Indeed, with the slouching under .500 and Coach ’s offense having gone missing since Carmelo Anthony arrived, Jackson’s name resounds louder and louder in New York.
How could it not? The city remains so special to Jackson that his girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, the daughter of the Los Angeles Lakers’ owner, is always wondering whether he will end his career where it started in the 1960s, when he was the Knicks’ resident hippie. And, she is quick to note, there are hourly nonstops between the two coasts.
But all that will matter only if Jackson decides he does want to sit on the bench again, despite his age and his aches and pains. He has always wanted to make the break from coaching and, after two tries, has never been happier than he now is in retirement No. 3. Here, the sky is blue, the temperature is in the 60s and the beach is five blocks from the 10-table bistro where he ate lunch Thursday.
“I have no desire to coach,” he said. “You never say never, right? I mean, there’s always something that might change my mind — but I just don’t see it.
“Without a doubt, New York is special,” he continued in a vein a little more encouraging for Knicks fans. “Why wouldn’t it be? When I was there, it was one of the greatest times to be in New York. I mean, the Mets, Jets and Knicks won championships all in one year.”
For Jackson, a young man from the high plains who was breaking away from the theology of his evangelical parents, living in Chelsea, adjacent to Greenwich Village, changed his life.
Improbably, Jackson also became Coach Red Holzman’s longest-serving disciple, but that was then and this is another millennium and another Knicks organization, one nowhere near as good as the one he knew.
Still, Jackson pays attention. “Now I enjoy listening to Knick broadcasts because of Walt,” Jackson said, referring to Walt Frazier. “I get a kick out of that. He was one of my teammates. He used to study the dictionary.
“Bill Bradley is back there. There are a lot of friends I have that are New Yorkers, so there’s a real sense that I enjoy seeing people in the time I’m there.”
Nevertheless, Jackson has passed up two chances to return to the team he helped make a champion as a player.
In 1998, after Jackson had left the Chicago Bulls with six titles, Dave Checketts, then the Madison Square Garden president, approached Jackson when he was . And in 2005, Isiah Thomas, then the Knicks’ president, .
In both instances, Jackson chose the Lakers over the Knicks, winning three titles the first time he picked Los Angeles and, to his surprise, capturing two more in the second go-round. Jackson has said that he thought he would return to coaching after leaving the Bulls in 1998 and taking a one-year sabbatical, but that his 2004 retirement was supposed to be for real.
Instead, after he walked away following the 2003-4 season, time hung heavily on his hands. In a telling anecdote, Buss said that Jackson, who had always disliked being bothered by fans in restaurants, now seemed O.K. with all the attention.
Soon enough, he was back coaching, although in retrospect, just about everything connected with Jackson’s second stint with the Lakers was surprising, from his being invited back in the first place to winning a record 10th championship and then an 11th.
It was not easy. There was his book — “The Last Season” — about the 2003-4 campaign that was critical of Kobe Bryant. And Shaquille O’Neal had been traded to Miami. But Jackson is Jackson, known as the Zen master, and by the summer of 2007, when Bryant demanded to be traded and excoriated the Lakers’ owner, Jerry Buss, it was Jackson who was the last link between the team and its star player.
Given permission to talk to other teams, Bryant missed two days of practice. Jackson told his players they would just have to wait to see what happened.
Bryant chose to stay put, and the Lakers wound up in the N.B.A. finals that season, where they were upended by Boston. But they beat Orlando the next year to give Jackson the 10th title, which broke his tie with Red Auerbach, then added his 11th, against the Celtics, a year later.