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The Glorious Knicksing of the New York Knicks

The New York Knicks are, even at the most basic level, inherently absurd. They are the only NBA team named for an article of clothing,* which is impressive if for no other reason than there apparently was a discussion once upon a time in which someone essentially suggested naming a basketball team the New York Pants — or the New York Underwear, depending on who you ask — and everyone apparently was OK with this. Somewhere along the line, this was shortened from Knickerbockers, which is actually a word that means something, to Knicks, which is a word in the sense that it is now a part of the English language even though nobody I’ve ever met can tell you what it means. Well, aside from “it’s short for Knickerbockers,” which, you know, yes, but that’s not how definitions work.

*Except maybe the Los Angeles Lakers, but since nobody knows what the hell a “laker” actually is, we’re going to leave them out of this. As a matter of fact, let’s just leave the Lakers out of the NBA this year. Nobody will miss them.

Anyway, this year’s Knicks are absurd even against a backdrop where their name is the Knicks and everyone just accepts this. I also don’t really understand why that is. I didn’t understand the Knicks when they were actually good last season, and I sure as hell don’t understand them this year now that they’re bad. What I do know is that they took a team that had a definite identity built around a truly elite scorer in Carmelo Anthony, and then they Knicksed it all up. Out went Chris Copeland, Steve Novak and Jason Kidd — players with identifiable skills and defined roles on a team that won 54 games — and in came Andrea Bargnani, Metta World Peace, and Beno Udrih — players who seem like they should be good but have not managed to actually be good in New York. Coincidentally, two of the three players I just named are no longer with the team, and the other one has been hurt for a while and the team is probably better for it. Oh, and then there was Chris Smith, which would have been the most Knicks thing about this season had the Knicks not lost a game in February to the Orlando Magic in part because a Tyson Chandler reverse dunk bounced off Tyson Chandler’s head and back out the way it went in and was thus disallowed. The Knicks!

Back in October, before the season started and before Derrick Rose’s other knee buckled and another piece of my soul died, I wrote but never published a piece on the Knicks based on the premise that they were inherently boring compared to the rest of the Eastern Conference. Sadly, I no longer have said piece, but I remember writing something along the lines of, “It’s hard to argue that the Knicks are better than the Heat, the Bulls, the Pacers or the Nets, but it’s also hard to argue they’re any worse than the fifth best team in the conference.”

Yeah … about that…

These days, the Knicks are the winners of five straight games and a decent candidate to make the playoffs in the wretched East despite spending the vast majority of the season doing things like “relying on Andrea Bargnani” and “starting Raymond Felton at point guard” and “being hilarious.” They also appear to be Phil Jackson’s newest project, though nothing’s official yet, and they still have plenty of time to dick this up. For all your Phil Jackson-related coverage, I implore you to read this piece from Kevin McElroy right now. In fact, you go do that, and I’ll wait here.

Rather than waste a couple of lines pretending to wait for you to come back, I’m just going to move on because I’m writing this in the past and you’re reading this in the future, so for all I know you just went and fed your dog and masturbated and made yourself a sandwich — hopefully in that order, I guess? Maybe not. — and lord knows I don’t have time to sit around and wait for you to do all that. And just in case you decided to do all that instead of reading the piece like I asked you to, I will now excerpt what is possibly my favorite paragraph I’ve read in a while:

Such is life for the Knicks, a franchise who seems to bring in a new savior as often as most of its competitors bring in new ballboys. Once-in-a-generation scorer Bernard King gave way to can’t-miss-future-Hall-of-Famer Patrick Ewing who was joined by four-time-champion Pat Riley who was replaced by former-Coach-of-the-Year Don Nelson whose stewardship was far too brief to work under greatest-pure-point-guard-ever Isiah Thomas who hired former-NBA-champion Lenny Wilkens who was fired in favor of winner-at-all-levels-and-coacher-of-The-Right-Way Larry Brown whose disastrous tenure led to his replacement by Thomas himself before David Stern tore him from James Dolan’s death grip in favor of no-nonsense-basketball-lifer Donnie Walsh who hired offensive-mind-of-his-generation Mike D’Antoni who was reunited with proclaimer-that-the-Knicks-are-back Amar’e Stoudemire who accepted the role of second banana behind guy-who-grew-up-idolizing-Bernard-King-and-holy-shit-time-is-circular Carmelo Anthony. Each of these men came in with pedigree to spare and each was hailed as a bringer of a new era and each has baked a big, doughy New York bagel where the championship ring was supposed to be.

From the outside, I have trouble understanding what it must be like to be a Knicks fan. The Bulls can be dysfunctional — it was only four years ago that our GM got into a literal fistfight with our head coach, which if it happened with the Knicks would be front-page news for months, if not longer — and frustrating, but in the last decade, they’ve had exactly one sub-.500 season, and that season netted them Derrick Rose. The Knicks, on the other hand, went an entire decade without so much as winning a playoff game, and brilliantly tanked the season immediately before possibly the most loaded draft since LeBron and company in 2003, only to discover they had no pick in said draft. Were I a cruel man, I would note that they also traded the picks that became LaMarcus Aldridge and Joakim Noah for Eddy Curry — thanks for that, by the way — but instead I’m going to move on.

I cannot fathom the pain of Knicks fandom, nor do I doubt that I would have given up and found a new team to root for quite some time ago, were I in their position. If I may turn away from the NBA just for a moment, I’m going to share something not a ton of people know about me. Having grown up in Chicago, I am a White Sox fan, but it was not always this way. Baseball first grabbed my attention in 1998, as Sammy Sosa was launching home runs left, right, and center. I became a Cubs fan because I loved watching Sammy Sosa hit home runs and then jump in the air like an excited child, and then find the camera in the dugout and alternately touch his chest and lips for 30 seconds. But then there was Game 6 — and, to a lesser extent, Game 7, but we all went in knowing they would lose that game after what happened the night before — of the 2003 NLCS, and then there was the final week of the 2004 season, where the Cubs blew a substantial lead in the NL Wild Card race by losing 5 of their last 6 games and missed the playoffs entirely. My dad and my sister were both White Sox fans and always kind of made fun of me for liking the Cubs more, so after consecutive years of heartbreak, I packed my metaphorical bags and became a White Sox fan.** They won the World Series the next season, so either I have some kind of magical power or I got really, insanely lucky, but either way, I bailed.

**I guess this is where I make fun of the White Sox for being named after a piece of clothing, but a) socks are less stupid than pants/underwear and b) they at least had the sense to use the actual name of the clothing item in question once everyone kind of collectively realized that nobody actually says “stocking” except around Christmas. Though I will freely admit that spelling it with an X is objectively stupid.

I’m not terribly proud of that, as evidenced by the fact that I generally avoid telling people about it, but it is what it is, and I frankly admire all the Knicks fans who have managed to stick with the team to this point and even more so the guys like Kevin McElroy — you remember him from earlier, right? The guy who wrote the thing I told you to read before you went and did whatever it was you did instead? — and Seth Rosenthal at Posting and Toasting and a host of others who actually get up the energy to write about them on a regular basis. I have a lot of trouble writing about the Bulls sometimes, like in December when I blew off a Bulls-Rockets game to go watch DePaul play something called a Houston Baptist because I just got burned out on the ugliness that was the Bulls at that time, and the Bulls do things that aren’t incredibly frustrating sometimes.***

***Kirk Hinrich’s field goal percentage and Carlos Boozer’s general existence notwithstanding.

I guess what the Knicks have taught me this year is that a) it is totally possible to tank incorrectly in a way that doesn’t involve accidentally winning games, b) Knicks writers are basically god-like in their endurance, c) Mike Woodson isn’t going to sit here and do much of anything, and d) I shouldn’t take what I, through no particular virtue on my part, have as a Bulls fan for granted. There, but for the grace of god, go I, as they say. Or something like that.

So, for Knicks’ fans sake, I hope this Phil Jackson thing works out. And even if it doesn’t, there’s not much to lose at this point.

Caleb Nordgren

Caleb is a proud Chicagoan still adjusting to life away from the big city. He's a journalism student at Michigan State, the Editor of Pippen Ain't Easy and can be found at any given time on Twitter, talking about basketball and generally being sarcastic.

  • riccardo vianello

    You’re a prick.
    Simple as that.
    Just wasted ten minutes of my life reading this piece of garbage.
    Most of all, this one sentence defines what you really are: “nor do I doubt that I would have given up and found a new team to root for quite some time ago”

    How can someone possibly stop rooting for HIS team, and root for the enemy is beyond me. Unless you’re totally dumb. Or a prick.
    Since you clearly are not the former, you are obviously the latter.
    Good luck with your shitty Chicago Bulls.
    Now I see the basketball gods’ masterplan behind giving the Bulls Derrick Rose… and giving him those knees/ankles.

  • Ike Eisen

    @Vianello: I’ve wasted my time reading your response to the author.

    Really, what law or moral code says a person cannot or should not switch sports team loyalties? He isn’t saying he traded state secrets.

    You have a moronic, overinflated sense of worth you have on how important it is to support a team.

  • Paul

    This all makes sense to me. I have endured the pain of underwear/pants fandom for 45 years now, so long enough to barely remember that there were once glory years of teams, coaches and front offices (and fans) known and revered for their basketball savvy and commitment to doing the little things that teams did to win the right way. And I’ll never give up.

    But I have, essentially, given up hope. Every splashy all-in move the Knicks make reeks of desperation, not to win, not even to be relevant, but just to be noticed. Like a spoiled but neglected kid who alternately gets A’s and gets thrown out of school… The self-important dysfunction surrounding every move, every team policy, every ridiculously cryptic statement and non-statement… what is this, national security or something? We’re fans, we want to be able to follow a team for fun, not be left in the dark as if we and everyone else were the enemy!?!?!

    So somehow I, and I know, many like me, have found a space in the cracks between “lifelong fan” and “lost hope.” There’s even fun to be had, rooting for the concept of a team while hating almost everything most individuals do on behalf of said team. We are Knicks fans: we can enjoy the community of laughing at stupid, antic moves while crying together in our beers…

    Ugh.

  • Ike Eisen

    @Paul: Unlike the pompous, pitiful masochist named Mr Vianello, I have the decency to tell you that you DO have the choice to find a better team to root for and give your love to.

    You certainly deserve to support a better team with your pride and money, instead of lining the pockets of Prince of Darkness James Dolan.