For as much as I was pretty stoked about the Post A Day project WordPress was rolling out for 2011, I have been less than impressed with some of the topics they’ve suggested. Yesterday’s suggestion was, “Do you prefer to talk, text message, or a different communication method?” I’m sure I could pop out 500 words of love for pagers, the ultimate medium of communication, but who out there would want to read such a thing. Initially, I had a similar reaction to the topic from January 3. Their fourth suggested topic asked writers to, “Share something that makes you smile.” I scoffed at the notion, ignored it, and wrote about something that makes me frown – the New York City Council.
Waking up this morning, I realized there is something that does make me smile – the New York Knicks. It has been a long time since this was the case, but it is a welcome development. Last night, the undermanned Knicks took on the San Antonio Spurs at the Garden. New York defeated the Spurs 128 to 115. It was the most points allowed by the Spurs all year. With just seven games to the halfway mark of the season, the Knicks are six games over .500. The arrival of Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton, along with the development of Wilson Chandler and others has reinvigorated the Knicks. And not a day too soon!
Growing up in Brooklyn in the early 1990’s, the Knicks were the be-all, end-all of sports teams for me. I would spend hours shooting hoops in the backyard imagining
I was John Starks. Since the basketball season fell squarely inside the school year, my mom would wake me up in the morning for school with the results from the previous night’s games. These were great times to be a Knicks fan. We had Patrick Ewing, Starks, Charles Oakley, Rolando Blackman, and Anthony Mason. Led by Pat Riley, this was a team that put a premium on defense and attitude. Except for the spring of 1994, when the Knicks came within a basket of winning the NBA Finals – Starks, you were my guy, but you should have passed it to Ewing – that time of year was always filled with disappointment. It seemed just as one tormentor faded away, another rose to stop the Knicks. First, it was Jordan, Pippen, and the Bulls. Next came Reggie Miller and the Pacers. Finally, and most aggravating, in my opinion, was Tim Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning, and the Miami Heat. Even during the years where Ewing started to break down, Jeff Van Gundy replaced Don Nelson, and the
draft picks never quite panned out, I could smile, at the outset of each season, when thinking about the Knicks’ chances in the playoff
The strike-shortened 1999 season was bittersweet. Ewing was literally on his last leg. John Starks and Charles Oakley had been traded in separate deals for Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby, respectively. In that 50 game season, the Knicks entered the playoffs as the eighth seed, facing off against the hated Miami Heat. From there, the rest of the playoffs can be summed up as follows: Allan Houston’s game-winning finger roll floater in the paint at the buzzer against the Heat in Game 5, four-game sweep of the Hawks, Larry Johnson’s 4-point play against the Pacers, and getting wrecked by the Spurs in the NBA Finals.
Looking back, this was clearly the beginning of the end. If nothing else, the site of a broken down Patrick Ewing sitting on the bench against the Spurs was a sign that this era in Knicks history was over. And no one was coming in to fill the void. Less than a month after losing in finals, the Knicks chose injured French center Frederic Weis instead of noted head case, defensive specialist, and local talent Ron Artest. From there it was pretty much downhill. The Knicks traded for a past-his-prime Glenn Rice, who gave the city of New York a primer on the medical condition that is plantar fasciitis. In the same deal, the Knicks sent Ewing to the Sonics. Then-General Manager Scott Layden mismanaged the Knicks’ cap space, traded draft picks with abandon, and mortgaged the team’s future by signing Allan Houston, a great player when healthy, to a unfathomable six-year deal. Worth $80 million at the time, Houston retired due to injuries with about $40 million left to be paid.
If Layden’s tenure with the Knicks was a disappointment, Isiah Thomas redefined
what it meant to be an abject failure. As a coach, general manager, and boss, Thomas performed as poorly as possible. As his Wikipedia page ably points out, Thomas’ only successes came at trading away draft picks in talent-rich drafts and signing mediocre players with a knack for being injured. At one point, the Knicks had the highest payroll and the second-worst record in the NBA. Thomas’ tenure as coach was marked by numerous controversies. On top of his inability to run the team, Thomas and Madison Square Garden were successfully sued for sexual harassment, with MSG being forced to pay $11.6 million in damages to Anucha Browne Sanders. Mercifully, in the spring of 2008, he was let go as general manager and then coach.
Replaced by Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni, the 2009-10 season was a disappointment. But this year, with Stoudemire, Felton, Chandler, Gallinari, and the rest of the team, I can smile when I think of the Knicks. I stuck with them during those down years, but it was hard. Rooting for a team with no direction, guided by leadership that is at best incompetent, is trying. Come April, if the Knicks can keep it together, playoff basketball will be back in the Garden, where it belongs!