Irving Azoff Gets a Big Assist in Bringing Phil Jackson to Knicks

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Hardcore New York Knicks fan Spike Lee knew whom to thank for this morning’s announcement that Phil Jackson would be taking over as president of his favorite team.

He gave a big bear hug to Irving Azoff for convincing his pal, Knick owner Jim Dolan, for making the hire.

Azoff told the Bloomberg News he brokered the deal, as he has so many others, between the 68-year-old Jackson and Dolan, last December, bringing the two together in his L.A. home to talk turkey.

“These two guys are going to be fantastic together,” said Azoff. “I know Jim for who he really is, not for who is portrayed to be.”

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The longtime Laker season-ticket holder could be considered a traitor to his hometown team, whose fans have been clamoring for a return of the coach, who won five NBA championships with the L.A. franchise, and another six with the Chicago Bulls.

Azoff and Dolan have been partners since 2004, and earlier this year, teamed up on the $100 million re-opening of the Forum, the former home of the Lakers. Last year, Madison Square Garden signed on for an artist-management venture with Azoff, agreeing to pay $125 million for half of the new company, whose acts include Van Halen, Christina Aguilera and the Eagles. Dolan’s own blues band, JD and the Straight Shot, recently opened for the Eagles during their six-night stint to open the new venue.

“He’s a brilliant strategist,” said Azoff about Dolan, who has come under heavy fire from Knicks fans for failing to deliver a championship for the franchise, the most valuable in the NBA, but whose last title came in 1973, coincidentally when Jackson was a member of the team. “Jim’s a loyal friend, a loyal partner. He gets the big picture.”

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By hiring Jackson, Dolan has effectively ceded control of the franchise, claiming he never really wanted to make personnel decisions.

“I found myself in a position where I needed to be more a part of the decision-making for a while. It wasn’t necessarily something that I wanted to do,” he said. “I am a fan, but my expertise lies in managing companies and businesses.”

The 66-year-old Azoff is convinced the basketball marriage of Jackson and Dolan will work because the two share the same philosophies of taking care of the clients, product and, by extension, the customers.

Jackson said at the press conference that one of his goals is to remake MSG into a comfortable place where the athletes feel encouraged and supported by management.

“What Phil said is exactly what Jim and I feel about the music business,” Azoff said. “If you do the right thing for artists and their fans it’ll be the right thing for your business, too.”

Azoff has been friends with the coach for years. One perk of having floor seats to the Lakers was an annual dinner with the team’s late owner, Jerry Buss, and top team officials.

“Nobody knows that it’s going to lead to a championship,” Azoff said. “But it’s definitely going to be more fun around here, and Jim’s going to take his shot.”

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