The video board outside Madison Square Garden read "Welcome Home Phil," and highlights of Phil Jackson's Knicks career played as "Glory Days" blared. Inside the building, Jackson talked about bringing the Knicks back to that special time more than 40 years ago.
Jackson was introduced Tuesday morning as Knicks president. Madison Square Garden executive chairman James Dolan said he "willingly and gratefully" gave control of basketball operations to Jackson, who has collected 11 NBA rings as a coach and two as a player with the Knicks.
"Phil will be in charge of all basketball decisions," Dolan said. Jackson, 68, said if he had not received that authority, he wouldn't have been sitting between Dolan and Steve Mills, now Knicks general manager after having president removed from his title.
"Jim knew I wasn't going to come if this didn't happen," Jackson said. "As we move forward, we have a great chance, a great opportunity. This is the best place to play basketball."
This partnership also would not have happened if not for Irving Azoff, a manager who represents the Eagles music group and is a business partner of Dolan's. He invited Jackson and Dolan to a party at his California home in December. They began talking about teaming up and continued speaking, culminating with a five-year deal for Jackson that Azoff negotiated.
The conversation began with coaching the Knicks, but Jackson had no interest. He has had five surgeries in the past few years, so coaching -- and possibly the Knicks' roster he called "clumsy" two years ago -- didn't appeal to him.
Jackson stressed Carmelo Anthony "is in the future plans," but he is also preaching patience as he tries to rebuild the Knicks.
A key member of the Knicks' last NBA championship team in 1973, Jackson said he's committed to bringing back the teamwork principles he learned from Red Holzman and that he stressed as coach of the Bulls and Lakers. He hopes to have the same success -- in time.
"That's why Jim brought me here -- his desire to win a championship," he said. "We hope to take that load off him a little bit, and take the team forward . . . toward winning a championship. This would be a pinnacle, a capstone, on the remarkable career that I've had."
Jackson answered critics who said he has no front-office experience by saying he was very involved in personnel decisions in Chicago and was behind the 1988 trade of Charles Oakley to the Knicks for Bill Cartwright.
He plans to move to New York but will be bicoastal at first because his family and his fiancee, Lakers executive Jeannie Buss, live in Los Angeles. He also said he has a few medical issues that will bring him back to the West Coast. But Jackson said he'll "establish" himself in New York, and that he's not worried about his legacy as he takes over a 27-40 team in danger of missing the playoffs.
"Jim came to me with this opportunity of pick a position you'd like to take and I said if I want to make this change, I think I can make the change, I have to jump in with both feet," Jackson said. "I've got to move to New York and I've got to do this job the right way.
"I think that this is an opportunity and that's what I look at it as, not as a possible failure chance. It's just a wonderful opportunity to do something that I love and that's hopefully create a team that loves each other and plays with each other."
Jackson was respectful of coach Mike Woodson and said they would talk after the season about his future. It's not expected Woodson will be retained.
Jackson spoke of his triangle offense and his belief in "system basketball," so he likely will look for a coach who feels the same way and is fluent in the triangle.
The Knicks don't have any draft picks or flexibility in free agency. Jackson said he will "work the bushes" for players to fill the roster next season. The Knicks' plan remains to maintain the salary-cap room they have for the summer of 2015, when Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love can be free agents.
"Steve and I are going to work to manage the roster, our financials, so we can have an impact in that area," Jackson said. "I think we know we need another solid contributor -- someone who can score to help Carmelo along, and who can contribute to the winning experience. So we're looking forward to it.
"But we're not losing sight of the fact that we're in a game-to-game basis in this business. And we want to provide a team that's talented, a team people want to come to watch and a team that's truly competitive."
Jackson also paraphrased a line from an old Frank Sinatra favorite about New York.
"If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere," he said. "We are going to make it here."
The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Knicks, Madison Square
Garden and Cablevision.
Cablevision owns Newsday.