Basketball’s Phil Jackson is 70

Life in the Continental Basketball Association was tough, especially on the road.

philjackson_120829You may have heard of Phil Jackson as the coach of the Chicago Bulls, who won six National Basketball championships in nine years, thanks in no small part to Michael Jordan. Then he led the Los Angeles Lakers, with Kobe Bryant and, for a time, Shaquille O’Neal, to five championships.

I was first aware of Jackson, now the president of the New York Knicks, as the bespectacled “sixth man” (first man off the bench) for the Knicks in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

But my greatest appreciation for him developed when he became the coach of the Albany Patroons in the minor-league Continental Basketball Association. The team played its home schedule in the tiny Washington Avenue Armory. The games were always standing room only, and the crowd helped make it more exciting. In those days, the Patroons led the league in attendance.

Jackson was hired to coach the Patroons because Jim Coyne, an Albany county executive and president of a new Continental Basketball Association franchise more than a quarter-century ago, had a thing for [Red] Holzman’s championship Knicks and especially for their role players. “He telephoned Jackson during the 1982-83 season to offer him the job that a former Knicks teammate, Dean Meminger, was about to lose.”

On the road

Life in the CBA was tough, especially on the road. Jackson described one doozy of a trip thusly: “Leave Oshkosh [Wisconsin] at 4:30 in the morning. Snowing like crazy. Drive to Milwaukee. Take a plane to Atlanta [Georgia]. Wait forever for a flight to Evansville [Indiana]. Fly to Evansville, sleep in a dive right along the highway for an hour, and play that night. Immediately get in a van and drive to Cincinnati [Ohio]. Get in at 5:30 in the morning.”

Jackson led the Patroons to a CBA title in 1984, his first full year as a head coach. “He then sent Coyne… a polite but firm list of contract demands. Among them: raising his annual salary from $25,000 to $30,000 and increasing his road per diem by $7. ‘I would never put a team in monetary stress for a few more bucks, but I do think you know that I am worth that much,’ Jackson wrote to Coyne, in a letter Coyne still keeps today. Jackson got his raise.”

The Washington Avenue Armory is half a block from 21 Central Avenue, where FantaCo, the now-defunct comic book store where I worked, used to be. So I got to see Jackson and the Patroons quite often during that first championship season.

A Solstice Tradition Continues: Ask Roger ANYTHING!

It is once again time for the operator of this blog to hand over the keys, so to speak when you ask him anything you want. And he HAS to answer. Now he may answer with obfuscation, but he cannot outright lie.

Here are some examples:
What is my favorite song performed by one artist, made more popular by a subsequent artist, but the version I prefer is by the former? (Got that?)

The answer: I Heard It Through the Grapevine, a big, #2 hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips, only to be trumped by Marvin Gaye’s much slower, much more successful, take. In part, I felt bad for the Pips when they would go on the road and people would ask them, “Why are you doing that Marvin Gaye song?”, which had to be irritating to GK&P, enough so that they left Motown at their first opportunity. Moreover, the resurrection of Gaye’s version during the Big Chill movie’s popularity made it become actually irritating to me for a time.

(Rather how I feel about the once perfectly fine Brown-Eyed Girl by Van Morrison, and other songs I hear too often.) But tell me: in this version, can YOU only really hear Marvin’s vocal, as I do? THIS is really cool.

Who was I rooting for in the NBA playoffs?

Actually, I don’t really follow the NBA all that much. That said, I started tiring of hearing about the “inevitable” Cleveland/LA Lakers finals, so I ended up rooting for the Boston Celtics, pretty much as a reaction to the pundits.

Post your questions in the comments, or e-mail me. I’ll use your name unless you specifically request otherwise. Of course, if you don’t leave your name, my chances of being snarky are DRAMATICALLY increased. Sooner, rather than later, I’ll answer your questions in this blog.

Oh, yeah, and since a question (of five words or more) is considered a comment, you’ll also get an entry in my GIVEAWAY; see sidebar for details.

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