Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson amazes Knick legends with his hoops longevity
Saturday, February 27th 2010, 2:32 PM
Mike Riordan, the old Knick, saw the irony in Phil Jackson not making it to Legends Night when the Knicks honored their 1970 championship team this past week.
In declining the invitation, Jackson cited travel considerations and the fact that he had to coach his Lakers the next night in Memphis. At one point, the Knicks offered him the use of a private jet, but that never got beyond the talking stages.
That Jackson is still coaching in a Hall of Fame career - and more to the point, that he ever got into the business - brought a smile and a story from Riordan. Like Jackson, Riordan was a member of the Knicks' celebrated draft class of 1967, Jackson missed the entire 1969-70 due to spinal fusion surgery.
"When we were playing together," Riordan said, "Phil said to me, 'Mike, you're the type of guy who can't live without basketball. When you're finished with basketball, you're such a junkie, you'll have to be coaching in basketball the rest of your life.' And then he says, 'That's not for me.'"
Sitting off the Garden court in a special interview room next to Donnie May and other teammates from 40 years ago, Riordan couldn't help but laugh.
"Now I've been out of the game 30, almost 40 years," he said, "and Phil's the one who can't get out of it."
Coaching, of course, made Jackson the star he never was as a player for Red Holzman. His unparalleled success with the Bulls and Lakers in winning an NBA record 10 titles as a coach has kept the spirit of the '70 championship team, and the memory of Holzman, very much alive.
"I root for the Knicks, first, but then I root for where my heart is," Bill Bradley said. "That's with Phil and the Lakers. I know it's weird to root for L.A., especially since we played them three times in the Finals. But I find I do."
Riordan also finds himself rooting for his fellow "Minuteman," the old nickname for Holzman's bench players. More than any other Knick of that era, he goes back the farthest with Jackson, both of whom were Holzman favorites.
When Jackson first arrived in New York, Riordan, who grew up in Great Neck, L.I., put him up in his home, took him to local courts to play in street games and gave him basic lessons on how to deal with the media.
"I was the local kid and he was the hippie from the plains, so my job was to acclimate Phil to the culture shock of going from North Dakota to New York City," he said. "Now here we are all these years later and he's walking around in Armani suits, wearing Bruno Magli shoes, and he's the Hall of Fame coach. It's still hard to believe.
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