Waiting on a rental car shuttle at the Raleigh-Durham airport on the way to Pinehurst for the U.S. Open, a couple of New Yorkers were reading the news on their cell phones and wondering aloud why Phil Jackson would hire a novice instead of a veteran coach -- or, better yet, why Phil Jackson didn't decide to coach the Knicks himself.
Nothing personal against Derek Fisher, just business. The business of being a fan of a franchise that's waiting a whole lot longer than New York's hockey team to win it all.
The same kind of fans had the same kind of questions and concerns about Steve Kerr, another Jackson disciple with no experience who almost took this job first. Almost. Now it's Fisher cashing in the way Kerr cashed in with Golden State, proving that it's a really good thing to be a heady role player with five championship rings.
Especially if some or all of those rings were earned under the detached gaze of the greatest winner in major American sports.
Jackson was usually right in his time with Michael Jordan's Bulls and Kobe Bryant's Lakers, blowing by Red Auerbach with the 11 titles won on star power and the principles of his cherished triangle offense. But that was Zen, and this is now.
This is Jackson's chance to prove he can build a team, and build a coach along with it. You'll remember Auerbach kept poking Jackson in the ribs on his road to history, assuring everyone the Zen Master wasn't as much a gourmet chef as he was a lucky soul who was handed delicious prepackaged meals and merely asked to slap them in the microwave.
Maybe that old cigar smoke Auerbach blew into Jackson's face ultimately inspired him to take on a massive rebuild; maybe not. Maybe Jackson figured he couldn't turn down $60 million of Jim Dolan's money, even if he had no experience as a team president and no idea if he could coexist with his owner half as easily as Rangers president and GM Glen Sather.
"For Phil," said one NBA official who knows him well, "this could be the easiest and best-paying part-time job in the world."
Jackson swears he won't be spending most of his time on any California beach; he swears he's in it for real. He wants to mold a head coach in his image, and when Kerr jilted him and jilted him good, Fisher was there on the rebound.
Kerr helped Jackson win three championships in Chicago, and Fisher helped him win five in L.A. So on that scoreboard, advantage Plan B.
Fisher was always a wise and opportunistic point man, a guy who was never afraid to take the big shot in the big game or to assume a leadership role for a Players Association in dire need. If he fails in New York, it won't be because the market scared him off.
But as someone who's never done this before, Fisher still represents a major gamble. Kerr was handed a credible contender with Golden State, and last year Jason Kidd walked off the Knicks' roster and into a brave new world in Brooklyn, where he could fall back on the leadership provided by a pair of proud former Celtics, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
Fisher? He gets Carmelo Anthony -- assuming the Knicks re-sign him -- and a roster that failed to make the playoffs in a dreadful Eastern Conference, a roster Jackson called "clumsy" before he landed on Dolan's payroll.