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Phil Jackson Joining the Knicks Would Be Another Shot to Go One-on-one With Pat Riley

 
     March 14 (Washington Post) -- Earl Monroe called back late
Wednesday afternoon after physical therapy. The Pearl says he's
not gleaming as much these days. He turns 70 later this year and
has had six knee-replacement operations since July to prove it.
Like a somewhat accomplished former teammate of his, Monroe
couldn't imagine working full-time now just for the money.
     "He doesn't need a job," Monroe said of Phil Jackson, who is
said to be days, maybe even hours, away from going back to work
for a Knicks organization that Jackson and Monroe last helped
lead to a title more than 40 years ago. "When I last spoke to
him, he seemed content living in L.A. and doin' his thing."
     So what's this really about?
     "You see what Pat Riley has done lately," Monroe said.
     Yep.
     "Well, everyone knows that Pat Riley and Phil haven't had
the greatest relationship over time," Monroe said. "There is an
ego aspect. That's just a fact. Pat Riley has won in L.A. and
Miami, but he couldn't quite get over the hump in New York. If
Phil were to bring a championship to New York after all this
time, it would be, in a sense, performing a miracle."
     Better than a miracle; it would one-up Riles.
     The money and the power (reports of $15 million per season
and maybe an ownership stake) that comes with pulling the strings
at Madison Square Garden as team president are certainly plenty
of enticement.
     But why else would the ultra-revered, ultimate winner in pro
sports' coaching history trade in his wise old sage label for the
scrutiny and real labor that comes with fixing the Knicks at age
68?
     With surgically repaired hips, assorted arthritic limbs and
winters now comfortably spent on a warm southern California beach
with the original Laker girl, what would make Phil Jackson gamble
on tarnishing his own legend?
     Easy: To be the winner again.
     And to be the winner again, Phil Jackson would have to beat
Pat Riley again. The Bulls-Knicks rivalry is two decades old now,
but nothing ever felt more satisfying for Phil Jackson than
beating Pat Riley.
     In the time since Jackson stepped down from coaching the
Lakers in 2011, the Miami Heat have won two championships and
been to three straight NBA Finals. They won because Riley
convinced LeBron James and Chris Bosh to come to South Beach and
play with Dwyane Wade.
     Since Riley ditched the Knicks for the Heat in 1995, the
force of one man's personality has built and rebuilt the
organization.
     If Jackson's vision ever culminated in a title in New York,
he would supplant Riley as the game's most successful executive
and, by association, the NBA's most effective recruiter of future
Hall-of-Fame players.
     Jackson coming back to the NBA is ultimately about three
things:
     1. He needs to be talked about more than when he is hawking
a book. For all the Zen-inspired backpacking trips to New Zealand
and points unknown, nothing enables Jackson to breathe and live
more than teaching the Tao of the jump shot and being part of the
daily NBA conversation.
     2. The nostalgic pull from his old Knick/Woodstock roots was
too powerful to deny this time. He turned down the Knicks'
coaching job twice, once in 1999 during a clandestine meeting
with a team official when Jeff Van Gundy was still coach and
another time in 2005. He knows he would attain Garden immortality
if he were the man who brought a banner back to the pinwheel
ceiling.
     And 3. Jackson just can't let Riley age that gracefully, his
distinguished gray blending into his full, combed-back thatch.
Giving up the sideline for the executive suite so seamlessly,
Riley lords peerlessly over a league in which he now has the Star
Power team.
     Beyond the millions, Phil needs this for ego. He needs to
show aging New Yorkers who saw him play that the Knicks can win a
title before they retire to Florida or die.
     Phil needs this because Riley needs companionship on the
mountaintop, because no great NBA player, coach or even executive
in fine Italian wool is complete without an historic rival,
someone to push them, to measure their own success by.
     Russell had Chamberlain. Bird and Magic had each other.
Michael had Patrick Ewing (okay, and Barkley and Olajuwon and
Stockton and Malone and the Pistons and the Jazz . . .)
     Even Red Auerbach, the greatest franchise patriarch there
ever was and the man whose record 10 titles as a coach Jackson
surpassed in 2009, had a rival. His name was Red Holzman,
Jackson's beloved Knick coach. Holzman did what Riley, Rick
Pitino, Hubie and Larry Brown could not: deliver a championship
to a full-throated Garden on a glorious summer night.
     Jackson was once Riley's greatest nemesis in the coaching
profession. The new-age coach who burned sage in his locker room
annually beat out the practice-till-you-drop taskmaster,
Jackson's philosophy prevailing over Riley's just as much as his
team.
     And now he's coming back to compete again.
     It won't happen overnight. The Knicks now have more issues
than a bond measure. Carmelo Anthony is ready to test the
free-agent market. They don't have a first-round draft pick this
season and are devoid of real salary-cap room until 2015.
     "I think re-signing Anthony would be one of the foremost
goals," said Monroe, still a keen Knick observer. "I like the
[Tim Jr.] Hardaway kid and if [Iman] Shumpert can get himself
focused a little bit more offensively, because he's already quite
the defensive player, I think their backcourt is all right. Then
you got the defensive player of the year [Tyson Chandler] from
2012 who is still worth a lot when he is healthy."
     "Phil is going to have his work cut out for him," Monroe
adds. "But if he has the control and power to do it his way, I
have no doubt he'll get it done."
     Jackson holds the NBA record for most combined championships
as a player and head coach (13). He has done it all. The jaded
among us will view this as a career-ending financial score,
preying on a desperate, dysfunctional owner forever trying to
rekindle a franchise's past.
     But there is something else out there.
     See, Phil Jackson is not the only person in the history of
North American sports figures to win a championship as a player,
coach and executive.
     For now, that's only Pat Riley.
     mike.wise@washpost.com

     For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.
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