They say you can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends and significant others. Some of us have a history of choosing the wrong people, time after time, but being a Knicks fan these days is like eternally dating someone you know is bad for you in the long run. It could be that bad boy with the leather jacket, the skull tattoo and the motorcycle. Or maybe its the hot, high-maintenance foreign girl who dresses a bit too provocatively and takes a little longer than normal to answer your messages. We’ve all been there. And when they hurt us, we don’t always learn our lesson right away. Sometimes we come crawling back for more. In the case of Knicks fans, sometimes is more like always.
Last season was our honeymoon phase with the Knicks. Madison Square Garden was our own private cloud nine. After years of mediocrity, it seemed a golden era of Basketball had once again returned to it’s rightful Mecca in New York. We had our little spats once in a while, but for the most part, we both had butterflies in our tummies. We won 54 games together, set NBA records for 3-pointers made in a single season. We crowned a new scoring champion and a new 6th man. There were hard-fought battles and buzzer beaters galore, as well as multiple 20-point victories over the Miami Heat. A championship, or at the very least, a finals appearance seemed all but inevitable. I thought for sure we’d get a ring on our finger in June, ride into a 5th avenue sunset and live happily every after. And then they started acting strange.
It was subtle at first, but I remember the day it all started. I remember when I first noticed it, like your main-squeeze going into the next room to answer a call. Or perhaps you’ve noticed that they didn’t make the same effort in that good-night kiss, just when we needed to trust them the most. That day was April 26th, 2013 for me. It was game 3, round 1 of the playoffs with our division rivals, the Celtics. We had won the first two at the Garden easily, but the first one in Boston proved to be a little bit of a challenge for some of us. With 7:07 left in the game, in an attempt to vent some of his frustrations with the afternoon’s game, J.R. Smith gave Boston’s [then] Jason Terry a blatant elbow to the face. It seemed insignificant on that day, because despite Smith’s ejection, we still won the game fairly comfortably. But in retrospect, it was the shot heard ‘round the Apple. It was the moment everything started to slowly crumble.
I thought for sure we’d get a ring on our finger in June, ride into a 5th avenue sunset and live happily every after. And then they started acting strange.
Everything still seemed fine in paradise. We were up 3-0 and we were poised to complete our first playoff series win in 13 years, and with a sweep no less. I remember being so proud and infatuated with my Knicks. I purchased tickets for Game 4 in Boston to witness what was sure to be a victory. I mean, everything had been going our way. It was fate. (As a side note, I’ll mention that a decent mid-way seat at TD garden for game 4 was significantly less expensive than the nose-bleeders at MSG. Even with gas, tolls on the I-95 and food split with a friend, everything was still cheaper than any seat at the garden.) Despite our great expectations, we were in for a surprise. J.R. had been suspended for Game 4 and the Knicks lacked the offensive punch they needed to wrap up the series. We fell in a 20-point hole and despite a furious 4th quarter rally in which cheers from visiting Orange and Blue fans filled the arena, a late 3-point dagger by Jason Terry sealed our fate. It was only fitting.
We would go on to lose game 5 and eventually close out the series in 6, but something had changed. J.R. wasn’t the same. He fell into a shooting slump so cavernous, it’s only other previous inhabitants were John Starks feel somewhat better about ’94. J.R. would remain in that slump for the duration of the 2013 season. Raymond Felton had also struggled to get going offensively and the season’s wear and tear began to corrode our chemistry and affect almost everyone else on the team. Suddenly, things got tough. And because we had had it so easy, the Knicks shied away from the adversity instead of weathering the storm. We reverted to our old bad habits. Matador defense, poor shot selection, stagnant hero ball and an overall lack of intensity and urgency. Of course it also didn’t help that our best defensive player, Tyson Chandler was ill with the flu, and thus no match for a hungry Roy Hibbert. For a team that was constructed mostly of veterans tip-toeing on retirement, the message had not been communicated well enough to the more potent youngsters: Win now, or forever hold your heads in your palms.
As with all hot young things, we are at first dazzled during positive outings or performances. Witnessing a regular season J.R. Smith buzzer beater is like your boyfriend threw you a surprise party for no reason. You didn’t expect it, but when it happened, you were thrilled. All your friends were there and you all had a blast. And you thought it was going to be just another lame Friday night in Charlotte. It was a rollercoaster of emotion and you forgot about why you were mad at him in the first place. We are so entranced in the moment, that we overlook major red flags that ultimately make it a tumultuous relationship. Then the next day, you remembered that your boyfriend never cleans up after himself, never wants to talk about your day, or any of your feelings, and he certainly never puts the cap back on the toothpaste. And during the next game, you remembered, J.R. Smith doesn’t pass the ball enough, he holds it too long, and eventually takes an ill-advised shot that ends in yet another missed opportunity. All of the above could also be said of Carmelo Anthony on any given night last season. It’s the little things that matter in relationships. And they stopped doing the little things. Enough for us to notice, but not without the occasional dramatic and grand gesture of affection to sweep us off our feet, and the little red flags under the rug.
It’s the little things that matter in relationships. And they stopped doing the little things.
The second round series with Indiana was the true wakeup call. We battled all season for home court advantage against the Pacers and then dropped the first game at the Garden. The loss set the tone for the rest of the series, in which we only won two games, presumably just to save face. The most emphatic and soul-crushing play came late in game 6, when Roy Hibbert single handedly stopped any comeback momentum the Knicks had mounted by blocking Carmelo Anthony’s dunk attempt at the rim. We all know the rest of that story. Game 6 ended, and an exciting season’s worth of hopes and dreams came crashing down, as abruptly as Hibbert’s rejection of Anthony.
It was a harsh blow, but we eventually picked ourselves up and most of us forgave the Knicks in light of an otherwise fruitful campaign. But was only reaching the second round enough? It’s like Eddie Murphy once said, referring to intimate gratification with significant others, “If you’re starving and somebody [throws] you a cracker, [you’re] gonna be like this: Goddamn, that’s the best cracker I ever ate in my life! That ain’t no regular cracker, was it? What was that, a Saltine? Goddamn, that was delicious. That wasn’t no Saltine. That was… That was a Ritz. That wasn’t a Ritz? God, that was the best cracker I ever ate in my life.” The fact is that for thirteen long years, Knicks fans were starving and we had finally got ourselves some crackers. We were starving for any semblance of a functional, healthy relationship in which both sides took care of one another. It had been so lopsided for so long, that we eagerly jumped at any chance of joy, even if it would otherwise be considered underwhelming or flawed. This was clearly illustrated during the 6 game stretch in the previous season, now officially referred to as “Linsanity”. Sure, Jeremy Lin was rough around the edges, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that his conditioning wasn’t up to par, or that his lefty dribble was as shaky as job on the Knicks coaching staff, because dropped 38 on the Lakers for chrissake! He ran circles around Derek Fisher and Deron Williams (even though Williams would later have his revenge), became an international icon overnight, and single handedly reinvigorated a bitter Knicks fanbase.
Lin brought joy and wonder back to the Garden and fans were never more excited to see their team at .500. Of course Lin would eventually leave for Houston (I still have mixed feelings about that) which is another microcosm of what we’ve been talking about all along. The build-up and the inevitable let-down.
Fast forward to this past summer, where the offseason Cold War fortification by Brooklyn Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov caused our very own James Dolan to sign off on some very hasty transactions. The Nets acquired famous Knick rivals Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett amid a fanfare of school yard trash talk. The Knicks responded by releasing one of the best 3 point shooters (Steve Novak), and in return got… wait for it… Andrea Bargnani? Uhm, Who? Oh, that first round draft pick bust from a few years ago who’s always injured and plays with the heart of an alley cat.
The build-up and the inevitable let-down.
And then the Knicks started dressing differently. The new orange jerseys may look nice, but they’ve been a curse ever since their debut game against the Bulls, where we lost to a DRose floater. And speaking of the Bulls, in 1997 they debuted alternate black uniforms only to quickly ditch them because of the results. Of course those Bulls went on to win their third straight title that season. Would it be that difficult for the Knicks marketing and management to take a page from the history books and follow suit? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. After a recent loss to the Magic, Carmelo Anthony said he didn’t believe in superstition and that the Knicks would have likely lost no matter what colors they were wearing that night. That sounds like we weren’t even committed or trying to win.
As fans, we are all the battered housewives of the NBA. Whatever lies ahead for our relationship with the Knicks isn’t pretty. We’re entering our darkest hour. This is the part where your alcoholic boyfriend has hit rock bottom and refuses to go to rehab. Instead, he comes home drunk night after night and takes out his insecurities on your face with his fists. He says he’ll kill you if you go to the police. All your friends are urging you to get out and find someone else, but you can’t help it. You love him. You’ve been with him so long that you don’t know any better. What would you do without him anyway? Too morbid of a metaphor for you? Try being a Knicks fan for a quarter century. Now excuse me while I go watch the Knicks game and cry myself to sleep again.