Commentary

Phil Jackson is the new Brett Favre

Now is not the time to write an obituary on the Zen Master's coaching career

Updated: May 11, 2011, 8:42 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- I will not write a Phil Jackson career obituary. I will not believe a single one I read, and you shouldn't, either.

Phil Jackson is the new Brett Favre when it comes to retirement. This is Jackson's third stab at leaving coaching, but did you see how coy he was after the Lakers were swept out of the NBA playoffs Sunday and he was asked whether he really was retiring for good?

"I haven't really answered that, have I?" Jackson said, smiling impishly.

It was totally predictable that it took barely 24 hours for the first story about Jackson's return -- as coach of the New York Knicks, no less -- to float up.

In Tuesday's editions of the New York Post, Knicks writer Marc Berman quoted a league source who said, "If the right situation presented itself, he would have to consider it" in 2012.

[+] EnlargePhil Jackson
Noah Graham/Getty ImagesPhil Jackson has flip-flopped before. Could another episode be in the cards?

Of course Jackson would.

Even before the Post report, I agreed with Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who said of Jackson moments after his Dallas Mavericks eliminated Jackson's Lakers: "My belief is that he'll retire for a while, but I don't know how long you can go to Montana and meditate and smoke peyote, or whatever he does there. He's going to get bored."

Jackson didn't exactly deny that, either. When told what Carlisle said, Jackson joked, "First of all, you don't 'smoke' peyote."

See?! The guy already has nothing to do.

So get ready, Knicks fans, for months of overheated speculation about when, if, where, how and what it will take to lure Jackson back. Brace yourself for more of those cat-and-mouse interviews Favre made famous when he was/wasn't/was/wasn't/was coming back after he left the New York Jets.

Jackson, like Favre, has shown a strong affinity for the tens of millions of dollars that teams are willing to throw at proven winners such as them. Remember how the Minnesota Vikings were bidding against only themselves in 2010, and yet sweetened the pot for Favre by an extra $7 million to $8 million in pay and incentives to get him to come back for one final season? It was very similar to how Jackson was rumbling about retirement in 2009 until Lakers owner Jerry Buss backed off some midseason remarks about expecting Jackson to take a pay cut if he returned, although by then he'd already won 10 of his NBA-record 11 titles as a coach.

Good one.

The Lakers' owner eventually backed up a truck with $12 million to Jackson's bank. Knicks owner James Dolan would do the same. Maybe Dolan could even dispatch Walt Frazier with a photo of Red Holzman in his wallet to tug at Phil's heartstrings and rhapsodize about how splendiforous it was back in the '70s when they were lifting the Knicks to NBA titles together -- and how malodorous it would be now for Phil to turn down the chance to end the Knicks' title drought since. Jackson could do for the Knicks what Mark Messier did for the Rangers.

Jackson will listen, all right, because he seems to enjoy being wooed as much as Favre did. Every time the comeback stories start to wane, both of them have had a habit of ginning up the speculation again.

The last time Jackson "retired," he made a grand show of talking up all the great and interesting things he was doing -- crisscrossing the country on his motorcycle, fishing in Alaska, elaborating on his just-published book in which he tweaked Kobe Bryant for being unreachable. But when rumors started floating that he was going back to the Lakers after his one-year hiatus, all of a sudden, Jackson somehow found a way to email a Los Angeles Times reporter from -- get this -- Luc Longley's boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean, where they were cooking lobsters they caught under the stars, and weigh in.

That doesn't happen if you're a guy who truly just wants to get away from it all.

So I won't believe this is it for "Big Chief Triangle." The "Zen Master" is not done, just meditating on his next move. All those trout in all those Montana fishing streams that Jackson has talked about wading back into can breathe easy. You know who really has to sweat now, don't you? It's folks such as the Knicks' Mike D'Antoni or even Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra if Miami somehow suffers some spectacular flameout now that it is ahead of Boston, three games to one, in their second-round series.

With Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and salary cap room to work with to sign another top player, the Knicks actually look like the best landing spot for Jackson at the moment. And that's not just New York chauvinism talking. The same league source who told the Post that Jackson would have to consider any overtures from the Knicks was already shooting down the talk that the 65-year-old Jackson's health would be an issue. In February, Jackson's longtime girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, a Lakers executive and daughter of Jerry Buss, said she wouldn't try to dissuade Jackson from going to the Knicks. Other people say Jackson's nostalgia for the team is overstated but Buss insisted not so, saying it would mean he'd come "full circle."

We've heard this sort of flip-flopping before, haven't we?

Jackson is the new Favre. Different guy, same story.

The great who is never really sure he wants to say goodbye.

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