The day the news broke that David Checketts had been named president of the New York Knicks, he granted approximately 14 newspaper, eight
television and uncounted radio interviews. New York, New York."I did more interviews on Friday than I did in a year in Salt Lake City," says Checketts.
The onetime Jazz executive is now in one of the highest profile positions in professional sports in a city where winning isn't expected, it's required.
"There's a lot of pressure to win. I know that going in, and I'll see what I can do," Checketts says. "The Knicks aren't a franchise, they're an institution."
Last week's news that Checketts had replaced the fired Al Bianchi as the head man with the Knicks wasn't exactly a surprise. Since graduating from college, Checketts has been on a fast track to the top. His first job in the NBA came during the 1983-84 season, when he was hired by the Jazz as executive vice president. His assignment was to help save a financially sagging franchise. In June 1989, Checketts resigned as general manager and shortly after was hired as a president and a partner with the Denver Nuggets. But only weeks after accepting the job ("It was a transaction that never happened," he says), he took a position with the NBA in international development.
Some NBA officials privately believe that by becoming the head man in the most demanding market in America, the 35-year-old Checketts has finally met his match. Media and fan pressure are enormous. The Knicks, with good talent and one of the game's top players in Patrick Ewing, still are tied for the second-worst home record in the league. Guard Mark Jackson was recently suspended and later reinstated after a reported dispute with Coach John MacLeod. The Knicks have already fired one coach this year, Stu Jackson. And Ewing has a reported clause in his contract that stipulates he must be among the three highest-paid players in the NBA. Since that is no longer the case, Ewing's contract is one of the items Checketts must begin work on.
"I think when I initially came to the Jazz during the 1983-84 season, that was as big a challenge as this is," says Checketts. "They're completely different challenges. At least here (New York), the bank's not going to be calling me and saying your payment is due. I'm not going to have to hold my check until the players' go through. And there are more than 3,000 people going to the games."
Among the first items on his agenda are working out Ewing's contract and hiring a director of player personnel. Among the rumored candidates is Jazz director of player personnel Scott Layden. Checketts wouldn't comment on candidates for the job.
As for Ewing, Checketts will have to deal with his old adversary, agent David Falk, who represented Adrian Dantley during his long, acrimonious holdout.
Checketts says he plans to build his team through the draft, much as the Jazz did.
Two years ago, Checketts was courted by the Knicks to take over as the team's general manager, but he turned it down. "It was a basketball job. It was totally involved with player personnel and those kinds of things. That's not who I am," says Checketts. "I'm more sure now. They've cleared the deck, and they want me to run the whole organization."
Checketts, who was raised in Bountiful and graduated from BYU, says it's hard to believe what has happened to him. "I was glued to the TV when Willis Reed walked onto the floor for the seventh game (of the 1970 NBA Finals)," he says. "I never dreamed I'd ever be here in this position."