Before he became known as the Zen Master, as the guy who led the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers to a combined 11 championships, he won two with the New York Knicks.
As a player, Jackson was perhaps slightly better than average, but not by much. He was a good defender and rebounder, and he carved out a nice role with the Knicks, but he was never a star or anything.
In this video, you can see his strengths and limitations: he’s lean and rangy. He’s got really long arms and he gets after it on defense and he has a nice jumper from the foul line.
But he bobbles the ball several times and he’s not exactly fluid in a running game. Toss in his hippy era and his reputation for, uh, being chemically adventurous, and it’s amazing that this is the guy who emerged as perhaps the best coach in the history of the NBA.
He was with the Knicks in the glory years of Willis Reed, DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas, Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Bill Russell and Dick Barnett, among others. Presumably he learned a lot from Red Holzman, the brilliant coach of the Knicks in that era.