John Gabriel Rumors
In addition to agreeing last March to keep Mills as his right-hand man — upon owner James Dolan’ s recommendation — Jackson retained veteran executive John Gabriel, promoted from director of pro scouting to director of basketball operations, and gave him more influence. Player personnel director Mark Warkentien, meanwhile, lost some power. He interviewed in Memphis for a front-office position that ultimately went to former Nets president Ed Stefanski.
“Oh, boy, John,” Pat said, despondently, after Gabriel delivered his news. Then Gabe said that Pat — in typical upbeat Williams-style whimsy — – quipped, “Well, Gabe, we’re two peas in a pod, I guess.” Several months later, Gabriel was on a Saturday summer bike ride in Ocean City, N.J. A church marquee caught his eye — Sunday’s guest speaker: Pat Williams.
The illnesses have exacted tolls on their bodies. But their indomitable spirits remain intact, allowing them to carry on and deliver messages spoken and unspoken. “Stay involved with life. That’s the whole key,” Williams said. “Sitting home doing nothing could be deadly.” Says Gabriel, “It’s a major pause in your life. You call a timeout and get yourself back in the game.” The former Magic general managers — Gabe succeeded Pat and served as GM (1996-2004) — still regularly attend Magic games. Williams, 73, is now a senior VP with the Magic; Gabriel, 57, still maintains his Winter Park home while serving as the New York Knicks’ director of scouting.
Pat Williams and John Gabriel share an even deeper bond today: A profound appreciation for life as inspiring survivors of incurable but treatable illnesses. The two basketball lifers who spent countless hours together more than 25 years ago — planning the Magic’s launch as an expansion franchise — warmly check on each other now for health updates.
Mills added he doesn’t have immediate plans to add another body to the front office but will “restructure’’ some of the positions. Assistant GM Allan Houston, player personnel director Mark Warkentien and pro scouting directors John Gabriel and Mark Hughes work under Mills.
Maybe the New York Knicks had already guessed that something was amiss, that their director of pro scouting and free agency, John Gabriel, was not quite the same man they hired in 2008. Maybe they had noticed a twitch or a tremor, or had taken a quick mental snapshot of an otherwise vibrant 50-something executive traveling cautiously down a flight of stairs. Gabriel’s oldest brother, Pat, and his childhood friend and former colleague with the Orlando Magic, Tom Sterner, had long suspected something wasn’t right with him, yet they didn’t think it was their place to bring it up. Men. But Gabriel didn’t know for sure what his employer did or didn’t know. He only knew he’d been charged to help the Knicks acquire the kinds of stars he’d recruited to Orlando — Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady in the breathless summer of 2000, right after the nearest of near-misses on Tim Duncan — and now he was about to tell them something that wasn’t covered in any front-office playbook. I have Parkinson’s disease.
Like Tom Sterner, Flaherty grew up with Gabriel among the Hanover-area factories that produced shoes and pretzels and Utz potato chips. As a colon cancer survivor (the disease was detected during his first Giants physical in 2004) and as one of the NFL’s most respected assistants, Flaherty is a tough guy who’s been around a lot of tough guys. Just none tougher than Gabriel. “He has a disease, but John’s never going to let that be in the forefront,” Flaherty said. “He’s already put it in the background. He brings a lot of value to the Knicks as a tireless worker, and he has tunnel vision in whatever job he’s doing. He has a knack with people, he has a tremendous amount of experience evaluating personnel, and no matter what he’s dealing with he’s just not going to let you know anything’s wrong with him.”
Gabriel finds himself being more careful on the stairs, and he feels more at ease standing than sitting. Malaty said Parkinson’s can cause fatigue and loss of energy, leaving the stricken with cramps, a slower and stiffer gait, and unpredictable mood swings. Gabriel tries to manage the vile effects of the disease through exercise, rest and work. Sometimes he has good days, and sometimes he doesn’t. “This past summer, in the draft room,” Sterner said, “Gabe told me his leg would start to shake under the table and he couldn’t stop it. Before he told me about the diagnosis, I could tell something was different, that he moved a little slower and that there was a lower pitch in his voice. But I didn’t see the tremors when I was around him.”
Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti, whom the Nets have not received permission to interview, is a choice. Others who may be considered are former team execs such as Billy King, Billy Knight and John Gabriel. Also in the hunt is current Nets VP of basketball operations Bobby Marks, a candidate for at least an assistant GM’s job.