GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Any doubt that the Knicks’ new interim coach is a Phil Jackson guy was dispelled midway through Kurt Rambis’ news conference on Monday, when a phone went off and he recognized the ringtone.
“Is that the Grateful Dead?” Rambis asked, stopping his news conference mid-sentence. “Interesting.”
Jackson, the Knicks president and a well-known Deadhead, fired coach Derek Fisher Monday and announced that Rambis, who had been the associate head coach, would take over Fisher’s job for the rest of the season. Jackson and Rambis, however, have a lot more in common than similar musical taste.
While Rambis is best remembered by 1980s Lakers fans as the power forward with the knee-high tube socks and thick glasses, he also was a Lakers’ assistant coach for 14 years and won four NBA titles as an assistant coach under Jackson. Rambis’ wife, Linda, works for Jackson’s fiancé, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, and the four are all close friends.
“We get along great,” Rambis said. “We’re friends, but we don’t always agree on everything.”
They agree on enough that you can bet that Rambis won’t balk at running Jackson’s triangle offense, which Fisher never seemed fully committed to. You can also bet he won’t come into the interim job hoping to make it a permanent one.
“I’ve been around too long to have that hope,” Rambis, 57, said. “I’m going to do the best job I can to finish out this year, get to the playoffs. I worry about things after we get as far as we can possibly get. Until then, I’m not going to worry about it.”
Rambis’ only stint as a head coach was not a pretty one as he went 32-132 with the Timberwolves from 2009-11. Of course, it didn’t help Rambis that general manager David Kahn made some pretty bad decisions, including drafting Jonny Flynn over Stephen Curry and Wesley Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins.
Rambis also previously served as an interim coach, taking over the Lakers in 1999 after Del Harris was fired. He enjoyed moderate success as the Lakers went 24-13 under him in the regular season before being swept by San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals.
The man who replaced him as Lakers head coach the next season was Jackson, and the two hit it off.
“Kurt, he has a lot of games under his belt,” Jackson said. “He knows the game. He has been around it for 30-something years as a basketball player and coach. He has been on championship teams both as a player and coach. He has a tremendous amount of experience.”
Jackson said he also likes the levity that Rambis brings to the game.
“He likes to make a joke,” Jackson said. “He is a little more relaxed in his approach to life and finds life humorous and fun in many ways. It is a serious business, but it is not that serious.”
Rambis said he may hire another assistant coach but has to give it more thought. He also said he met with the team Monday to talk about what happened and the team’s goals going forward.
Said Rambis: “Obviously we have to start winning some ballgames. Looking back to when I was a player and always when I was a coach, you have a goal of making the playoffs. That’s not only for the players and what they can learn and how they grow when they get to that level of competition, but also for the franchise.”
Position as a player: Power forward
College: Santa Clara
Draft: Selected by the Knicks in the third round (58th overall) of 1980 NBA Draft,
Playing career: Signed a 10-day contract with the Knicks on Jan. 30, 1981. Signed as a free agent with the Lakers on Sept. 13, 1981. Played 14 seasons, including nine with the Lakers. Won four NBA titles with the Lakers (’82, ’85, ’87, ’88).
Career averages: 5.2 points, 5.6 rebounds in 880 games.
Coaching career: 24-13 (including 3-5 in playoffs) as coach of the Lakers in 1998-99; 15-67 as coach of the Timberwolves in 2009-10 and 17-65 with the Timberwolves in 2010-11. Was an assistant coach with the Lakers for 12 seasons, and associate head coach with the Knicks the past two seasons.