Phil Jackson and the Peter Principle

According to all reports, Phil Jackson will step down as president of the New York Knicks today.

And thus, at that moment, the Peter Principle is proven once again.

Let me explain.

In the late 1960’s, Laurence J. Peter was part of a team that created the management theory known as the Peter Principle.  In the Peter Principle, an individual who is reasonably qualified for his current working position is often promoted by his company to a level for which he is no longer qualified to operate.  In a hierarchy, a person involved in the Peter Principle is essentially promoted to his level of incompetence, and then stays at that position until some catastrophe occurs.

Examples of the Peter Principle in action would include a respected schoolteacher who gets promoted to principal, for whom he is not qualified; a successful one-store manager who is overwhelmed now that he must operate several stores sat once; or a newspaper intern who fails as a features editor.

And now we have Phil Jackson.

As a player, he was a dependable and solid power forward who was part of the 1970 and 1973 New York Knicks championship squads.  He would later earn twelve head coaching championships – six with the Chicago Bulls, five with the Los Angeles Lakers, and one – his first and most important, IMHO – with the Albany Patroons of the CBA.

And with success, one moves forward in the hierarchy.  Obviously, Phil’s a great head coach, let’s make him Director of Basketball Operations.  He can work with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, let’s see if he can keep Carmelo Anthony happy.

But success at one field does not necessarily guarantee success at a higher field.

As President of the New York Knicks, Phil Jackson essentially rose to his level of incompetence.  He did everything possible to chase Carmelo Anthony away from the team, despite Anthony having a no-trade clause in his contract and not wanting to leave New York in the first place.

He then signed aging stars like Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to long-term contracts, only to see both players struggle in their new roles. He traded away top talent and draft picks, only to sign talent that would barely make the lineup on a Gatorade Squad team.

Then came reports that he was even shopping the one successful draft pick the Knicks scored in the last few years … big man Kristaps Porziņģis. Instead of trying to build for the future and create a core that could feature Anthony, Porziņģis and other top talent, Jackson chased them away in passive-aggressive news media leaks and tweets. Urgh.  Trust me, at the most recent NBA draft, when the Knicks’ first pick was about to be announced, I kept whispering to myself, “Please don’t draft LaVar Ball, Phil.  Please, I beg of you by all things holy, don’t draft LaVar Ball… oh, you drafted some guy in the French league?  Um.. er… ”

All this could be forgiven if the Knicks somehow found ways to win games.


Under Phil Jackson, the Knicks won-loss record plummeted.  One season had the Knicks finishing with a 17-65 record.  Seventeen wins in an 82-game season.  Scuse me while I go throw up.

All of it came to a head today, and Phil Jackson’s rise to incompetence in the hierarchy of the New York Knicks ended today.

Maybe now the Knicks acan repair the damage, build forward and make a decent playoff run – if not this season, then possibly the next.

Just one thing, Knicks, and I beg this of you.

Just because Phil Jackson is out the door …

Does not mean that you can now re-hire Isiah Thomas.

Because Thomas, too, is proof of the Peter Principle – every position he’s had since winning basketball championships with the Pistons has been an unmitigated disaster.

And if Thomas joined the Knicks again, he’d probably trade Porziņģis away for the rights to LaVar Ball.