Phil Jackson on column about his relationship with Carmelo Anthony: ‘You don’t change the spot on a leopard’
Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report wrote an interesting analysis of the dynamic between Knicks president Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony, whom Jackson is trying to trade despite Anthony holding a no-trade clause. Ding’s premise: After helping Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant win multiple championships, Jackson believed he could help Anthony maximize his team success.
Jackson undoubtedly overestimated his own ability—perhaps you’ve heard something lately about the no-trade clause he gifted to Melo in 2014—to kindle Anthony’s evolution from superstar to winning superstar.
Anthony is a likable person who just happens to be nothing near Jordan or Bryant in will to win. No, Jackson never thought Anthony had that fire, but he thought he could balance Anthony’s ball dominance by teaching teamwork and converting talent into a clear net positive.
Even more fascinating? Jackson’s public response:
Bleacher's Ding almost rings the bell, but I learned you don't change the spot on a leopard with Michael Graham in my CBA daze.— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) February 7, 2017
As usual, it’s goink to be tricky to decode this tweet from Jackson, but let’s try.
I believe he’s saying Ding’s analysis is almost sound -- except the part about Jackson being wrong about anything.
“A leopard can’t change its spots” is a phrase meaning people don’t change fundamental truths about themselves. And, of course, Jackson already knew that. So, he didn’t learn it through his experience with Anthony.Michael Graham starred as a freshman during Georgetown’s 1984 championship run, lost his spot on the team due academic problems then wound up playing for Phil Jackson in the Continental Basketball Association. Alan Siegel of Washingtonian:
On New Year’s Eve 1986, Graham and his coach, Phil Jackson, got into it in the middle of a game. A few days later, the Patroons axed him after only 11 games.
Jackson, who went on to lead the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers to a combined 11 championships, is considered by many to have been the best coach in NBA history. But even as he used his memoir to describe leading the likes of Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman, he still devoted space to Graham, the star he’d failed to mold back in the minors.
“Nothing I said made any difference,” Jackson wrote. “Whenever I tried to talk to him, his eyes would glaze over and he’d retreat to some dark inner corner nobody could penetrate.”
The coach described pulling off the highway the night he let Graham go and starting to cry at the thought that he might have ended the player’s promising career: “Here was a kid who was born to play basketball, someone who had enough talent to be a star in the NBA, and yet despite all my sophisticated psychology, I couldn’t reach him.”
There are unique challenges in building around Anthony -- a highly paid player who dominates the ball offensively, commits little defensively and doesn’t set a strong winning tone with his teammates. So far, Jackson has failed in that task (though drafting Kristaps Porzingis would help any situation).
And Jackson hasn’t failed because he initially misdiagnosed Anthony’s problems and then only later discovered them. Jackson was making the same comments about Anthony’s passing in 2014 that he’s making now.
Jackson knew what he had in Anthony. We all did. There was no certainty how Anthony would develop under Jackson, but the conditions entering the relationship were clear.
I keep circling back to this: If the Graham experience told Jackson that Anthony would never change, why did Jackson re-sign Anthony to a five-year near-max contract with a no-trade clause?