GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Jeff Hornacek competed against Phil Jackson for years, and he remembers only a couple of short, painful conversations.
"I think probably the only words I'd ever said to him were, 'Congratulations on the championship again,' when they beat us two times," Hornacek said.
So when Hornacek learned that Jackson wanted to interview him for the New York Knicks coaching job, he figured they would talk briefly before the president of basketball operations moved on to hire somebody he knew better.
Instead, their conversation lasted six hours, and now they will be together for a few years.
The Knicks introduced Hornacek as their new coach Friday, a few weeks after Jackson found the leadership and demeanor he wanted in his coach.
"That comfort zone was possible, and I think the basketball knowledge that he has and the familiarity he has playing basketball are things that attracted us together," Jackson said.
They first spoke on the phone this spring while Hornacek was in a hospital visiting his mother-in-law, who was recovering from knee surgery. They also met in Los Angeles when Hornacek was in town for his daughter's graduation from Southern California, then flew to New York for another discussion.
Their teams had faced off in the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, with Jackson's Chicago Bulls beating Hornacek's Utah Jazz both times.
Jackson respected his abilities and kept tabs on the shooting guard after he finished his playing career and returned to the NBA a few years later as a Jazz assistant and later as coach of the Phoenix Suns.
That coaching experience was important to Jackson after his first hire, Derek Fisher, had none. Fisher lasted just 1 1/2 seasons, heading right into coaching after ending his playing career.
"This is a coach who can teach and also has an idea of what kind of practice he wants to run and how he wants to do business," Jackson said.
Hornacek, who went 101-112 in 2 1/2 seasons in Phoenix before he was fired Feb. 1, got a three-year deal worth about $15 million.
The Knicks finished 32-50 last season under Fisher and Kurt Rambis, who went 9-19 as the interim coach and was interviewed for the job before Hornacek was hired. Hornacek said he will have further discussions with Rambis, a former teammate in Phoenix, to see if he'd like to remain on his staff.
Hornacek said he would likely blend aspects of the guard-oriented, fast-paced system he ran in Phoenix with the triangle offense that Jackson utilized to win an NBA-record 11 championships as coach. The Knicks used it without much success the last two seasons.
"I wouldn't call it the triangle," Hornacek said. "There's a lot of aspects of the triangle, the spacing, the cuts off hitting the post, that are not unique to the triangle."
Hornacek believed he was going to end up with the Knicks as a player. A Philadelphia writer called him about midnight just before the trade deadline while he was with the 76ers in the mid-1990s and told him the buzz was that he was headed to the New York.
"I was actually hoping that was going to pan out," Hornacek said. "Like I said, every time you played in New York, there was always something special about being there as a player and again, what better stage to play on."
Now he'll coach on it, trying to turn around a team that has missed the playoffs for three straight seasons. He praised the abilities of Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, but the Knicks seem to lack the personnel to play the way he did in Phoenix, particularly when the Suns went 48-34 in his first season.
He hinted that perhaps they would look for a point guard younger than starter Jose Calderon but with more experience than rookie Jerian Grant. And perhaps more like Hornacek, who is eager to take on the challenge of New York.
"My hope is now that I'm here that we can get some of those players to come in here and if you want to win, what better place to win than New York," Hornacek said. "So to me it's a great opportunity and the excitement level, I know we can do great things."
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