#28. Phil Jackson

Best Season as a Knick: 1973-74, age 28. 82 games, 11.1 points, 47% FG, 25 minutes per game, 2.2 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes. 

It’s funny: When the name “Phil Jackson” is uttered, other players come to mind. All-time magicians like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant are more associated with Jackson than Jackson is with himself. When 11 championships are won and the majority of basketball fans believe you to be the greatest head coach in the sport’s history, it’s more than understandable for your playing days, which occurred more than 30 years ago, to be swept behind a couch in the population’s collective memory, but there would be no 11 rings if it weren’t for those valuable contributions to New York in the early 70’s. With those long, myth provoking arms, Jackson snatched rebounds off the glass; his open, all-encompassing mind regularly directing his lanky frame to the right defensive position. He wasn’t dominant, no, but Phil Jackson was gritty—he averaged exactly six fouls per 36 minutes in his 12 year career—and an invaluable member of the 1973 world champions.

Phil Jackson will forever be remembered more for what he did for fans in Chicago and Los Angeles than fans in New York, but peering beyond the large shadows he cast in his later stages of life, Jackson was a pretty good player who fought serious injuries along with rival giants in the paint. It was in New York that his “Zen” like persona was born, and in New York where he learned how to accommodate various personalities, and in New York that Red Holzman, the coach’s coach, intrinsically taught Jackson what it means to lead a professional basketball team to the promise land. Admittedly, Jackson’s tenure with the Knicks shaped him far more than he did the team’s, but he’s as much apart of the franchise’s history as any other member of those timeless championship caliber squads, and ironically the most famous. Whether his name was Phil Jackson or Jackson Phil, the man literally sacrificed his back serving the New York Knicks. Forgetting all he accomplished after his playing days expired, that still makes him one of the 35 most important players in New York Knicks history.

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