NEW YORK – It’s midmorning, and the New York Knicks are sitting in a film room at the team’s facility before practice.
It’s a place where players and coaches gather to break down the successes and failures of a recent game.
But Phil Jackson’s Knicks are working on something a bit more obscure than a blown defensive assignment.
“We’re getting in touch with our inner beings, our inner selves,” Quincy Acy says.
“We’re just reflecting on how our bodies are feeling,” Travis Wear says. “It’s really just getting in touch with where your mind is at.”
If the idea of an imposing 6-foot-7 forward talking about his “inner self” strikes you, the Knicks fan, as a bit strange, you should probably get used to it.
What Acy and Wear are describing is known as “mindfulness training” – and it’s all part of Jackson’s grand plan to transform the Knicks.
Jackson first talked about implementing the training back in the preseason and, true to his word, he’s had the Knicks go through 10-15 sessions this season.
Most take place in the video room at the team’s training facility; a few have taken place on the practice court and at least one has been in the locker room at Madison Square Garden. All are led by an instructor hired by Jackson.
“It’s very basic stuff that you really don’t think about much in your daily life,” Jason Smith says. “…. You try to focus on the well-being of your body and taking care of your body and doing the right things.”
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that stresses the importance of staying in the moment. It’s most closely associated with Eastern religions. Jackson’s affinity for the practice is one of the reasons he’s commonly known as the “Zen Master.”
Jackson instilled principles of mindfulness, visualization and other techniques associated with Eastern religions in his teams in Chicago and Los Angeles.
How well has it worked for the Knicks?
If you’re drawing a conclusion based on the team’s record, then it hasn’t worked well.
New York enters Monday’s game against Denver with the worst record in the NBA. The club needs to win 11 of its final 21 games to avoid setting the mark for the worst 82-game record in franchise history.
But it would be short-sighted to judge all of this by the team’s record.
Just like everything else during Jackson’s tenure as team president, it’s probably fair to say that the jury is still out.
For what it’s worth, some of the Knicks seem to enjoy the training.
“It’s helped me stay in the moment – really that’s the biggest thing,” Langston Galloway says. “…. It’s had an impact on a lot of different things in the games. When I’m struggling, I’m able to refocus myself.”
The sessions have sometimes included teammates talking openly to one another – talking about issues that may not otherwise be discussed.
Does everyone in the room take it seriously?
“Some guys are a little indifferent about it but some guys soak it up,” Smith says.
“I don’t think anyone is sitting there brushing it off. I think everyone goes in with a willingness to participate,” Wear says.
Will any of this help lead the Knicks to a title? Who knows?
That’s all a matter of perspective.
The one thing that appears to be clear about all of this is that mindfulness will be a part of life as a Knick under Phil Jackson.
“It's so vital for a team to have this skill or players to have this skill,” Jackson said back in October. “To be able to divorce themselves from what just happened -- a referee's bad call, or an issue that goes on individually or against your opponent. You've got to be able to come back to your center."
Put in that context, mindfulness has probably been pretty useful for the 2014-15 Knicks.