Phil Jackson’s firing is just another moment of false hope in the James Dolan Era

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Many fans (and writers) are elated that the Knicks fired Phil Jackson. Our man Matt Miranda, on the other hand...

Neil Gaiman once wrote a story that included a man punished to suffer never-ending nightmares. Every time a dream seemed to reach maximum horror, he would somehow escape, only to plunge into another, worser one. Imagine that relentless rabbit hole of mortification. You don’t have to imagine. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a Knick fan.

We’re happy today, us Knick fans, but not because Phil Jackson is finally gone. That’s merely a symptom of the true disease. We’re happy today because we’re a beaten-down dog, and the last year or so of the Phil era was like Ramsey Bolton starving his dogs, and we grew so starved for scraps of hope and momentum we don’t care where the meat comes from anymore. Just give.

I share your psychosis. Madness is not unreasonable where there is no reason to be found. Jackson seemed to have a plan for a little over a year. He inherited a veteran-laden, expensive team that had no upside and a dearth of future draft picks. After trading or cutting all the non-digital athletes, Phil struck gold taking Kristaps Porzingis fourth in the draft and trading a pair of second-round picks for Willy Hernangomez. Robin Lopez was signed to a good contract and improved during his time in New York — don’t ever lose sight of how rare it is for the Knicks to sign someone to a deal they threaten to outperform. Derrick Williams was better than most people thought possible. Arron Afflalo was...well, look: even Aaron Judge strikes out sometimes. But things were headed in a positive direction, and that alone was nearly cause for a ticker tape parade.

Then, things slid backwards. Now, Carmelo Anthony wants out of town, Porzingis is getting jaded, and it’s fair to assume other players would speak up too if anybody cared to hear what they had to say. Nobody saw it coming, specifically. But deep down, we all knew it was coming. Knick fans are fluent in false messiahs: they have knee problems, eat Vaseline, eat everything, cost the world but deliver a pittance, have knee problems 2.0, are peak-mortal rather than messianic, or are too old, too banged-up, and too cocksure.

James Dolan spent 15 years overseeing Madison Square Garden’s fall from “noble warriors” to “Punchlines ‘R’ Us.” Today is the rare instance of Lucky Sperm Jim being praised for a decision. Sure, he fired his head of basketball operations a week after letting him draft a project over more NBA-ready talent, right before free agency begins. But Phil was ruining everything! He had to cut his losses. Better now than never. Right? Right?

I woke to the news of Jackson being fired or resigning or whatever the hell they wanna call it, and I felt no emotion. An initial tinge of surprise, yes. But it was a reflex action. Nothing more. Kick a dog nine times and then wait a minute before the tenth. He’ll feel it, sure. But it doesn’t teach him anything new. It doesn’t mean anything new. It’s just a slightly fresher bruise than the others. Dolan can hand the keys to Steve Mills, or Allan Houston, trade two first-round picks to pry Masai Ujiri from Toronto, make Jerry West and Gregg Popovich offers they couldn’t refuse. It don’t make no never mind. If the head is mortally inept, whatever surgeries the body endures are cosmetic and limited.

We have a new scapegoat. We’ll chew on its carcass for a while, and that will suffice, at least until Melo is bought out or traded. Then it’s his turn. Maybe Jeff Hornacek is tossed our way first, or maybe it’ll be one of the young players’ turns: KP, or maybe Frank Ntilikina even sooner than Porzingis. All the while, I’ll keep tuning in, just like you will. I’ll keep hoping against hope, same as you. I’ll convince myself why this time things will be different, and write articles about them, and then watch the waves wash over all the pretty sand castles and start digging and shaping my dreams again. We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.

The only way anything will ever change for the better — for a sustainable better — is if Dolan gets caught on tape telling a girlfriend not to bring black guys to Madison Square Garden and has to sell the team. Or if LeBron comes to New York with Chris Paul. They’ll be 33 and 32 next season. Same age Jesus was when he died, and both past their prime as NBA stars. Sound like the perfect MSG messiahs to me.

Back to top ↑