just 29 years old but yeah he’s “not a good teammate”…FACT IS when he has had reliable teammates he won rounds and proved to be a good teammate ie: last year, and with chauncey billups in denver he went to WCF…

    • alexb1234 - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:49 PM

      when did i directly say u hate melo? i said some people hate melo for no reason….guilty conscience?

      it seems like u r one of those that just look at the negatives regarding melo and ignore the positives….like by the end of the season melo will be 40th ALL TIME in scoring at just 29 years old but yeah he’s “not a good teammate”…FACT IS when he has had reliable teammates he won rounds and proved to be a good teammate ie: last year, and with chauncey billups in denver he went to WCF…

    • bvbc88 - Mar 18, 2014 at 3:52 PM

      I think these comments are primarily from New York fans. Anthony is well known for his positives and negatives. No problem with pointing both of them out.

  5. unxpexted1 - Mar 18, 2014 at 1:33 PM

    I can’t lie, as a Lakers fan, listening to Phil own that press conference and show some clear vision of who he is and what he’s about and what his goals are, man I want that guy back!

    • jimeejohnson - Mar 18, 2014 at 6:02 PM

      Him and Mr. World Peace.

  6. legend30 - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:15 PM

    I’m just going to say this, because every time I talk negatively about the Knicks, I end up being called a bandwagon Heat fan (cantonbound13)… Because he never pays attention that I tell him thousands of times that I live in South Florida.

    With that being said, I hope the Knicks become a contender, because it’s better for the NBA. They haven’t won anything for 41 years. Phil Jackson can be a successful president, but I DO NOT TRUST JAMES DOLAN. He’s very strange, I watched that press conference, and I felt very uncomfortable when he spoke. And keep in mind Knicks fans that think P. Jackson is better than P. Riley. P. Riley actually attends every Heat game home and away, he does the scouting, he’s with the team everyday. P. Jackson needs to do the same thing. And one last thing, why isn’t P. Jackson allow to hire his own guys? Why is James Dolan keeping Steve Mills? It makes no sense. He’s Dolan’s puppet. Dolan needs to back off, and allow P. Jackson do the work. Will that happen? I don’t think so, because why would he keep STEVE MILLS?

    Again I’m not a Knicks hater. I just don’t believe in James Dolan and Steve Mills. If they allow P. Jackson do the work, then I can see the Knicks eventually becoming a championship contender.

    • mackcarrington - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:36 PM

      In comparing Jackson to Riley I think it’s fair to point out that Jackson has health issues that Riley doesn’t have.
      As far as Mills is concerned. If, for example the Lakers made Jackson their team president, would you expect him to get rid of Mitch Kupchak? Kupchak was a Jerry West protege.

    • cruzan80 - Mar 18, 2014 at 5:01 PM


      Agreed. Dolan IS indeed the wild card here. Jackson will be fine because he’s an intelligent basketball mind. I don’t think he has to like Pat (hovering over the team constantly) in order to be a successful President. I do believe Dolan will stay out of the way…that’s why someone like Jackson was hired. Dolan’s problem is he always thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room……with Jackson now in that room…you gotta believe that’s gonna change.

      All in all…this is what the Knicks needed to do….a change of culture. If they resign Melo…next summer they will be in a similar position the Celtics were in with Pierce in 2008. One stud player…a couple of young pieces…..& money to sign another stud to go with Melo. Knick fans should feel good right about…..future is brighter than they may think.

    • jimeejohnson - Mar 18, 2014 at 6:03 PM

      You take that pea brain loser seriously?

      • cantonbound13 - Mar 18, 2014 at 6:13 PM

        Nervous Jimbo? You should be.

    • cantonbound13 - Mar 18, 2014 at 6:12 PM

      Bandwagon jumper, just kidding, couldn’t resist.

  7. legend30 - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:25 PM

    Alright, after I made that long comment. Do you guys think Derek Fisher is capable of being a head coach? He might be like J. Kidd and become a head coach after he retires. Would the Knicks be a option? P. Jackson and D. Fisher obviously have a great relationship, and Fisher knows the triangle offense. He would be an interesting candidate.

  8. bvbc88 - Mar 18, 2014 at 3:58 PM

    I wouldn’t quite anoint the Knicks yet. Jackson has proven to be a great coach with a few players that are right up there with the best if not the best of all-time. He does not inherit this type of quality of a player and Anthony is not even close (though he is good – just not Jordan or Bryant good). He will have his work cut out for him in NY considering the shape the franchise is in. This will not be an overnight fix and the NY fans (as most fans) are not very patient. Riley has proven to be a good coach and GM. This does not mean that every good coach can be a good GM. The jury is out on Jackson in a very difficult situation.

  9. rodyaugu - Mar 18, 2014 at 4:25 PM

    He’s no Pat Riley.

    • jimeejohnson - Mar 18, 2014 at 6:04 PM

      Much taller.

  10. dablakdrphil - Mar 18, 2014 at 5:44 PM

    You’re paying P.J. $12 million a year…for that kind of money Dolan better get the hell out of the way and let P.J. do his thing

  11. bespartacusbiggntl - Mar 18, 2014 at 10:29 PM

    Yall Can Say What Ya Want…….. Phil Is Not Gonna Let Dolan Up In the mix Mills Is There For That Reason and He Will Be Phil’s Mouth and puppet….. As Far As The Front Office Is Concerned…..He Can Actually Choose And Negotiate For The Players That Will Compliment What he Is Making With My Knicks After 15……..

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