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Walsh says he has no plans to step down from Knicks

Donnie Walsh with Amare Stoudemire, Jim Dolan and

Donnie Walsh with Amare Stoudemire, Jim Dolan and Mike D'Antoni. Photo Credit: AP

Not only did Donnie Walsh wake up Friday morning with the understanding that after two years of work, his effort had not been enough to land LeBron James, but he also heard about a report that said he will be stepping down as Knicks team president for reasons related to his health and for failing on LeBron.

He met both with his usual sense of humor. "I'm sure there are guys around me that are predicting my death, right?" he said. "I'm not there yet."

Walsh, 69, in a wheelchair after recent surgery, looked exhausted Thursday at the news conference to introduce Amar'e Stoudemire and perhaps looked a bit defeated with the perception - and reports - that James would not choose the Knicks.

He has had to deal with health issues throughout his tenure as Knicks president. Shortly after he took the job in April 2008, he was diagnosed with throat cancer and had a piece of his tongue removed. Last season, he developed a hip problem that caused him pain when he got up and sat down. He often would wait for reporters to disperse before rising from his seat so no one would see how much pain he was in.

In June, it was discovered that he had bone spurs in his upper spine that were impinging on a nerve, which caused radiating pain. He had surgery just before the NBA draft. The spurs were removed and doctors performed a cervical fusion, and the recovery has included time in a wheelchair.

"I'm only in the wheelchair for the meantime so I don't fall and undo the operation," Walsh said. "That's it."

Walsh tried to hide this on draft night, addressing the media while sitting in an office chair in a conference room instead of the usual routine of coming to the press room and standing in front of a backdrop. Walsh already was in place before members of the media entered the room, and he transferred back to the wheelchair after the media left.

But word got out that Walsh was using a wheelchair, and rival teams in the hunt for LeBron attempted to spread rumors that Walsh's appearance in the wheelchair tainted the Knicks' image in James' eyes.

It is true that James was surprised to see Walsh in a wheelchair. According to a person in the Knicks' July 1 meeting in Cleveland, James showed immediate concern for Walsh, who, in a tone typical of a paternal figure who doesn't want his kids to worry about him, said: "It's just precautionary. I'll be out of it in a week."

At the end of the meeting, James' business partner, Maverick Carter, exchanged goodbyes with the Knicks contingent. When he reached Walsh, he said, "Just a week, Donnie?" Walsh replied, "Only a week, Mav."

Eight days after that meeting, however, Walsh still is using the chair. But he isn't using it as an excuse.

Walsh would love nothing more than to retire to his Indiana home with his wife, Judy, and their dogs and just relax. But he has one year left on his contract and, with James no longer a possibility, there still is a great deal of work to be done in rebuilding the Knicks.

Walsh could look to begin grooming a replacement during the next season. Allan Houston, who has shown great polish as a front man through the free-agency process, is a possible candidate. Chris Mullin has been a name regularly mentioned as someone Walsh has in mind. There also are other highly qualified people available, such as Nets president Rod Thorn, who is officially leaving that franchise next week, and Kevin Pritchard, who was fired by the Portland Trail Blazers last month.

For now, though, Walsh insists he's not done, nor does he want to be done.

"I'm not leaving now," he said. "The biggest thing about all of this is that I want to get the Knicks back up. That's it. That's why I'm here and that's what keeps me going."

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Knicks, MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.

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