He was tan, clean-shaven and wearing a coat and tie, a picture of serenity far removed from the circus over which he once presided.
The world is Phil Jackson's, or so we're told by his agent.
Reporters who tried to decipher Jackson's sometimes confusing syntax when he coached the Chicago Bulls haven't yet swallowed the image of a scholarly renaissance man. But universities want him. Businesses want him.
Television wants him. Bill Bradley might want him.
"That's Jerry Krause's concern right now," Jackson said of the team's general manager, with whom he carried on a nasty little political battle.
What brought Jackson back into public for the first time in months was a political event of another kind. He appeared at a downtown Chicago bookstore, sitting next to Bradley, the former senator and potential candidate for president. Both men signed Values of the Game, Bradley's new book that lists 10 virtues (including courage, resilience, etc.) and illustrates them with examples from basketball.
Jackson, a friend of Bradley's and his former teammate with the New York Knicks, wrote the introduction.
The book's theme might sound ironic with the NBA lockout, tax-cheating referees and a player strangling a coach. But the book serves its purpose. It keeps Bradley in the public eye as he mulls a bid for the presidency.
"Bill has asked me to sign here with him and represent basketball today, and that's what I want to do -- and just say that this is my pick for president," Jackson said to reporters. "He hasn't decided to run yet. But what I'm going to do is probably chauffeur his car around when he starts running for president."
Jackson's presence certainly helped the turnout for Bradley's book signing. If Jackson was soetimes pompous, he also delivered Chicago six NBA titles. With or without Michael Jordan, it took more than rolling out the basketballs to do that.
| Could former Knicks teammates Bill Bradley and Phil Jackson team up in the political arena? (AP) |
In the middle of the playoffs three years ago, Dennis Rodman once roared into a book signing at the same store on a motorcycle, wearing a pink feather boa and lots of makeup. So many people wanted to get in, the store had to lock the doors. It was a calmer crowd for Jackson and Bradley.
Having kept the Bulls from imploding for several years, Jackson seemingly wants to get away from basketball. Certainly, he wants to get away from reporters, twice bringing up a five-minute limit on questions before the book signing.
He interrupted a question about new Bulls coach Tim Floyd, saying, "I don't want to talk about that. That's not what I'm here to talk about."
But he was happy to talk about the NBA lockout and spending his time relaxing in Montana.
"It's been a seasonal change I've really enjoyed," Jackson said. "To be able to experience fall in the country is really a pleasure. To be able to experience the lake I've vacationed on for 25 years, almost 30 years now, is a lot of fun, too. I've enjoyed this. It's been great not to have to think about basketball."
He thinks the NBA labor dispute, which has already resulted in the cancellation of regular-season games, isn't necessarily going to last a long time.
"I think once they sit down to a table and go to 24-hour, 48-hour sessions, a lot of things can be mended quickly," Jackson said. "But they've got to get to a table."
Todd Musberger, Jackson's agent, stood in the background. Jackson, he said, isn't sure what he'll do next. He could give lectures. He could work as a commentator on NBA games. He could work on a Bradley campaign.
"Obviously, there's no question that if he wanted to continue as a head coach, he could do that as well -- with one exception," Musberger said. "He will not be coaching the Bulls in the '98-'99 season. If there is a season. Maybe it'll just be the '99 season."
As for Floyd, who initiated a meeting with Jackson over the summer, Musberger said there are no hard feelings.
"I think Phil has very high regard for Tim and wishes him well," Musberger said. "There is nothing but a very positive relationship between the two of them. They had a really enjoyable private chat about basketball and players. And I think much more was made of it than should have been."
"I read in one report that Tim had a mission or wantd to be very specific about (Jackson returning as head coach). I think it was a question of a new man meeting the man who used to be there. Nothing more than cordial and positive things were discussed."
Musberger also offered a reason why Jackson looked rested.
"He hasn't coached a basketball game since June," Musberger said. "I think that has a lot to do with it. And he's had some time for the first time in a number of years to just relax with his family. And he's obviously been outdoors. It's terrific, a well-deserved rest."
With neither a cross-dressing rebounding champion nor a short, rotund general manager in sight.
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