|Baller Time? Not anymore.|
In the 1980's and 90's, I loved Knicks basketball as much as I loved anything. I didn't miss games. If I couldn't watch them on MSG network, I'd gladly listen to Walt Clyde Frazier telling me who was "swishing and dishing" on the radio. I relished games at the Garden. Trent Tucker's .01, the Starks dunk, the Reggie Miller explosion (still hurts), the Larry Johnson 4 point play. I witnessed all of that in person. I cried when Charles Smith couldn't finish in '95 (or, at least, was really upset). I started Van Gundy chants in the closing moments of victory in '99 (how cool is it to shout something, and then suddenly, not even 20 seconds later, have 19,000 shout it along with you? Pretty powerful stuff). Those times were electric. The community of Knicks fans bonded by those moments was nothing short of special. New York City just felt different when the Knicks were playing well. And I'm not ashamed to admit that trips to the Garden to watch my Knicks in the playoffs appear a few times in the top 100 moments of my life.
But now? I just don't care about the Knicks.
When the aughts arrived, and with it, the two-headed, human wrecking ball known as James Dolan and Isiah Thomas, my interest started to wane. They were placed in charge of continuing the legacy of unique Knicks basketball, and instead, systematically wore it down to a raw nerve with dozens of terrible signings and reckless decisions. Slowly, year by crappy year, I started watching less. I couldn't believe it, but I started caring less. There was no Starks, or Oakley, or even Sprewell on the team anymore to save the day. Just a revolving door of overrated players that never quite grasped the concept of team basketball. And the playoffs, something that used to be a foregone conclusion, became an impossible goal.
It felt like Knicks basketball was gone for good.
Then, suddenly, this past year, we were finally treated to an unexpected, amazing New York Story. And for 35 games, I was a Knicks fan again.The emotion I used to feel all those years earlier suddenly yawned itself awake from its Rip Van Winkle nap, looked around, nodded, and said "OK, baby, yeah, I'm back." I no longer laid down on the couch to watch games while intermittently falling in and out of sleep. I sat up. And this was all because of Jeremy Lin.
Native New Yorkers love to spew cliches about being a "real New Yorker." I'm not sure exactly what that means, but Jeremy Lin felt like a New York Knick. He was tenacious on the court, had a killer instinct, and he never shrank from the spotlight. He was something a bit different, even beyond his race. He was overly intelligent, had a Harvard diploma to prove it, and carried confidence and swagger, with a touch of humility, that only a New Yorker could. He suddenly energized, not only crowds around the world, but more importantly, a Knicks organization that was miraculously playing team basketball once again. The Knicks became a draw. They were earning respect. Even my mother was asking me about them (when my mother asks me a sports question, you know its a big story!) And with the ball in Lin's hands, and with him in control, the Knicks won games. And suddenly, I wanted to travel back to NYC and go to the Garden.
And now he's gone. Because James Dolan is an asshole. Replaced by a way-too-past-his- prime Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton (who, well, sucks.)
Yes, Lin was offered a big contract, probably more than he's worth (basketball-wise, won't even get into his marketing potential), but so what? Dolan and the Knicks could have easily matched it, money never seemed to be an issue with them in the past, and honestly, what the fuck do I care about James Dolan's endless bank account? Not to mention, rumor has it (and I assume it to be true) that the Knicks decision not to match the Rockets' offer sheet to Lin has more to do with a grudge than money. Apparently Dolan wanted Lin to bend down and kiss the ring, and he didn't. Whatever. I won't get into that. As a fan, I just want an interesting product. And now I no longer have one.
You can make all the basketball arguments you want to support the move, you can wax poetically about why it was the right financial decision. But Jeremy Lin was the one thing that made this Knicks fan pay attention again.
And now, frankly, I'm finding it hard to give a shit.