Between his final game coaching the Los Angeles Lakers in May 2011 and his official hiring as president of the New York Knicks in March, Phil Jackson worked through quite the tumultuous 34-month stretch. He became engaged, he watched his family grow, he underwent a series of significant surgeries, he nearly became coach of the Lakers for a third time, he flirted with front office gigs, he discovered that he was great at Twitter, and he wrote a book.
During that stretch, the mutual interest between Jackson and potential NBA owner Chris Hansen was an open secret. Hansen took great pains and offered huge gobs of cash in an attempt to buy the Sacramento Kings during the 2012-13 season (moving them to Seattle along the way), and he pitched a role to Jackson that seemed to fit for his post-coaching career – that of a, in Jackson’s words, “keeper of the flame.” We quote Phil here, because on Thursday he followed up on his most recent book with an addendum published in the New York Daily News.
In one of several anecdotes, Jackson discusses his proposed partnership with Hansen:
The prospect that captured my imagination didn’t involve any coaching. In December 2011 my son Charley introduced me to Chris Hansen, a successful hedge fund manager who had put together a group of investors who were trying to bring an NBA team back to Seattle. Hansen’s plan was to buy a majority share of the struggling Sacramento Kings franchise, then persuade the NBA to let him move it to the former home of the Sonics.
What I liked about Chris was his innovative thinking about sports and community. He wanted me to help him create a new kind of sports culture, focusing on the team itself rather than individual superstars. His goal was to make the fans feel as if they, too, were part of the family. One of Chris’s ideas, inspired by the Seattle Sounders soccer team, was to hold large pep rallies before each game to get the fans juiced up as they made their way to the arena. Another idea was to create a low-priced standing room section behind the baskets, complete with beat boards to rev up the noise level. Chris even wanted to remove the players’ names from their jerseys to shift attention away from individual players. I told him the marketing department of the NBA might have a problem with that one.
What’s interesting to note is that Jackson claims his role with a Seattle franchise would not have him working as “the hands-on general manager,” as he kept the flame for a franchise that doesn’t actually exist. This begs the question as to how similarly aligned that potential role is with his current gig as Knicks president, and if technical Knicks GM Steve Mills is the one working over cap figures and negotiating with players.
One thing fans of the Sacramento Kings will especially notice is how dispassionate Jackson is when discussing the potential uprooting of a team that has been working out of the California capital since the mid-1980s, and how matter of fact (or borderline dismissive) Jackson is in discussing both the “$258 million public subsidy” that Sacramento residents will have to foot in order for the Kings to have a new arena, how the NBA’s Board of Governors voted to block any move from Sacramento, and how the entrance of current Kings owner Vivek Ranadive “put an end to the dream” for Jackson and Hansen.
It’s a tricky situation, one the NBA stuck itself with when former commissioner David Stern decided to back off as former Seattle SuperSonics owner Howard Schultz sold his team to a pair of Oklahoma City-bred men with clear (and proven) designs on moving the team to OKC. Current Oklahoma City Thunder owners lied to the SuperSonic fan base and eventually hauled off to Oklahoma, and Stern declined to intervene, only tossing off snooty replies to a local Seattle government that he did not get along with.
Stern and the owners went the complete opposite route when dealing with the Kings’ sale and potential move, which has to frustrate Seattle fans to no end. The problem here is that the NBA has an even 30 teams, no current need to expand in spite of the game’s remarkable growth over the last quarter century, and there isn’t a single franchise that seems like an appropriate candidate to move to Seattle. Presuming the NBA, as it watches small market teams being sold for half a billion dollars, votes to allow such a thing.
Jackson went on to discuss well-worn topics, such as his engagement, and the Lakers’ front office impatience in jumping ahead of Phil’s decision to coach again, and he also mentioned his role in working to convince Dwight Howard to re-sign with the Lakers in the summer of 2013.
The former Lakers coach was working as a consultant to the Detroit Pistons at the time, and in his book addendum Jackson claims that Howard asked Laker GM Mitch Kupchak if he could guarantee that Jackson would return as Lakers coach in 2013-14, should Howard re-sign as a free agent. Kupchak “quickly disabused him of that notion,” according to Jackson, though Phil did reach out to Howard with a series of phone messages that Howard, according to Jackson’s newest revelations in the Daily News, never responded to.
The Lakers invited Kobe and Steve to the final pitch meeting to help persuade Dwight to come on board. It sounded like a good idea. Steve sent out an amusing tweet before the meeting: “Dwight Howard we’re coming for you. You’re going to love the statue we build for you outside Staples in 20yrs!” And Kobe made a moving speech during the pitch, promising to teach Dwight the secret of winning championships that he’d learned from the best in the game.
If the meeting had ended there, it might have worked. But after the presentation, Dwight asked Kobe what he was planning to do after he recovered from his Achilles injury. Was this going to be his last year? “No,” replied Kobe. “I’m planning to be around for three or four more years.”
At that point, according to others in the room, Dwight’s eyes went blank and he drifted away. In his mind, the game was over.
A few days later he announced that he was signing with the Rockets.
Jeannie Buss, the Lakers’ president of business operations, swears that the presence of the late Laker owner Dr. Jerry Buss could have swayed Howard to stay in Los Angeles, and though Dr. Buss’ track record was a sound one, that’s hard to get behind. Dwight Howard wanted nothing to do with Kobe Bryant’s looming presence, so much so that he left one of the world’s greatest cities and franchises to take less money to join the Rockets.
(That’s not a slight sent toward Houston or the Rockets, just a reminder that it’s hard to turn down so many millions of dollars, even Howard’s finances balance out after his next contract.)
Phil Jackson recently re-signed Carmelo Anthony, he runs a team populated by J.R. Smith and Andrea Bargnani, and he works for James Dolan. We can’t wait for the next book.
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