At first glance, the difference between New York Knicks president Phil Jackson and Miami’s Pat Riley isn’t much. That’s only at first glance.Just imagine holding the distinction as one of the most powerful names in basketball and getting up at the crack of dawn to travel from sunny Miami to a nondescript college basketball game that’s only seeing airtime on ESPN 13.
(Yes, we know there’s no such thing as ESPN 13. We joke around.)
This is what Miami Heat president and total boss Pat Riley does for his organization year in and year out.
There you are, sitting on the La-Z-Boy with your feet up. You’re flipping around the dial only to come across a college basketball game with few names and even less power when considering the colleges involved. Yet there Pat Riley is, scouting is old heart out.
He’s in the stands, working as an NBA general manager.
When was the last time you saw Phil Jackson get out in the open and scout?
The 71-year-old Riley wasn’t a slouch during his Association playing days. Over the course of 10 seasons with three teams (San Diego Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets), Riley averaged 7.4 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game via 15.5 minutes a game. OK, so while he wasn’t a slouch, Riley also didn’t bring home the label of superstar at any point in his career either.
He was an extra body, a glue guy for most of his squads and in 1972 was fortunate enough to win a championship with the same squad who allowed him to begin his head coaching career seven years later.
This is part of the reason Riley’s been so incredibly successful. He’s a fighter, a guy who wasn’t blessed with extraordinary talent yet get the job done anyway. Through a workmanlike effort and sheer dedication, he’s gotten the job done at the highest level six times as head coach (five times in Los Angeles) and three times as the personnel boss (three times in Miami).
Phil Jackson, on the other hand, wouldn’t know hard work if it slapped him in the face.
As a two-time NBA player champion and 11-time champ as a head coach, Jax is no bum. Nobody in their right mind would ever attempt to dispute this.
It’s funny, though, that Jackson’s playing career resembles the gritty nature of Riley’s. Like the cool, calm and collected one, Jax was also a glue guy during his NBA playing days, winning two titles with the New York Knicks (1970 and 1973).
But alas, we don’t see Phil Jackson in the stands working his ass off. Instead of seeing him pop up at a Pac-10 collegiate game without notice, he simply keeps to himself publicly while embarrassing himself through the gift that keeps on giving: Twitter.
After all, there is very little basketball currently taking place in Montana.
When he first arrived at the Garden during the spring of 2014, we all applauded.
I wanted to see it. You wanted to see it. We all wanted to see it.
It happened. Finally, James Dolan did what we wanted him to do. He hired a basketball mind and got the hell out of the way — the very same thing he did with Glen Sather and the New York Rangers so many years ago.
We know it hasn’t worked out. We also now know it probably won’t work out during the entirety of his Knicks front office career.
As a president of any venture, hard work is a must and Phil’s vibe is always one of ego and clout. Perhaps he thought his 13 total championships were going to automatically open the floodgates for free agents to come to the Big Apple. Maybe he thought the fact that he coached Michel Jordan and Kobe Bryant would get it done for him now.
Nevertheless, once he realized it wouldn’t, hitting the pavement and working his ass off was the only logical route to take.
Thanks to in-house fighting, backdoor jabs at Carmelo Anthony, the team captain, and a poor record over two-plus seasons (74-152, and that’s without the ending to 2014 when he took over), Jackson continues to sit on his ass and do very little when this organization needs him most.
Meanwhile, Riley, 71 (the same age as Jackson), continues to get it done, even after LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The Miami Heat currently hold a 29-34 record, four full games ahead of the Knickerbockers who, on paper, seemed to possess the more explosive all-around talent.
Nobody can take Kristaps Porzingis away. Jackson hit a home run in that No. 4 spot when the NBA and the basketball gods looked to screw New York. Aside from that, what has the Zen Master accomplished?
He re-signed Melo during the summer of 2014 even after he knew a rebuild was needed. Mixing in a ball-dominant veteran such a Melo with young faces was never a great idea from the start.
He then decided to go the veteran route with names such as Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Joakim Noah and, of course, Derrick Rose. Every single one of these signings has struck out. And all the while, we still only see Jax a few times a year.
How embarrassing must it be to already be behind the Miami Heat during the first season they live life without Wade? The only thing New York Knicks fans can now hope for is Jax to pull a Riley circa 1995.
You can hate Riley all you want. You can despite the man from now until eternity. What you can’t do, however, is not respect him based on his body of work.
He simply needs to be viewed as an NBA executive who Phil Jackson should strive to emulate.
Dear Phil, either roll up your sleeves and work the real, gritty way you did as a player, or simply pull a Riley and fax in that resignation letter.