Those of you who follow professional basketball (and maybe just live in LA or NY) know that Phil Jackson has been hired by the New York Knicks to be their president of basketball operations. Mr. Jackson was a role player on the Knicks’ championship teams in the 70s and won 12 championships as the head coach with the Chicago Bulls (when he had Michael Jordon and Scottie Pippen) and the LA Lakers (where he had Shaquille O’Neil and Kobe Bryant). In both of these situations Jackson came to the team when it had two of the greatest players in NBA history. New York will present him with a different set of challenges.
Since their glory days of the 70s, the Knicks have floundered. Sure, they’ve made the playoffs, but they have not been a serious contender since the mid-90s. Like with any poorly performing organization, there are a lot of reasons for this. Recently, bad management decisions is definitely one of them. Another is the team’s refusal to rebuild its talent in a significant way. Right now they have one really good player (Carmelo Anthony) and not much else and they don’t have the money available to really be a factor in signing good players.
All of this makes Jackson an interesting choice. He has no previous executive experience and with the Lakers and the Bulls he worked for very strong presidents of basketball operations. One of the criticisms of Jackson’s coaching career was that he always had great players to work with. Now, he’s going to have to build a team practically from scratch in a high pressure environment that gets a lot of media attention.
So, put yourself in the position of senior HR exec (or hiring executive) at the Knicks. You’d look at Jackson’s resume and say, “Well, he certainly has been successful in previous positions. But do we really want someone with no executive experience as our president? He is smart and hopefully learned something from the executives he worked for.”
What would your interview questions have look like?
“Tell me about a time where you got a player to significantly improve his performance. How did you do this?”
“How have you encouraged superstar players like Carmelo Anthony to raise the performance of his teammates without sacrificing the quality of his game?”
“How have you gone about evaluating talent on other teams? College players?”
Of course, much of the above would have been a moot point as Jackson’s hiring had little to do with whether he was the best person for the job. He wanted an executive position and there wasn’t one available (or made for him) with the Lakers. The Knicks wanted the publicity and there wouldn’t much too much criticism for hiring a guy with more than two hands full of championships. It also gives them some cover if the hire does not work out (but, we hired PHIL JACKSON!).
So, it turns out that the NBA is not much different than regular businesses. People get promoted into positions based on how well they did in their previous one. Like everywhere else, this is unlikely to work out well. If you think otherwise, take a look at how well Michael Jordan is doing as the head of basketball operations of the Charlotte Bobcats.
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