Craig Robinson: “Steve and I met on my recruiting trip to Princeton […] We met on that recruiting trip and struck up a friendship. I end up going to Princeton, so we are basically with each other every day for his last two years, his junior-senior year, my freshman-sophomore year. On the road, off the road. Socializing.
Once Steve graduated, his dad, Ollie Mills offered me a job as my first coaching job to coach at Percy Jackson Youth Center, which he ran. I came up for the summer before my senior year, was able to run the basketball part of the Percy Jackson Youth Center. I not only worked there, but I stayed with Steve at his house. Our relationship goes back doggone near 40 years now.”
Mills and Perry are not only the lone African-American president of basketball operations and general manager combination in the NBA, they also lead a front office with several African-Americans in prominent positions.
“To be honest with you, it didn’t hit me until I read a story that we are the only two blacks,” said Mills, the team president. “I’m serious. It didn’t even hit me. That wasn’t what this was about. This was about me finding someone I wanted to work with that I thought approached things the same way, not that you have to be lock-step with everything, because you should bring different experiences to the table.”
“We wanted to build a good organization,” Mills said. “This is just how it mapped out as we went out and hired people. At the end of the day, if you end up with a diverse organization, that’s what should happen. It should happen naturally. At least, I feel better about it when it happens naturally.”
Assistant GM Gerald Madkins: “We just hired qualified people, honestly. The fact that we are African-American, that I have 17 years of experience, Craig Robinson is who he is and has worked with Harold before. Steve has a history in this organization. He knows guys that can work well with him and get the job done that he needs to get done to help this team get to where we all hope it ends up getting. As significant as it is that we are black, it’s more significant that we are all qualified.”
Say what you will about Knicks owner James Dolan, but he has not shied away from giving African-Americans the keys to his basketball kingdom. Eleven years ago, three African-Americans — Mills, Isiah Thomas and Anucha Browne Sanders — occupied Madison Square Garden’s executive suite. That arrangement ended in disaster. Browne Sanders was fired, then sued Thomas and the Garden for sexual harassment.
Today, Fizdale works with a leadership team in which Mills, the executive president of the Knicks; Perry, the Knicks’ general manager; and Craig Robinson, the vice president of player development and G League operations, are African-American. The subject wasn’t raised Tuesday, but they all know everyone is watching.