Q&A: Phil Jackson

Posted by Unknown on Wednesday, September 24, 2014 with No comments
Courtesy of Steve Serby

Q: The Phil Jackson basketball player: What traits should he have?
A: Be able to move without the basketball … be able to hit an open shot … has a pass-first mentality … defensively, can both take a charge and block or strip … loves to play a full-court-game aspect of basketball.
Q: Favorite motivational or inspirational quotations?
A: I don’t think there’s anything that stands out right away. I know there’s things that we say: No man is an island, no man goes his way alone, what you put into the lives of others will be turned into its own. That’s something that we would use to just kind of talk about team postgame, prior to games. Every other week or something this quote would pop out: For the want of a nail, a shoe is lost; for the want of a shoe, the horse is lost; for the want of a horse, the rider carrying the news of the war was lost; for the loss of a message, the war was lost. It goes on and on, but it was just about the fact that it wasn’t the nail in the horseshoe that kept the horse running and carried the messenger with the message that cost the battle. … The devil’s-in-the-details type of thing is what we always kind of enumerated.
Q: What makes a great leader?
A: It’s not something that you can go out and say, “I’m gonna be the leader now and you guys follow me,” and guys naturally follow. You have to be the person that people want to follow, either by your action or by your words. Some guys are leaders by action, some guys are leaders by words.
Q: How were you different as an NBA player compared with when you were in college?
A: (Smile) Well, when I was “Action Jackson” in another world, another lifetime, I threw my body into it in the role I had. When I was the quote-unquote star of my college team, I was entirely a different player, I had to play a different role. I was the guy that was relied on to score and to do all the things to help win ball games. When I was a basketball player after my spinal surgery, I knew there’s a limitation to what I could do, and my goal was to disrupt the defense, to do what I could offensively to help the team out, and throw myself in the fray, and be a part of that. That was my on-the-court role. My off-the-court role was something different, and it became different because of my relationship with Red Holzman when I was inactive for a year.
Q: Later on, now and recently, how would you define Phil Jackson’s leadership style?
A: You have to talk to people that have worked underneath me. I’m a guy that just assumes, or have assumed, that people are gonna follow direction. Some of it’s by, I think physical size, I think that has a big part of what comes along with my leadership. Some of it’s my ability to communicate with people, in a way in which it’s not unyielding, but it’s cooperative. Some of it, I think it’s the fact that I can cajole and humor and encourage guys, and appeal to their better self, not only to their physical attributes, but also their mental and spiritual.
Q: And you used to splice in movies. “Pulp Fiction” was one of them.
A: Many movies. Maybe the first one was the “Wizard of Oz.” … I had a player that consistently went to the hoop, got knocked down, and didn’t understand the fact that if you don’t score and you go to the hoop and you get knocked down and you’re a guard, 5-on-4’s gonna beat you, you’re not gonna get back on defense. So the opening thing when the movie turns to color, and she says, “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” that was kinda like the opening line. But then I had someone that needed to grow heart and somebody who needed to grow mind and so forth, and courage, so it was all about that.
Q: Where would bringing a championship back to New York rank among your achievements?
A: Wow, every one of those titles is such a precious thing. Even in the process of talking about these things that take a year to manifest themselves in a title, there is the journey, and the journey is what counts. So when you start this journey, it’s about the process. And the titles and the championships, they’re ephemeral in many ways. You win it, you feel great, and you’re on top, and there’s a wonderful euphoria that follows it. But it goes away. And then you have to start in July, rebuilding another championship. It’s something you understand it’s our goal, but it’s our goal starting July 1st — actually, when we draft. So it’s all this journey that begins including the summers, the injuries, the training camp, the rehabs — all these things these players are doing — and I hope, that when we sat in our exit meetings last April, late April, that I could portray that to these players that are coming back.
Q: But would this be like the cherry on top for you?
A: Oh, it would be wonderful. There’s so many people that stop me on the street and ask, “How’s our team gonna do this year?”
Q: How difficult is it going to be to change a culture for a franchise that hasn’t won in 41 years?
A: Well, I think they hadn’t won in 20 years when I came to the Knicks back in ’67 … and all those old-timers came out on the floor — [guard] Butch van Breda Kolff, and all those guys who were on the early teams in ’47, ’48. And they had never won in 20 years. Now it’s 40 years. So we’ve doubled it up. But the group of guys who we brought in, they were winners — Red, Dick [Barnett, guard]. … They brought in winners, guys that had won. Dick Barnett had won titles in college, and Willis Reed in Grambling, and Bill Bradley had had NCAA Final Fours, and [forward] Cazzie Russell had had Final Fours. Guys had been winners — myself, and Walt Frazier were from winning organizations and franchises. We didn’t even think about the fact that 20 years before there had never been a title in those 20 years. We thought about the fact that, “Hey, this our team, we’re gonna win.” We had the right people. So it’s all about their attitude, it’s not about what’s happened before for these guys. They have a fresh start, fresh ideas, they’re not gonna be hampered by the fact that 40 years has gone by and not a title’s been won.
Q: Do you visualize winning a championship in New York?
A: No. I have not. It hasn’t been that ultimate visualization. I’m still looking to see how this team’s going to operate, with great anticipation — how we’re gonna play our guards, how we’re gonna play our big men. I’m encouraged by the dedication they’re showing pre-camp, and their thirst and hunger to get out there on the basketball court and to start playing. Derek’s [Fisher] gonna figure this out, that’s his goal as a coach. And I gotta let him do that on his own, because that’s his proving ground, and I’ve got great confidence in his ability.
Q: Can you describe the bond between this city and the Knicks?
A: A lot of people that come and have season tickets in this arena have been players. They may be 50, 60, 70 years old — they’re still playing on the playground, and they still see the game, and they still think the game as a New York City game even though Philadelphia will challenge you on that, and other cities I’m sure want to challenge on that. But there’s a style, there’s a way that people think the game should be played, the ball should be moved, and this is one of them.
Q: When Knicks fans watch a Phil Jackson team, a Derek Fisher team play basketball, what do you want them to say about that team?
A: Unselfish. … They move the basketball. … They recognize situations on the court. … They’re intelligent, or have good group-think. … Defensively, they help each other out. And they’re scrappers.
Q: Is Kobe Bryant the model for Carmelo Anthony?
A: No. No one can approach that. I don’t expect anybody to be able to model their behavior after that, although Kobe modeled his behavior a lot about Michael Jordan, but he went beyond Michael in his attitude towards training, and I know Mike would probably question me saying that, but he did.
Q: How and why will the triangle offense make Carmelo a better player?
A: It’ll give him opportunity to be a passer, a rebounder, and probably easier spots to score from than he’s had before. I think. I hope that’s true for a lot of the players.
Q: Hawks GM Danny Ferry recently made comments about Carmelo in which he reportedly said: “He can shoot the [bleep] out of it, but he screws you up in other ways. So is he really worth $20 million? I would argue if he plays the right way, absolutely.”
A: I think there’s probably 15 players in the NBA that are very similar position. I don’t know if all of ’em are paid $20 million, but the coaches and GMs are talking about it in those type of terms — how much does this guy hurt your team, or hurt the game flow because he’s trying to score. The attempt to score, the need to score, the pressure that he feels he has to score. … Does he take away from the team game? That’s what Danny’s talking about there. And that’s where Carmelo’s gonna move forward this year in that situation — the ball can’t stop. The ball has to continually move. It moves, or goes to the hoop on a shot or a drive or something like that. In our offense, that’s part of the process of getting players to play in that rhythm.
Q: And Jordan had to make that adjustment too, right?
A: Michael had to be able to share the ball, other people had to get shots, only so many shots available out there. And when someone’s taking 27 a game or something? 25 a game, that’s maybe a third of the shots. That can’t happen in basketball.
Q: Is Carmelo on board with this?
A: All we talked about in our negotiation was, “I’d like not to have to feel like I have to carry the load to score every night.” He wants some help.
Q: Your first choice as head coach was Steve Kerr, but the Warriors offered more money. Did Knicks owner James Dolan support your pursuit of Kerr, and why do you think your second choice, Derek Fisher, was worth more money than your first choice?
A: That part is incorrect. However, having had a relationship with Steve that’s beyond just basketball and coach and player, we had discussions over the course of the year. A lot of ’em about running a system in the NBA. Is it possible that you can run this triangle system in the NBA? And I said, “I see no reason why not.” And I said, “A lot of it depends upon personnel and a lot of it depends upon mental attitude of players.” One of the discussion points that came up was as to what type of team you’re thinking about that could be very effective in the triangle, and he said, “Golden State Warriors.” And I said, “Oh that’s interesting, Mark Jackson’s there.” … And he said, “Yeah, I know.” But he said, “If that job was available, that would be kind of the perfect job for a triangle.” Well, once that job became available — I knew that he had a daughter at Cal, great volleyball player — and it really wasn’t more about that than about anything else. And so, even though he committed to me, I knew that the day that they fired Mark that that was where he was gonna be pursued. [former Jets general manager Mike] Tannenbaum facilitated that, and that was OK with me, because I want [Kerr] to be happy in what he does. And I think probably Derek’s the right choice for this job, so I have no qualms, no problem with it at all, and I’m thankful that Jim wanted to bend. But I think I had to make a statement about what I wanted to pay a coach.
Q: After Steve decided to take this Golden State job?
A: Before.
Q: Steve wasn’t offered what Derek was, correct?
A: We were negotiating at that level.
Q: How do you plan to try to get through to J.R. Smith to put an end to all his immature on and off the court antics?
A: I don’t know if that’s possible or not. He might be one of those guys that’s a little bit like Dennis Rodman that has an outlier kind of side to him. But I’m gonna get to know him as we go along, and we’ll find a way to either make him a very useful player on our organization, or whatever.
Q: Why did you take this challenge on, money aside?
A: I didn’t have to come and take this job for the money. My brother who has Parkinson’s, and I have a brother who had Hodgkin’s are older than I am, they’re 73 and 75. And my brother sent out a book last year about the art of growing old and said, “Let’s talk about this book.” And one of the chapters that we discussed was about the fact that aging, you’re going through the same sequence of things that you go through in your other periods of your life. You go through toddler, you become an infant, child, and then your adolescence and then your young adult life, and then your parenting life, when you’re a husband or father, career, all that stuff. And then when you get to a certain age, you hope you have some wisdom, and you can give back what you’ve accumulated over a lifetime. It’s time to do that. And my fiancée, Jeannie Buss, has been whacking away at me for a while about, “You’re just kinda sitting on a lot of information.” I have friends here, I have a history here. This is a place that has the ability and the willingness to want to come back. It’s a priority for this fan core that we get back and become a competitive franchise. So all those things I thought were grounds for a wonderful return. I know that we were hampered in a lot of ways by salary cap and issues that went along with that, but I thought there’s gonna be a chance for this team to be really good.
Q: Soon?
A: I don’t know what soon is. Is soon this year? Is soon next year. Is soon the year after? I see it in a sequence of 1, 2, 3 … A, B, C. We’re starting out with our A this year, we’re gonna move forward next year. This year we’re gonna show people who we are. We’re gonna get our players accustomed to how to play together, what kind of culture we’re gonna have, develop a chemistry that we want, and shed what’s not gonna help us get on the way and to move forward in the process.
Q: Is Step B, 2015 let’s say, is that championship contender stage?
A: I don’t know. I wish I had an answer to that one. We don’t know what’s gonna happen on the process. We have our eye on the target and the goal. That’s what’s important, and we know how to get there.
Q: The target and the goal is to win a championship. Not this year. That’s unrealistic.
A: We would love to do it this year. When I went from retirement the last time to the Lakers in ’99-2000, I believed that I could win a championship in the first year. We had the personnel to do that. When I took the job in Chicago in ’90, I thought we could win a championship. … This team hasn’t taken the subsequent steps to get to the place where you vault yourself from not in the playoffs to a championship. So we have to go through some of those steps.
Q: What’s your level of confidence that you’ll be able to pull this off, and bring a championship back to New York?
A: Well, it’s a day-to-day thing, it’s about every day doing the right thing. There’s no doubt that good fortune has to be a big part of it. I always refer back to a statement when people a lot of times like to talk about great fortune that’s happened with me, to a statement about Napoleon looking for a general to replace someone that’s fallen. And, they gave him all the benefits of this general and all this stuff, and he goes in the end and says: “Is he lucky? Does good fortune follow him?” And that’s really a part of it. And so we’re looking for people we think are lucky, good fortune follows them, and we think that’ll happen here.
Q: Carmelo has said that he believes this is absolutely a playoff team. Do you believe that as well?
A: Yes.
Q: Because?
A: We have enough talent to be a playoff team. Now it’s about playing together.