First things first: Phil Jackson gets to keep his rings. All 11 of them.
No matter what sort of incompetence the Zen Master displayed during his disastrous 39-month reign as president of the New York Knicks, the 11 rings remain evidence Jackson is one of the all-time great NBA coaches. Phil may as well be waltzing out of Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, James Dolan's $60 million in his bank account, channeling Frank Sinatra: "They can't take that away from me."
But given the dumpster fire Phil created at The World's Most Famous Arena, there's really no other conclusion to come to at what is presumably the end of Phil's basketball career than this:
The Jordan- and Kobe-whisperer, someone who was basketball's most untouchable sage only three years ago, has gone from all-time great coach to all-time disaster of an executive.
It's the biggest fall from grace in basketball history.
And if you exclude falls from grace that involved legal, drug or personal issues -- i.e., we're not comparing Phil to O.J. Simpson or Lance Armstrong or Aaron Hernandez or Mark McGwire or Tiger Woods -- I'm not sure there's been a bigger fall in sports history. In three years he went from savior to pariah.
What was Phil Jackson three years ago, when he accepted James Dolan's offer-you-can't-refuse to run the Knicks? He was the GOAT. Yes, there always was the fact Phil had some all-time luck in the all-time great players he got to coach, but you can't separate that from the fact that Phil Jackson was right there for basketball's Mount Rushmore, along with Pat Riley, Red Auerbach, John Wooden and Mike Krzyzewski. He was untouchable.
Until he touched the Knicks.
I mean, look at this crap. In his Knicks tenure, here are Phil Jackson's accomplishments:
- Hired Derek Fisher as coach, and he turned out to be a terrible coach who was fired after one and a half seasons.
- Gave away former NBA defensive player of the year Tyson Chandler to the Dallas Mavericks for a case of Bud Light (basically).
- Passed on Nikola Jokic and Jordan Clarkson in the 2014 draft in order to take Cleanthony Early, who was shot in the leg outside a strip club during his second NBA season and has scored 24 points in 120 NBA minutes since.
- "Led" the Knicks to a 16-game losing streak (worst in franchise history!) and a 17-win season (worst in franchise history!).
- "Helped" the Knicks win 32 games (13th place in the East) and 31 games (12th place) during his next two seasons presiding over the franchise.
- Gave Carmelo Anthony a no-trade clause in Melo's five-year, $124 million extension, which hampered the Knicks' maneuverability in a possible rebuild.
- Signed the corpse of Joakim Noah to a four-year, $72 million deal, one of the worst contracts in NBA history.
- Remained married to the triangle offense even as the rest of the league innovated and passed it by. This was a big contributor to why the Knicks never could land anything close to a marquee free agent.
- Managed to alienate the NBA's brightest star -- a player who wasn't even on his team -- by publicly referring to LeBron James' business associates as his "posse."
I could go on, but you get the point: Measure how great Phil Jackson was as a coach, then use the opposite of that to properly measure Phil Jackson as a Knicks executive.
I know that there's one big thing I'm leaving out, and that's Kristaps Porzingis. If there's one bright spot in Phil's three years with the Knicks, it's the Latvian unicorn Phil took fourth overall in 2014. Great pick! (Even though Phil reportedly was not high on Porzingis at the time.) Porzingis is, at 21, will be among the league's best players in a few years. Despite the drag that Melo is on this franchise's future, Porzingis gives the Knicks hope. But Phil couldn't even leave that one big victory alone, deciding to pitch a fit about Porzingis skipping out on an exit meeting at the end of another ugly season and putting him on the trading block leading up to the draft.
All this ineptitude, and sprinkling in some embarrassing headlines about Phil falling asleep during draft workouts, adds up to one of the biggest falls from grace we've ever seen. Phil the coach was a genius; Phil the Knicks president was a nightmare.
And perhaps that's the point. What Phil knew -- how to motivate a group of men to become the best basketball players they could be -- did not translate to the front office. His devotion to the triangle, once the hallmark of his genius, became a big part of his downfall. Phil Jackson didn't know what he didn't know. Where he belonged was the sidelines, not in the front office. Hubris -- and a boatload of cash from one of the most inept owners in sports -- tarnished his legacy. Yes, he gets to keep the rings. You can't take those away from him. But Phil Jackson the coach -- the Phil Jackson who won those 11 rings -- could never get out of the way of Phil Jackson the executive. That mentality more than any one personnel decision is what led to his fall.