From Zen Master To Ring Master

Kate Huvane Gamble, Managing Editor,

I’m not a big basketball fan. For the purposes of this blog, I feel it’s important to convey I don’t follow the NBA — at least not intentionally.

But if you listen to sports talk radio during the winter doldrums — that long, painful time after football has ended and before baseball begins — you have no choice but to endure hoops talk.

That’s particularly true when one of the local teams is the Knicks, a once highly respected organization that has become a lightning rod for drama. Of course, every team has its share of in-fighting, which has only been amplified by the proliferation of social media. Last season, a player on the Lakers Tweeted a video that captured his teammate admitting to cheating on his fiancée (who happened to be singer Iggy Azalea). As disturbing as that was, the player was a rookie who clearly has much to learn about being a public figure.

With the Knicks, the drama du jour involves the team’s star player (and fan favorite), Carmelo Anthony, and Phil Jackson, who serves as president of basketball operations. For those who aren’t basketball aficionados, Jackson is the winningest coach in the league’s history with 11 titles under his belt. He became known as the “Zen Master” for his holistic approach to coaching that is influenced by Eastern philosophy.

Sounds great, right?


Here’s the problem. When things aren’t going well, he isn’t quite so Zen. In fact, the once highly praised coach has morphed into someone who hides from accountability and tosses blame around — precisely what you don’t want in a leader (as illustrated in CIO Brian Thomas’ recent blog).

In a series of bizarre Tweets in 2015, he blasted his team’s poor performance, suggesting that they don’t have “what it takes” to “please the basketball gods,” ending it with “smh.” (For those of you who are social media novices, that’s code for “shaking my head.”)

Pretty bad, but at least that time he was calling out the entire team, not just one player. In January, one of one of Jackson’s confidants wrote a scathing piece insinuating that Anthony had “outlived his usefulness” in the Big Apple. The team president’s response? Radio silence.

A few weeks later, when a piece published by Bleacher Report accused Anthony of caring more about fame than his team and mailing it in, Jackson sent out a Tweet saying the article “almost rings a bell” and that “You don’t change the spot on a leopard.”

Ouch. Talk about theater at the Garden.

And here’s the thing. Even if it was true, what possible good can come from the president of an organization taking veiled shots at its star player? To give a little history, the Knicks traded for Anthony in 2011, and the move quickly paid off, with New York clinching its first playoff berth in seven years. They reached the post-season during the next two seasons as well, before falling into an abyss that they can’t seem to climb out of. And before the trade deadline passed last week with no movement for Anthony, it was widely speculated that the Zen Master was looking to move the player he thought so highly of that he re-signed him in 2014 and gave him a no-trade clause.

It’s quite head-scratching, particularly considering the fact that Anthony has been the one who’s been forced to face the media — and address the ugly rumors — day in and day out. His most telling statement came a few days ago, when he told the NY Post, “My focus is playing ball at this point. My focus is these guys. That’s all I care about at this point. Making sure these guys stay strong and positive and have their head on right and not be a distraction to them.”

His teammates have gone to bat for him, painting the picture of a leader who urges his team to stay focused through tough times.

Jackson, on the other hand, hasn’t spoken to the New York media since September.

Now I’m the one shaking my head, along with all of the Knicks fans who just want to watch basketball.

The worst part is that Jackson’s legacy is forever tarnished. Of course, he’ll always have the rings and the storied coaching career, but his resume now includes an ugly asterisk. What this tells me is that no matter how much you’ve accomplished; how many awards you’ve collected, none of it matters if you lose your way. None of it matters if you cease being a Zen master and become a ring master.


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