Earlier this week, Phil Jackson hired old friend Craig Hodges to serve as an assistant coach for the Knicks’ D-League affiliate in Westchester. A two-time champion as a player under the Zen Master, Hodges later reunited with Jackson as an assistant coach for the Lakers and added two more rings to his collection. During his playing days, the guard led the league in three-point shooting percentage twice over the course of his ten-year career and established himself as one of the most consistent long-range threats of his time.
When the Bulls visited the White House after winning the 1992 NBA Championship, Hodges handed President George H.W. Bush a letter outlining his dissatisfaction with the administration’s treatment of disadvantaged black Americans. That summer, he was waived by the Bulls and, surprisingly, was not picked up by another team, prompting him to later file a lawsuit against the NBA alleging that he was blackballed from the game. He was unsuccessful in court but the experience hasn’t hardened Hodges and he is still very much an activist for the downtrodden.
When he’s not busy with the Westchester Knicks this season, Hodges will be working on his forthcoming book, which he expects to be released in January. The NBA champion and the newest member of the Knicks D-League operation was kind enough to take some time and chat with Hoops Rumors on Tuesday.
Zach Links: How did the opportunity to join the Westchester Knicks coaching staff come about? It was reported that you were initially among the head coaching candidates.
Craig Hodges: It actually was one of those things where it was a basic interview and they didn’t really tell me which job was available. Initially they talked to me in May and asked if I would be interested in working with the D-League team. I got a call again in August to actually come and interview we’ve been going back and forth since then.
ZL: How often do you and Phil Jackson talk?
CH: Well, with him, even when you don’t talk to him you know you’re still cool with him and I have a cool relationship with him. He’s a great manager of people and his management style is that he understands what you do well, and if he sees something that you need help with, he’ll help you or find a person to help you. I’ve never felt uncomfortable around him, and I’ve been blessed to be one of the first players to win a championship [with him], and I was a coach on his staff when he won his last one, so hopefully we can make something happen here.
ZL: I know you just joined the staff, but do you have a sense of how closely the Westchester Knicks will work with the main organization?
CH: We’re going to function as their minor league team and we’re going to operate the way that they operate so that they can gauge the pulse of our players. It’s a great situation and I’m looking forward to it. We’ll also have an emphasis on getting guys accustomed to the triangle and ready to play in that system.
ZL: The D-League is very youth-centric, but what do you think of it as a tool for veterans to find their way back into the NBA?
CH: I think it’s good for both young guys and vets. I don’t know how many vets look at it as an opportunity, but they should. One drawback would be the money, but I think the opportunities that come from it would be worthwhile for guys trying to get back into the NBA and get their games back to that level. I think we have a great thing going in Westchester and, hopefully, guys will see it as a destination location.
ZL: In 1992, you brought a lawsuit against the league when you felt that you were blackballed from playing for expressing your beliefs. Do you feel like in 2014 a player can take up a cause without repercussions, or do you think that could still be problematic career-wise?
CH: You’re always going to be sacrificing something if you speak out, but I think it’s important for people to do so when it comes to issues that are near and dear to their hearts. If someone [takes a stand], they need to know that they’ve done critical studies on what they want to speak about. I was the baby of the movement and my mission then [was], and it continues to be, ‘How can I help people who are less fortunate than me and help them move upward?’ Many people saw that as a militant stand to take, but I look at it as a cultural imperative. Mentors in my life have always told me that you’re only as strong as the weakest of your people, and when I look at the condition of my people, especially in Chicago where the young people are killing each other and getting killed at a horrible rate, you just have to say something. We have the opportunity as a nation to take the lead role in getting people to realize how important it is to teach young people.
ZL: Could you tell me a bit about your upcoming book?
CH: It’s not a book to bash anybody, but it’s a book to clear the air as far as the stuff that happened in my career and also what I see going on. God blesses me and he blesses you with teachings, but not everyone is taught the same way and not everyone is passionate about the same things. I think God has blessed us with a garden where we can have a lot of good people do a lot of good things and we can change the face of the Earth by doing so.
ZL: Now that you’re actively working for the NBA again, will you be pulling any punches in the book when it comes to how your career ended, or are you putting it all out there?
CH: I think it’ll be somewhat cathartic when I put it all on paper. I’m just putting the facts out there and letting people study things for what they are, it’s not up to me to make judgement calls. Everyone has their own reasoning and logic. … For me, I just want to make sure that I put it out there as a written history for my sons and my grandbabies, but I also want it out there for the overall legacy of it, man. I think that it’s important that I took the stand that I did. My mantra has been to help others ever since I was 8 years old. My mom was a civil rights organizer who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and those ideals have been on my heart. They haven’t diminished.
ZL: Do you have a publisher yet?
CH: We’re still shopping it and we have a few meetings over the next few weeks with publishers. It’s been a cool experience and I’m looking forward to getting the book out there. It’s something I should have done a long time ago. Having Daniel [Hazan, of Hazan Sports Management] to help me has been great. I never had an agent for off-the-court matters [before], and looking back on my life, I wish I had an agent for that type of stuff. It would have made things a lot easier.
ZL: Do you have your eye on becoming a head coach in the NBA?
CH: [laughs] Not at all! That’s the thing, I love what I do as an assistant coach. The purity of the game is what I love. I get to help make guys better and do as much as possible with their talent. That’s what I like doing, so I haven’t thought about moving up the ladder. I think in general if you do a good job, then opportunities open up, and then you can assess and go from there. I’ve been trying to live more in the spiritual realm. I’m not looking forward or behind.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.