5am was much earlier than James Dolan liked to wake up. As he wrestled on his Van Heusen cable knit sweater and scrambled out the door, he mumbled to himself, "Fucking Phil Jackson." This was the fateful day that the Zen Master would decide on Dolan's offer to run the Knicks.
Steve Mills was accustomed to 5am. He'd become intimately familiar with that hour of the morning thanks to many years of sleepless nights. Once a gregarious and fun-loving young man, Mills spent most of his waking hours in a zombie-like state, the result of prescription medication and the knowledge that he last best chance to run an NBA franchise was doomed from the start. Today could be different, but it meant giving up any meaningful role in the direction of the Knicks. With a hearty sigh, Mills rose from the edge of his hotel bed and strode into the sunlight.
For several minutes Dolan and Mills stood in the parking lot of their Southern California hotel, speechless. The hotel was called Hotel Rancho Rodeo, a little out of the way shoe box of a place on the edge of the desert. Dolan broke the long silence, saying, "Never stayed in a place like this before. *sniffle* Bet you have Steve. Blech." A little chuckle was tacked on the end of his pronouncement to blunt the remark, but it hardly mattered. Mills had long since given up listening to his boss. A few nods and a smirk or two were enough to navigate the minefield. "Where the hell is Phil," Dolan asked, squinting and rubbing the top of his head.
Just at that moment, a large figure emerged out of nowhere, obscuring the sun and towering in silhouette over the two Knicks executives. "The desert can be unforgiving, gentlemen. You sure you're up for this?"
Dolan and Mills looked at one another briefly, nodding nervously. The silhouetted figure of Phil Jackson, the object of their basketball desires, shifted slightly on his feet before spinning and walking straight into the desert across the highway. Dolan and Mills stumbled along behind, trying to catch up. Dolan was already sweating profusely as he stammered in the direction of the Zen Master. "Aren't we stopping for brunch, first? What about a cup of coffee?"
The desert air was still cool despite the powerful sun rising above. Footprints of small creatures dotted the roadside and led the men into a patch of brush. Waiting for them behind a patch of scrub, Jackson stood beside three dune buggies, drinking tea from a large thermos. "Here," he offered, " drink this. It'll give you a little boost before we hit the sand." Dolan looked warily at the tall Jackson. He put out a tentative hand and held the thermos briefly before taking it for himself. A careful sniff revealed a pungent, but not unpleasant, aroma from the tea and he cautiously took a deep sip before handing the container to Mills. "Mmmm. Interesting. What is it," Dolan asked.
"Proprietary blend," offered Jackson. "Make it myself."
By now, Mills had swallowed half the thermos prompting Dolan to cry out, "Slow down Steve. What'd you grow up in a barn?" Another hearty round of awkward laughing followed, but Jackson only stood smirking to himself.
"We're off. Hop on a buggy and it'll almost drive itself."
The men sat behind the wheel of their dune buggies and glanced around the controls. The vehicles appeared as though they'd been built in the 1970s and a wash of angst soon fell over James Dolan as he realized that he hadn't driven his own car in years. "What do I do if I get lost, Phil," he asked worriedly.
"That's the point," replied Jackson as he started the ignition and roared away. His words trailed behind him as he sped into the desert, "That's the point. Get lost, gentlemen. That's the only chance you have to find your way."
It didn't take long before Dolan and Mills had let go of their initial trepidation and soon both men were openly smiling and laughing. It was warmer, but not in the way you'd expect from a desert. It was euphoric and the sound of the old engines almost seemed melodious. Dolan wiped the sweat from his brow across the sleeve of his Van Heusen sweater, looking over his shoulder to find Mills. He was nowhere to be found. Likewise, Jackson hadn't been seen for at least 15 minutes and suddenly Dolan felt a twinge of panic set in. Rising up over a sand dune, he put the machine in idle and stepped out. Another wipe of his brow and a squinted glance at the horizon, Dolan felt his heart beating faster in his chest. A gila monster scampered at his feet and he stood staring in the creature's direction hoping against hope that Mills or Jackson would soon appear. They'd all have a good laugh and he'd make a joke about the lizard. "Looks like Isiah," he thought to himself.
Clouds rolled in suddenly covering the hot sun and the sky turned dark and indigo. The gila monster wore a bow tie and a name tag that read "Zeke." Dolan's eyes grew wide and he stumbled backward into a patch of brush. His misstep landed him atop the scratchy desert ground, staring up at Zeke. "I believe. One slick nightmare. Fabulous horizon of gold and peppered salvation. Over and out." And, with that odd pronouncement Zeke disappeared. The sky grew deeper indigo and the clouds swirled angrily. The sand began to melt and the very reality around him began to dissolve. Dolan no longer had a body. His mind swam in a murky liquid-like state, observing shadows of his former reality. Time and space no longer seemed to apply to his existence and he began to question whether or not he was still alive. It may have been hours or days or eons, but Dolan continued to float. The wisdoms of the ages became clear and oneness with all of creation seemed within his grasp. Then, suddenly, it all went black.
Waking in the desert sand, Dolan felt his mouth parched and dry. His lips were cracked and covered in dust, and he looked around in confusion. Steve Mills was kneeling next to him, looking disheveled and disoriented as well. The two men never spoke of their visions. They just knew. Most of the experience was irretrievable in their waking state, save the ideas that haunted them forever more. Dolan pronounced his new wisdom at the press conference introducing Jackson as the Knicks president. "I am by no means an expert in basketball." Mills kept his experience more private.
It wasn't long before Phil Jackson reappeared to both men, striding across the sand, still smirking to himself. "We thought we lost you, Phil," Dolan exclaimed.
"No. You lost yourselves," Jackson replied with a heavy chuckle. "Let's get out of here so I can sign that contract."
Dolan and Mills glared at one another, wide-eyed. They'd scored the most important personnel hire in their time with the Knicks. Dolan shouted ahead, "Great news, Phil! Great news! Hey...what was in that tea?"
Jackson continued to walk away in to the desert, only replying, "Chamomile."