NEW YORK -- Phil Jackson was folding himself into the passenger side of a black SUV late Wednesday night, engine running, the vehicle headed toward a Madison Square Garden ramp, when the president of the New York Knicks (and yes, it still feels weird to say it and write it) was asked about the player who had just blown a hole through the best team in the East.
Jackson was asked by ESPNNewYork.com for his impression of Carmelo Anthony, his first gamenight impression as Anthony's boss.
"He was good, wasn't he?" Jackson said. "Passed the ball, moved it around, got a couple of 3-point shots at the right time."
Of course, Jackson really liked the "passed the ball, moved it around" part of Anthony's 34-point, five-assist, three-steal performance in this 92-86 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
He smiled before reaching for the car door.
"Everything went good defensively, too," he said, "and got our first win here."
And then he was gone, off to wherever it is Zen Masters go to celebrate the first victory on a $60 million deal.
Over the next four months, Phil Jackson and Anthony will be the most watched power couple in this town since Alex Rodriguez walked into Derek Jeter's life in 2004. Though we have no idea how this relationship will end, we do know how it began:
Anthony looks and sounds a whole lot happier about Jackson's arrival than Jeter did about A-Rod's.
With Jackson towering over the proceedings, Anthony led the Knicks to a seventh consecutive victory that left them four games back of Atlanta for a final playoff spot they most likely won't claim. That's OK. Of greater consequence, as tipoff approached, Melo maintained again he agrees with Jackson's assessment that he needs to take his game, as they say, to the next level.
Anthony said that he was "blessed and honored to hear" that Jackson wants to re-sign the free agent-to-be in July, and that he planned to "rely on him, talk to him, use him as a mentor ..." Melo called the new team president "a genius" and "a basketball guru" before taking it to the Pacers while Jackson watched from his midcourt seat, his chalk-white hair visible from the Garden rafters.
The crowd gave Jackson a standing ovation when he was shown on the video board in the first quarter, inspiring the appointed savior to give a thumbs-up, wave, even pull himself out of his own chair. Triumphant music played while Red Holzman's reserve forward was hailed as if he were Captain Willis Reed himself. If it seemed Jackson owned the building, he did.
Only here's one thing a fan needs to remember while studying the president's words and body language when fielding questions about Melo in the coming weeks: Jackson doesn't own the leverage over Anthony. It's the other way around.
The 11-time champion coach of the Bulls and Lakers needs the no-time champion forward of the Nuggets and Knicks more than the no-time champion forward of the Nuggets and Knicks needs the 11-time champion coach of the Bulls and Lakers, and it's not even close.