Steve Kerr understands big league pressure and what it means to work in the looming shadow of greatness. In the 1997 NBA Finals, with the Chicago Bulls on the verge of putting away the Utah Jazz, Michael Jordan would wave off Phil Jackson's designed play and draw it up instead for his struggling teammate.
"This is your chance," Jordan told Kerr.
Sure enough, after John Stockton abandoned his man to provide help defense on Jordan, the one and only threw a pass to an open Kerr, who drained the Game 6 shot that gave the Bulls their second consecutive title and gave the reserve guard a platform to thank Jordan for his unbending faith. "I owe him everything," Kerr said.
Someday in the not-too-distant future, Kerr might be saying the same thing about Jackson. The president of the New York Knicks just fired Mike Woodson and started a search for a replacement that might begin and end with Kerr, the TNT broadcaster and former Phoenix Suns GM who meets at least two of Jackson's apparent requirements for serious consideration: He has a burning desire to coach, and he can tell you more about the triangle than your average high school geometry teacher.
Truth is, Jackson should take his time and open up the search. He should wait and see if any interesting people get fired after losing in the first round of the playoffs. The draft is two months away, so what's the rush? Should a rookie president really hire a rookie head coach? Why consider only those who live and breathe the triangle offense when it would shrink the pool of candidates to a precious few and eliminate some highly qualified coaches who run similar systems based on the same ball-sharing concepts?
Aren't Zen Masters often celebrated as broad thinkers who never allow themselves to be boxed in?
In the end, we all know Jackson is going to do what Jackson is going to do. James Dolan, the Knicks' owner, handed him $60 million to build something worthy of comparison to the 11 championship teams Jackson coached in Chicago and Los Angeles, and nobody, not even Dolan, will tell the new president how to pick his players or the professionals hired to develop them. Though it would seem to make more sense to move Kerr into the front office, where he has some experience, and hire a veteran head coach who would ease Jackson's transition into a new role, Phil believes he's smarter than the rest of us when it comes to basketball, and his track record walks the talk.
But here's one thing Kerr or whoever replaces Woodson needs to accept before walking through that Madison Square Garden door, one thing that Jackson might not mention in the official job interview: That coach had better be strong enough to handle Jackson as his boss and, of greater consequence, as his permanent replacement-in-waiting.
That will be his toughest challenge by far. It won't be the New York market, the New York media or the New York championship drought that dates back to 1973. It will be the calls from the fans, and credentialed commentators, during the inevitable losing streak or three for Jackson to come down from the mount and coach the Knicks all the way to a parade.