By Jason Keidel
To the world west of the Hudson, the New York Knicks may just be a foundering franchise, one of many dotting the American map.
But there’s something poignant about the Knicks, in Manhattan, in Midtown, above Penn Station, in the vortex of transit and media and Macy’s. There are few places in Gotham, or the nation, with so much going on at once. And the Knicks are the only sports club mounted in the middle.
And there’s something so foul about our basketball team being so wretched. Maybe the Big Apple didn’t invent the sport, but it’s been the ancestral home for decades, from Dr. J to Tiny Archibald to Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Countless other legends came from NYC, like Larry Brown and Billy Cunningham and the patron saint of the Celtics, Red Auerbach, all hail from Brooklyn. Even the GOAT, Michael Jordan, was born in Brooklyn.
But from Rucker Park to Tribeca there’s a rancid hardwood odor wafting up and down the island. And it’s uniquely orange and blue.
Maybe you must be from here. Not just a Knicks fan or a recent New Yorker, but a native, born and raised in the five boroughs, as tethered to the streets as the weeds sprouting from the cracks in the sidewalk. And old enough to remember when the Knicks were essential, from the time your parents passed down tales of the incandescent years of Clyde and Pearl and Willis, to our own memories of Ernie & Bernie and Ewing and Pat Riley and those hardscrabble teams of the ’90s that landed more than a few blows on Jordan’s Bulls.
Now this… a blight, a stain, a fog of failure that swallows the team, building and city. We all choke on the vapors of incompetence.
And it all comes down to one man — James Dolan. If running this regal franchise into the subterranean bowels below the subway weren’t enough, Dolan refuses to be called out on it. Recently, we all heard about his infamous tete-a-tete with Charles Oakley. Not only did Dolan have Oakley escorted and banned from the building, but he also accused the Knicks icon of having an alcohol problem.
So nice to hear from the team owner, and Oakley’s former boss. Even nicer to hear from someone who himself spent time in rehab for alcohol (and other) problems.
But at least Oakley is a fellow celebrity, a large man in size and status. It may not have been a fair fight — especially with a goon squad protecting Dolan from Oakley — but it was waged on relatively similar levels. At least Oakley can take his fight to Twitter or TV, endless entities ready to shove a microphone under Oakley’s chin.
But how do you explain Dolan’s latest outrage? This time his thin skin cracked in front of a fan, Mike Hamersky, a native of Astoria (Queens). The fan’s unforgivable crime and assault? He urged the Knicks owner to sell the team. No profanity, no physical contact. Yet it drew Dolan’s ire to the extent that he cursed at the fan, had his security minions follow him, tried to have him banned from Madison Square Garden before the evening’s game, and may have his season tickets revoked. Oh, and he, again, accused a man of having an alcohol problem.
Madison Square Garden. MSG. The main nerve of commerce and entertainment. Once hailed as the World’s Most Famous Arena. Well, it still is branded that by the native shills, even if it’s become an embarrassment, a giant bruise on the Big Apple.
There’s a lovely feature on CBSSports.com that frames the Knicks’ ineptitude since Y2K. It goes into the twin gaffes of trading for and then re-signing Carmelo Anthony. Trading four starters and two first-round picks for Anthony, when it was clear he’d become a Knick in a few months as a free agent, is typical Knick logic. As is shoveling $120 million (and no-trade clause) for a decaying scorer who would only get worse each year. Among the Knicks’ more egregious failures…
- Hired 10 coaches since 2000
- One playoff series win in 17 years
- Won seven playoff games since 2002
- A franchise-worst record (17-65) — a .207 winning percentage — two years ago
- Stephon Marbury
- Eddy Curry
- Jerome James
- Joakim Noah (10 years too late)
- Derrick Rose (five years too late)
- Isiah Thomas
The one playoff series win is so atrocious it summons a partial list of historically woeful franchises who have been better since 2000 — the Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Hornets — and Charlotte didn’t even exist for two of those years. Even the Seattle Supersonics have more playoff series wins, and they haven’t been an NBA franchise in nearly a decade.
The Thomas regime was so unspeakably bad, it needs no fine print. And the stench drifted beyond the building, toward the courthouse, ending with an $11.6 million sexual harassment verdict against Thomas and MSG.
And this doesn’t even touch the topic of Phil Jackson, who was hired to run the club even though he’d never run a club. It was Jackson who penned that 17-65 record. A most bitter irony considering Jackson was a big part of those halcyon years under Red Holzman, and had done nothing but win everywhere until he returned to NYC.
Instead of owning these moves, Dolan directs his fury at Oakley and Hamersky, the fan from Queens. Astoria is just a few fly balls from Flushing, where the Mets play. Word is the Brooklyn Nets reached out to Hamersky to see if they could poach his fandom from the Knicks. He said it was Knicks or bust.
But maybe if he can’t get with the Nets, perhaps he can get his orange-and-blue fix with the Mets, who are far more metropolitan, cosmopolitan, and competitive, than the Knicks.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.
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