By the time Knicks James Dolan owner fired Phil Jackson as team president in 2017, it was apparent Jackson would fail even further if he stayed on the job.
Jackson was making a mess of the Carmelo Anthony situation. Jackson was alienating Kristaps Porzingis. While New York went 17-65, 32-50, and 31-51 in his three full seasons in charge, Jackson instilled no confidence he could assemble a quality roster.
But when asked about what went wrong during his Knicks tenure, Jackson first cited the media. Then, he said the problem worsened by the end.
Jackson on “The Curious Leader” podcast (hosted by his former player Coby Karl):
One, you had a media that was decidedly against the organization, and they were looking for whatever they can do to throw aspersions on the organization.
I think that Jim felt like I was facing too big of an uphill climb and relieved me of the job because he just saw the media was going to be backing Carmelo in this situation and I was going to be the guy that was taking the lumps. I mean, there was a lot of distortion that went to it, and texting and media was a big part of it.
Which Michael Graham was brought up of changing the spots on a leopard that I tweeted out something about I learned a lot of things about players that you don’t change who they are. But I used that terminology that we used a lot. And it was roundly made it was a racist remark or whatever else that can be thrown into the mix. And, you know, Carmelo’s agent was upset about it. The reaction was – I think one of the writers I knew said, “I think Phil made a mistake. He thought Carmelo could play the same role that Kobe and Michael played in the triangle offense.” I was like, “No, he’s not either one of those guys. I think the offense could work for him, but he’s not that type of player. And you don’t change a player to fit a mold. He has to be who he is on the floor himself.” And I made this statement, and it was just one of these things that created a firestorm.
And I kind of understand what Trump had to live with probably for his first three-and-a-half years of office with media in just the very short term of being in that seat with the Knicks.
I don’t recall a single instance of someone calling Jackson’s Carmelo Anthony-spots-on-a-leopard comment racist. It definitely wasn’t roundly made into a racist remark.
The spots-on-a-leopard incident drew criticism because it was yet another example of Jackson disparaging Anthony. Though Jackson’s assessments of Anthony weren’t completely off base, this was not a healthy way for a lead executive to handle his star player. If nothing else, Jackson was sabotaging Anthony’s trade value.
The media did report plenty of unflattering stories about Jackson using anonymous sources. Jackson was reportedly unreachable approaching a trade deadline. Jackson reportedly fell asleep during a draft prospect’s workout. Jackson reportedly couldn’t get his computer to work during a free agent pitch. Jackson reportedly floored multiple free agents with his unpreparedness in meetings.
Were all those stories true? I can’t say with certainty.
That’s where Jackson’s comparison to former president Donald Trump comes in. The media reported many unflattering things about Trump. Many times, the stories were true. Sometimes, they were not.
It’s unacceptable for reporters to spread misinformation. If those reports about Jackson were inaccurate, that’s unfair.
Also true: That the reports were believable was problematic on its own. That wouldn’t be the case with a competent executive.