Mark Jackson dishes on future of New York basketball

Brooklyn native Mark Jackson has played for the Knicks and St. John’s. He has coached on the NBA sidelines with the Warriors. He has worked with a microphone for the YES Network and currently for ABC/ESPN. Now, he huddles with Post columnist Steve Serby for some Q&A.

Q: What do the Knicks need to do to get to the next level?

A: Continue to add talent and continue to build on the culture that has been established.

Q: Can they build around Julius Randle or does he need a No. 1 superstar?

A: He proved to be a heckuva basketball player all season long. His consistency, his willingness to embrace the bright lights, and he made big-time plays all season long. I just think it’s about adding talent — whether that be a No. 1 or a bunch of No. 2s or 3s, whatever you have to do.

Q: Should the Knicks make a move for Damian Lillard?

A: Well, he’s a heckuva basketball player, but at the end of the day, LeBron James was supposed to come to the Knicks, because he had a relationship with the coaching staff and all of that. It’s always been a pie-in-the-sky whenever you’re talking about New York City, ignoring how difficult it would be to get a great player such as LeBron or such as Damian Lillard. It takes a lot. I just think they have to be ready, locked and loaded that, if the opportunity presents itself to get a home-run talent like that, they have a package that they can assemble to put ’em in position to get him. If not, they have to continue to add talent. It’s not about sitting on a lead, continuing to build.

Mark Jackson announces a game between the Lakers and Warriors.
Mark Jackson announces a game between the Lakers and Warriors.
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Q: How can any team not want Damian Lillard, right?

A: It’s a no-brainer if you can get him, I don’t care who you are. He’s a superstar talent, a superstar individual, he’s a franchise talent, he’s a guy that has proven being a face of a franchise, he does everything right. He’s an incredible leader, and a quality individual. So if he’s available, 29 other teams should put themselves in position to get him. … It’s gonna be 29 teams bidding for Damian Lillard.

Q: What did you think of RJ Barrett’s second season?

A: I thought he had a very good second year … continues to improve, works his tail off, not afraid of the bright lights of New York City.

Q: If they keep Randle and Barrett together, do you think they would just need one more superstar?

A: No. They need to continue to add talent.

Q: What do you think of Derrick Rose?

A: Incredible year. Incredible player. Tremendous leader, tremendous competitor. Continues to prove he has plenty left in the gas tank. He’s a guy that you root for, and happy to see him continue to have success.

Q: Would it be wise for the Knicks to bring him back?

A: There’s no question about his ability to play. I can’t answer that question unless you were referring to OK, how much are you paying him and how long are you paying him for? That plays a part. These are tough decisions that the people upstairs get paid a lot of money to make. But he is certainly a guy that has proven to be very valuable if you’re trying to assemble a team that has a chance.

Derrick Rose with the Knicks in 2021.
Derrick Rose with the Knicks in 2021.
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Q: Immanuel Quickley?

A: I thought the thing you’d take a look at when you’re talking about can the guy play in New York City, are they afraid of the bright lights, or do they embrace the bright lights? And he’s a guy that you can tell when he’s on the floor he believes he belongs, and he believes he’s the best, or one of the best, players on the court. And he’s not afraid. I thought he was a very good player.

Q: What made you, as a rookie, embrace the bright lights of New York City in 1987?

A: Because I was from there. Whether it be high school ball [Bishop Loughlin in Brooklyn] or college ball, you’re playing for the great Lou Carnesecca, you’re playing with the great Chris Mullin, you’re playing in front of 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden against Georgetown or the Big East those days … easy to embrace the bright lights and putting on a Knick uniform.

Q: Obi Toppin?

A: The thing I liked, he didn’t always have an opportunity, but when he did he was ready, and he showed flashes of a guy that can fulfill a role on a very good basketball team.

Q: Team president Leon Rose and executive VP William Wesley, aka Worldwide Wes?

A: Two guys proven to be power brokers in this league for a long time now, and they did a great job in their first year with an opportunity, so they got a lot to be proud of. But like I said, now is not the opportunity to sit on a lead, it’s continuing to build and continuing to add, and I’m sure they’ll continue to do an outstanding job.

Q: Have they made the Knicks an attractive place for free agents again?

A: I think New York was always an attractive place for free agents because it’s New York City. I don’t think they were always in position to get those guys, but certainly because of their connections, certainly because of the success that they’ve had last year, it has enhanced the way that New York is perceived around the league, so absolutely.

Q: Tom Thibodeau?

A: There’s no question about his ability to coach and how great of a coach he is, how detailed he is, how much of a competitor he is, how much of a teacher he is. So there’s nothing that surprised me, ’cause I’ve been around him for a long time. I’m happy for him, and proud of him, and he deserves it.

Tom Thibodeau coaches the Knicks.
Tom Thibodeau coaches the Knicks.
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Q: What did you think when the Nets traded for James Harden to join Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving?

A: [Harden] is an absolute all-time great player. His ability to score with the best that’s ever done it, and to me, he doesn’t get enough credit until this year of his ability to play the point guard position. This wasn’t nothing new. What he was able to do this year, he’s been doing that in Houston — scoring and also getting 10-plus assists. I was extremely happy that he got the recognition that he truly deserves. Unfortunately, end of the season, not 100 percent healthy, but those are three guys that are absolute home-run talents and are gonna have to be dealt with for years to come.

Q: You think they can win a title next year?

A: They can, but they coulda won a title this year, they didn’t. So it’s about finishing the job. But they are more than capable of not only winning a championship, but being the favorites once again.

Q: Does Kyrie remind you of anybody?

A: A little bit of a lot of different people. He’s an incredible basketball player, as good as you can get on the offensive end from the point guard position, his ability to play out of pick-and-roll, play out of isolations, shoot the basketball, handle it with the best that’s ever done it … and extreme confidence. He’s a unique talent on the basketball floor, and he’s gonna be fun to watch.

Q: The guys he reminds you of?

A: A little bit of Isiah Thomas. He has a little bit of a lot of different guys that he’s added his own flair to their style of basketball.

Q: Where will KD rank among the greats when all is said and done?

A: He’s gonna be in the discussion when you’re talking about putting a starting five together in the history of this game. He’s gonna be a guy that you’re gonna consider in that lineup … his versatility, his size, his ability to shoot the basketball. He is absolutely an all-time great talent, all-time great scorer, all-time great player.

Q: What is the all-time Jackson Five?

A: I would have LeBron at the 1, Kobe [Bryant] at the 2, Michael [Jordan] at the 3, Durant at the 4 and … let’s put Wilt [Chamberlain] at the 5.

Q: No Magic Johnson?

A: I cheated in putting LeBron and his versatility — it’s always been Magic. But I think LeBron’s versatility in 2021, I can get away with putting him at the 1. And that’s saying a lot about his greatness, and it gives me the opportunity to put Kobe and Michael at the 2 and the 3.

Q: Thoughts on Marv Albert’s retirement?

A: I had the privilege and pleasure to work with him for three years calling Nets games on the YES Network. He is an absolute joy to work with. And he is going out on his own terms. I wouldn’t be the announcer that I am today or had the opportunity that I have today if I had not worked with him — the things he showed me, the patience he showed towards me and nurtured and guided and taught me. I’m forever grateful. I’ll be able to tell not only my kids, which I have, but my grandkids for the rest of my life that I worked with the guy.

Q: What do you recall about your 2000 NBA Finals experience with the Pacers, when you lost to the Lakers in six games?

A: Playing against two of the absolute all-time greats in the history of the game in Shaq and Kobe, how tall of a task it was to try to beat them, and how a play here or a play there can make you a champion or make you a runner-up. But it’s a group that I’ll be tied to forever, led by Larry Bird in coaching us and a bunch of brothers in Reggie Miller and the rest of the cast of guys. We had a lot of fun and a lot of success.

Mark Jackson talks to coach Larry Bird as a member of the Pacers.
Mark Jackson talks to coach Larry Bird as a member of the Pacers.
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Q: Marv told me Reggie would send you out to the streets of New York as a kind of scout during his days as the Garden’s villain.

A: I would go out and be eyes and ears on the streets. I always tried to hype him up and needle him and try to get him riled up saying different things. We’d be on the back of the bus and I’d tell him somebody’s talking trash at a red light, and bang on the windows and open up the back window. That’s when he really became the legend that we talk about today, because of his ability when it mattered most, and in hostile environments to make incredible all-time great plays.

Q: You went out to breakfast with him in the city?

A: We would go get a breakfast sandwich at one of the corner stores or whatever. We’d get a cup of coffee and some orange juice and some breakfast sandwiches and take ’em back. We’d walk around and get the sense of the city, just a block, and then that was enough for him and I’d do the rest of the work. He’d go back to the room and I’d scour the rest of the city.

Q: Was he badgered at all at breakfast?

A: Yes, but he was protected. At the end of the day, it’s New Yawkers talking trash and nobody’s gonna do anything harmful, but they’re just gonna let their feelings be known and express themselves. The good thing is he was with one of New Yawk’s own, so he was all right, he was protected.

Q: How would you compare Trae Young as a villain to Reggie?

A: He had some great moments, and he’s another guy that embraced being a villain in the Garden. But you don’t build it with one playoff opportunity against the Knicks. In all fairness, Reggie did it coming back the next year and the next year. And with a Knicks team that was loaded with Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley and John Starks and on and on and on and on. It’s a different thing when you do it coming back as a villain. It’s certainly a starting place. Trae Young is an incredible basketball player and experienced great success, and it’s something to build on. But the thing I loved about it was he poked the bear. He wasn’t afraid to do the shimmy, or show Ice Trae, and it upset a lot of people, which was what you have to be willing to do if you’re gonna be a legit villain in a hostile arena.

Q: Whatever comes to mind: Chris Paul?

A: Incredible maestro. An all-time great point guard, an all-time great mind for the game and competitor.

Q: It’s amazing what he’s doing at age 36, isn’t it?

A: Not really. These days these guys take great care of their body. He takes pride in it. I go to the gym with my kid in the summer and who’s in there? Chris Paul. Not only getting shots up, but lifting weights, stretching, getting massaged, eating properly — all of those things that put you in position at 36 to do the things he’s doing.

Q: Plus, he’s got that kind of ring generalship that Muhammad Ali had and Mark Jackson had at that age.

A: (Laugh) You’re putting me in some rare company right there.

Q: As far as winning with your mind.

A: He can own a team, he can run a team, he can coach a team when it’s all said and done. It’s gonna be up to him what he wants to do, he has that type of mind when it comes to basketball. And the thing I love about it is he’s playing for a coach that allows him to spread his wings as a leader and doesn’t feel intimidated.

Chris Paul and Devin Booker during the NBA Finals.
Chris Paul and Devin Booker during the NBA Finals.
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Q: Suns coach Monty Williams?

A: Love him, and extremely proud of him. As class an individual as you’ll find in this league … great humility. You could ask him about his players that may have struggled … and his answer’ll be, “I gotta do a better job of putting them in position to succeed.” He always takes the pressure off his players and puts it on himself. But he is as fine a human being that we’ve had in the history of this league in my opinion, and he’s a guy that you root for.

Q: Devin Booker?

A: Love everything about him. Love the respect he has for the game. Love the way he competes. Love the way he’s not trying to make friends on the court and be buddies. Just has an edge to him and wants to win. He is a class, class act. I know Kobe told him, “Be legendary,” and he is not disappointing the late, great Kobe Bryant, who sowed a seed into him.

Q: The Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo?

A: Will be one of the all-time great players. Two-time MVP. Extremely skilled, extremely talented. The one thing you want him to continue to improve on is his ability to make free throws and shoot the jumper on the court. If he gets these, it’s a wrap. He will be absolutely unstoppable.

Q: Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer?

A: He’s done a great job everywhere he’s been.

Q: Who can be an X-factor for the Suns and Bucks?

A: Deandre Ayton and Jrue Holiday, because both guys have opportunities to win the series for their teams. Ayton being a dominant big, rebounding and finishing at the rim, and Jrue Holiday being an aggressive scorer and playmaker for the Bucks.

Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen before an NBA Finals broadcast.
Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen before an NBA Finals broadcast.
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Q: What makes Mike Breen a special talent on television?

A: Not trying to make it about him. He’s a guy that watched as a kid, prepped as a kid, and didn’t try to be anybody else. But added things from all of the greats and added his own flavor to it. He is absolutely somebody that Jeff [Van Gundy] and I love, and owe a lot to. He has embraced us, taught us and been the Magic Johnson of this group, orchestrating an historic run of calling NBA Finals games.

Q: What makes Jeff Van Gundy a special talent on television?

A: That he’s Jeff Van Gundy. There is nobody like him. He doesn’t try to be like anybody else, he is an absolute genius when it comes to the game of basketball. In my opinion, it’s a crime that he’s not coaching. I believe that there’s nobody dead or alive that could have done the job he did with USA Basketball, making us eligible for the Olympics with a makeshift roster. He is family to me for life. With no ego, he fulfills his role, and does it with pride. It’s an honor to work with him.

Q: Will he ever coach again?

A Well, if I was hiring he would coach, ’cause he’d be my hire. I played for him as an assistant, I played for him as a head coach, and he is a brilliant basketball mind that works his tail off and does everything to put you in position to win as a team.

Q: What makes Mark Jackson a special talent on television?

A: Working with Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Corrigan, our incredible producer all of these years, they put me in position to succeed. Obviously I played, I coached, I watched, I’m a student of the game, but being with incredible all-time great talent has put me in position to be successful.

Mark Jackson coaches Steph Curry with the Warriors.
Mark Jackson coaches Steph Curry with the Warriors.
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Q: Will Mark Jackson ever coach again?

A: I look forward to the day. I had the time of my life coaching for three years in Golden State, was able to be part of a group that took a team that made the playoffs one time in 19 years, and made the playoffs two out of three years and changed the culture. So I’m proud of that. Built relationships for life, and I look forward to one day coaching again. God willing, yes.

Q: How disappointed were you when the Knicks’ job was open last year they didn’t hire you?

A: They hired Thibs, who’s done an incredible job. There’s no side of me that looks back. They did what they had to do, and I’m gonna continue to do what I have to do. Thank God there’s 30 jobs in this league, and I look forward to the day when somebody presents me with the opportunity to do what we were able to do in Golden State, and this time finish the job.

Q: What was the biggest lesson you learned at Golden State?

A: Just as a first-time coach, you’re on the job and you’re learning every day, and you have to make sure you surround yourself with the right people that have the right mindset, and one agenda, which is all about us and the team, and everything else gets in the way.

Q: Why do you think you haven’t been hired?

A: That’s not for me to answer. That’s for somebody else to answer. I think when you look at what was able to be accomplished, not by me but by us in Golden State — ownership, management, coaches, players — I’m extremely proud of the role I fulfilled and what we were able to accomplish. And I stand on it.

Q: Were you stunned when they fired you?

A: No, I was not stunned. You see the writing on the wall. I did have the opportunity to continue to coach there … but it had ran its course. I’m not writing a book, and I’m not looking to break news, but the opportunity was there, and leaving the meeting, I left as the former coach of the Golden State Warriors, respectfully and with great appreciation for the opportunity to be the coach for three years.

Q: Thoughts on Patrick Ewing coaching Georgetown, and why hasn’t he had an opportunity to be an NBA head coach?

A: Another guy that’s family to me, he’s a brother, and I’m so proud of the job that he’s done with Georgetown. It says a lot when a St. John’s guy can be a Georgetown fan. He has made us proud, and he deserves the opportunity to be a coach in college, he deserves an opportunity to be a coach in the NBA. He deserves this moment, and he deserves the opportunity to turn down an NBA job if that’s what he wants. Or accept it.

Q: What is your four favorite St. John’s-Georgetown memory?

A: Because Patrick always jokes about it, we beat ’em at the Capital Centre [near Washington]. We were No. 3 and they were No. 1, and at the end of the game I got a breakaway dunk basically sealing the deal, and I go into my routine, but Patrick remembered it as soon as I was drafted by the Knicks.

Q: Your routine?

A: You know, doing The Helicopter, or shimmy or something crazy that I was doing, celebrating the dunk and the win. He remembered it and it upset him (laughs). I was probably a clown to him until I became his teammate.

Q: Describe Lou Carnesecca’s sweater.

A: Great. Love him to death. Still talk to him every so often. He’s a legendary, not just coach, but a legendary human being. To think about the relationship, to think about the moments, wearing the sweater changed the game of college basketball. I think about the late great John Thompson, who wore the sweater also. Those days, we’ll never get ’em back. Absolutely historic times, and two historic coaches. If you ask me if I could pick one coach that I never played for to be my head coach for a season, it would be Coach John Thompson.

Q: The 1985 Final Four semifinal loss to Georgetown: What do you recall about that?

A: Just how great of a team they were. It was just their day, and they beat us.

Mark Jackson at St. John's in the 1980s.
Mark Jackson at St. John’s in the 1980s.
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Q: Do you have a Chris Mullin story?

A: A guy that’s family to me again, another guy that’s a brother for life. I’m not in the NBA if I had not met Chris Mullin in college. I say that because I was a gym rat, but he was a gym technician. I was doing behind-the-back finger rolls and teardrops, and he was doing jab-step jumpers and curling off down screens shooting jumpers and absolutely executing a game plan in the gym. He took me under his wing and taught me how to become a gym technician. We would play one-on-one for hours, and he would defend me and force me to shoot the jump shot, and I would defend him and force him to handle the basketball and make a play, so we were working on each other’s weaknesses, and sharpening each other’s tools.

Q: What do you think of Rick Pitino coaching Iona College?

A: A genius of a basketball mind … an incredible, incredible basketball coach … a guy that I don’t play 17 years if I had not played for him as a [Knicks] rookie. And again, I root for Iona, even though I’m a St. John’s guy, because of Coach Pitino and what he’s meant to me and my family and how much I love and appreciate him. I’m extremely happy that he had a chance to coach again, he deserves it, and it’s another guy that hit it out of the park with the opportunity.

Q: Current St. John’s coach Mike Anderson?

A: He’s done a very, very good job from Day 1, and he’s a guy that’s done an outstanding job every year he’s coached when you look at his body of work. He’s a class guy that makes you proud to say you went to St. John’s and played for.

Q: Kenny Smith?

A: He’s a Hall of Famer, and a guy that’s family to me also. Came out of high school together, same class, been tied to the hips since we were teenagers and even before that. Love him, and I’m proud of what he’s done as a championship basketball player, and as an all-time great TV personality with his historic run at TNT. He is family for life.

Q: Who are coaches outside basketball you admire?

A: Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, Tony Dungy, Deion Sanders.

Q: Why Deion Sanders?

A: Because at the end of the day, you have to have people in uniform that believe you give a crap about ’em, and he absolutely does. And if I had any eligibility, I would sign to go to Jackson State University today.

Q: Your favorite Knicks memory?

A: I would probably say winning Rookie of the Year and being an All-Star in my second year. I was a guy that was probably the fourth best point guard in my high school class behind Pearl [Washington], Kenny Smith and Kenny Hutchinson.

Q: Single biggest basketball thrill?

A: I would say ending my career as the No. 2 assist man, now No. 4 — will be No. 5 soon after Chris Paul — but leaving No. 2, but even today, looking at the list of let’s say the top 10, I have no business in that group when you look at the names 1 through 10. It absolutely makes me speechless.

Q: What enabled Mark Jackson to play 17 years?

A: I would say the first thing that enabled me to play 17 years is that I was not gifted as an athlete, and not gifted with quickness. So as a big 9-year-old kid, I had to think the game, because I couldn’t beat people with my athleticism and my quickness. So it forced me to know the game inside out. And it benefitted me as I got older, I didn’t get any slower, and I didn’t lose the athleticism. So the knowledge which sustained me early on continued to sustain me as I progressed throughout the course of my career.

Mark Jackson and coach Jeff Van Gundy with the Knicks in 2001.
Mark Jackson and coach Jeff Van Gundy with the Knicks in 2001.
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Q: What were your emotions when you were traded by the Knicks to the Clippers in 1992?

A: Shocked. It was my first time realizing it was a business. I do remember Pat Riley sitting in the locker room in front of the team and saying, “There’s two guys that are Knick Lifers,” and he pointed to Patrick and pointed to me. And he meant it. But at the end of the day, when you’re trying to improve your basketball team, you listen to all offers and all opportunities, and I was the guy that they pulled the trigger on a trade. I was shocked, but I’m grateful because I realize there’s other parts of the world. I wouldn’t have Reggie Miller as a friend for life and a brother for life. I wouldn’t have the relationships that I’ve had all around this league.

Q: Your emotions when the Knicks brought you back in 2001?

A: Thrilled.

Q: Four dinner guests?

A: Jesus Christ, Muhammad Ali, my mom and dad, who both passed away.

Q: Favorite movie?

A: “The Five Heartbeats.”

Q: Favorite actor?

A: Denzel Washington.

Q: Favorite meal?

A: Smothered chicken, corn and macaroni and cheese.

Q: What would you tell NBA owners and GMs about why they should hire Mark Jackson?

A: (Pause) I don’t want to sell myself. I probably would say present the question to Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson … and let them answer.

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