At the end of Sunday’s talk with Phil Jackson at the New Yorker Festival there was an opportunity for some Q&A. During that time I asked Jackson whether there is anything of Red Holzman’s that he’s passed along to Derek Fisher. As mentioned by Frank Isola of the Daily News here and by Mike Breen during tonight’s telecast, Jackson explained that he had taken Fisher to visit with Tex Winter, architect of the Triangle offense, at his home in Manhattan, Kansas, shortly after Fisher had agreed to take the Knicks job and that they spent time discussing the offense at length. Interestingly enough that visit was covered in the Manhattan, Kansas area at the time but didn’t seem to make it to the “other” Manhattan then.
Jackson didn’t respond to my question about Holzman, his first professional coach and mentor, with an answer about Winter because he misheard me. He went on to explain that Holzman didn’t diagram plays and wasn’t an offensive minded coach and that if they were in the huddle and needed a basket he’d turn to the players and ask what they wanted to run and who they wanted to run it for. Jackson said that he considers himself to be a bridge between Winter’s offense and Holzman’s defense and Derek Fisher.
So what kind of defense did Red Holzman stress?
In a wonderful obituary of Holzman, Ira Berkow wrote of exactly what Jackson described:
Holzman’s hard work revolved around the fundamentals of the game. ”I stressed defense — pressure defense,” he once said….In huddles he would sometimes let his players devise plays to create baskets. As for defense, however, he was the sole voice.
That talk of pressure defense made me think of a passage from Roland Lazenby’s “Michael Jordan: The Life”:
Defense dominated Phil Jackson’s first training camp as coach of the Bulls. He had been a baseline-to-baseline player for the Knicks, and he wanted the same for his Bulls. “See the ball,” Red Holzman used to tell his New York teams in terms of pressure defense. Jackson certainly wanted them to have vision, but it was first and foremost a matter of conditioning. To play defense for Jackson, you had to be able to reach those higher gears and stay there.
"When Phil came in, our first training camp was as difficult a camp as I’d ever had," Paxson recalled. "It was defensive-oriented. Everything we did was, start from the defensive end and work to the offensive end. Phil basically made us into a pressure-type team. Defensively, he knew that was how we would win."
"We were gonna play full-court pressure defense," Jackson said. "We were gonna throw our hearts into it."
What did Derek Fisher do in his first practice as a Knick? Focus entirely on defense. What kind of shape is Carmelo Anthony in? The best of his career. Who’s unexpectedly getting a lot of run in the preseason? Dogged Quincy Acy. Jackson wasn’t just talking when he said he wanted to connect Holzman to Fisher. He’s done it.