Phil Jackson is the Zen Master, but James Dolan is king of New York—the Monday Morning Realist


Every Monday morning, Section 215’s Akiem Bailum gives an in-depth and unfiltered look at all of the latest sports news in The Monday Morning Realist. You can follow Akiem on Twitter @AkiemBailum.

Mar 18, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks new president of basketball operations Phil Jackson (right) talks with Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan at a press conference at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

And we didn’t even have to “start spreading the news”.

This past week, TNT analyst and former Phoenix Suns General Manager Steve Kerr dropped a miniature bombshell on the NBA when it was announced that he was accepting a position to become head coach of the Golden State Warriors, instead of the New York Knicks.

This appeared to be a shock to everyone, considering that Phil Jackson had recently became the head of basketball operations for the Knickerbockers and given Kerr’s relationship with the Zen Master. The firing of former head coach Mike Woodson was all but a given since Phil wanted to hire his own guy and it was the worst kept secret in basketball circles that Kerr was Phil Jackson’s man.

How deep was the relationship between Kerr and Jackson? Consider this:

Remember last year when it appeared that prospective NBA owners Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer had closed on a deal to move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle? David Stern ultimately, according to reports, twisted the arms of the other owners so hard that they eventually were given no choice but to vote against a deal that they were originally in favor of.

Jackson was reportedly going to assume a position with Hansen’s relaunched Seattle Supersonics as he currently occupies right now in Gotham. Guess who would’ve been their first head coach?

“Ooh, ooh! Would it have been Steve Kerr, Mr. Realist?”

Very good!

Now the word around the league is that Derek Fisher, who currently plays for Western Conference Finals participant Oklahoma City Thunder, is one of the new front runners for the Knicks coaching gig. Fisher, of course, also has a history with the Zen Master as he played on Phil’s championship-winning Laker squads led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

And Realists, when you think this story could not become any crazier—it does. Kerr was reportedly tipped off on not taking the Knicks gig by fellow TNT play-by-play man Marv Albert, who spent the majority of his broadcasting career calling Knicks games and later became the television voice for the New Jersey Nets on the YES Network.

Short honeymoon, huh Knicks fans?

We’ve reached the point in the relationship where the honeymoon is over and all of the potential problems that could come up in a relationship have risen to the surface. It is not Phil Jackson’s fault.

Look higher—to James Dolan.

If there was a Mount Rushmore for incompetent NBA owners (i.e., the ones who simply use their teams as ATMs), we wouldn’t just erect four random sculptures of Donald Sterling’s face. Clay Bennett belongs there. Dan Gilbert belongs there. And right there beside Sterling, Gilbert, and Bennett is Dolan.

This was the same guy who inexplicably kept Isiah Thomas around approximately 10 years ago despite the fact that he made decisions that were so head-scratchingly dumb, you wonder if he was out partying in Manhattan after hours instead of any players.

Kerr saw in his dealings with the Knicks what the rest of us should’ve seen even when they hired Phil Jackson to be their new head of basketball operations. Kerr didn’t reject the Knicks because of Phil, he rejected them because of James Dolan.

Meanwhile, what does Kerr inherit by going to Golden State? The opportunity to coach Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and a cast of characters in the tough-as-nails Western Conference that were within a game of advancing to the Conference Semifinals.

Even though the questions about the overall camaraderie that team have going into next season is in doubt. Curry and other Warriors players were notably ticked about the Warriors firing former head coach Mark Jackson, supposedly because of a spat between Jackson and Golden State brass.

And, before Mark Jackson made his triumphant return to ESPN as he will call the remainder of the NBA Playoffs on ESPN and ABC with Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy, he was rumored to be a possible name to coach the Knicks.
Could he have also balked at that chance because of Dolan? Who knows?

We do know this, though. Kerr’s rejection of the Knicks could be symbolic of a rift between not only Kerr and Dolan, but also Dolan and Phil Jackson. This is exactly why coaches of Phil’s stature ask for “complete control of the basketball operations”. And when it comes out that they really don’t have complete control of the NBA operations, it’s step one in his eventual departure from town.

The league is now realizing that the Knicks may have hired Jackson to run the basketball operations, but a guy named James Dolan (instead of Mark Cuban or Jerry West) is signing Jackson’s paycheck despite his eleven championships as a coach.

Phil Jackson may have been a king in Chicago and Los Angeles, but he’s a mere peasant in the realm of James Dolan—an emperor who, as evidenced by Kerr’s rejection of the Dolan Empire and said emperor’s previous royal decrees, has no clothes.