Saturday, March 2, 2013

"Delusions Of Grandeur"

Are New York Knicks' fans delusional? In order to answer this question, you must delve deep into the franchise's 66 year history, one which started way back in 1946-47 in the NBA's inaugural season. The Knicks played in three consecutive NBA finals in 1951, 52, and 53, losing all three times, once to the Rochester Royals, and twice to the Minneapolis Lakers. New York wouldn't return to basketball's promised land until 1970, when they won their first championship, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games behind the likes of Clyde Frazier, Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, and Dick Barnett. After losing the championship series to the Lakers in 1972, New York was back in the finals in '73, and again defeated Los Angeles, this time in five games. New York had added Earl Monroe to its back-court to play alongside Frazier. Some thought the two guards would be incapable of playing with each other, but instead found cohesion, and delivered New York's second championship. The Knicks didn't make another trip to the finals for another 19 years.

It was 1994. O.J. Simpson was on trial for murder. Michael Jordan was taking the year off from basketball to play minor league baseball, after his father's unexpected death, and the Knicks were in the NBA finals. This time around, Patrick Ewing, John Starks, and Charles Oakley led New York, coached by Pat Riley, against Hakeem Olajuwon, and the Houston Rockets. Though the Rockets had the better the record, Knicks' fans were convinced that this was their year, that somehow without Jordan there to crush their playoff dreams, the Knickerbockers would deliver that championship they hadn't seen in 19 years. Up three games to two, the Knicks headed back to Houston intent on securing the title, but Olajuwon's Rockets erased any hope of that happening, winning the last two games of the series, and bringing the title to Texas for the first time in the league's history. The next year, Jordan was back. The Rockets won their second straight title in '95, but MJ and the Bulls won three more championships from '96-'98.

Jordan retired again at the end of the 1998 season, but the NBA was locked out due to labor negotiations until February of 1999. That year, the Knicks made the playoffs as the eighth seed in a shortened 50 game season, but upset Miami, cruised past Atlanta, and stormed past Indiana to reach the finals again, where they would take on another Texas foe, the San Antonio Spurs. The Knicks were spearheaded by Latrell Sprewell, Allan Houston, and Marcus Camby. Ewing sat out the championship series with an Achilles tendon injury he had suffered in the Conference Finals against Indiana. Behind Tim Duncan and David Robinson, the Spurs took their first title, defeating the Knicks in five games, despite a valiant 35 points in the final game of the series by Sprewell.

New York fans didn't really believe the team had a chance in that series. Since then, Knicks' fans have seemed to think a title should be right around the corner every season. Knicks' management did everything in its power to facilitate this, but made all the wrong moves. Patrick Ewing was traded for an aging Glen Rice in 2000. Later, in 2003, Sprewell was traded for Keith Van Horn. In the Spring of 2004, Knicks' general manager Isiah Thomas acquired Stephon Marbury from the Phoenix Suns. Knicks' fans pinned Marbury with the responsibility of bringing the title back to New York, and he disappointed them to no end. The Knicks only made the playoffs once during era, but were swept by the New Jersey Nets in the first round in 2004.

During the Isiah Thomas era, the Knicks suited up Steve Francis, Larry Hughes, Quentin Richardson, Dikembe Mutombo, Vin Baker, and Penny Hardaway, hoping stars in the twilight of their careers would help bring New York a championship. The Knicks acquired Zach Randolph in 2007, hoping he would become the next great big man in New York to compliment Marbury. Again, the experiment failed. Randolph was shipped to the Clippers in exchange for Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas.

The next summer, the Knicks drafted Danilo Gallinari. Again, New York fans were hopeful that a savior had arrived. Maybe the Italian could turn into another Nowitzki, and lead the Knicks to the championship. In 2010, the Knicks signed Amar'e Stoudemire. If Gallinari alone wasn't the answer the Knicks problems, surely it was Stoudemire. Immediately Stoudemire carried the burden of delivering that coveted NBA title to the Knicks, but owner James Dolan had other plans. Apparently Stoudemire wasn't enough. The next February, the Knicks mortgaged their future, trading Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, and Timofey Mozgov for Carmelo Anthony. All of a sudden, the burden had switched shoulders from Stoudemire to Anthony. Now Knicks' fans could rest all of their hopes on Carmelo to bring them the title.

The Knicks were knocked out in the first round by the Celtics in the 2011 playoffs. Again, there was a lockout. The Knicks signed Tyson Chandler, following the end of the labor dispute, in hopes that he would add toughness to their front line. In a 66 game shortened season, the Knicks struggled out of the gate. Both Carmelo and Amar'e missed time to injury. Then, out of nowhere came Jeremy Lin. For two weeks, he captivated MSG, stealing the spotlight right out of Carmelo;s hands. The sensational performance by the neophyte again convinced Knicks fans that there was hope. New York fans were so desperate that they believed that Lin could be their savior, just like Patrick Ewing, just like Stephon Marbury, just like Amar'e Stoudemire, and just like Carmelo Anthony. These stars all have one thing in common. At some point in their career, they have carried the burden of bringing a title back to New York City. Lin suffered a left knee injury that kept him out of the Knicks' playoff series against Miami, one in which New York won their first playoff game in 11 years.

This past summer, the Knicks let Jeremy Lin walk to Houston, refusing to pay a back-loaded contract worth roughly $25 million over three years. Whether it was really due to Carmelo's disdain for playing alongside Lin remains unclear. They brought back Raymond Felton, and brought in aging vets Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby, Rasheed Wallace, and Jason Kidd. Most recently, the Knicks signed Kenyon Martin, another veteran who has seen brighter days in this league.

On Friday night, the Knicks, and their fans, descended upon the Verizon Center. The players on the team are treated like rock stars. Fans chant their names if they play well, and harass them for autographs during warmups. Steve Novak and J.R. Smith are two of the most popular Knicks. New York fans crowded the court during shoot-around to watch Novak drain three-pointers. Smith was doing his thing, too, entertaining the gallery of Knicks' fans who had gathered behind the New York bench. Older fans shouted out to Clyde Frazier, who was providing color commentary for MSG Network.

Amar'e Stoudemire was signed to a $99.7 million contract over five years in the summer of 2010 to help bring championship basketball back to The Garden.
Despite recent woes following the acquisition of fellow superstar Carmelo Anthony, Stoudemire is still considered an integral piece to the Knicks' championship puzzle.
Jason Kidd, who turns 40 later this month, is one of five current Knicks over the age of 35.
The Knicks defeated the Wizards 96-88, behind 30 points from the franchise's current savior, Carmelo Anthony. Felton chipped in 23 points and 6 assists. Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 29 points and 11 rebounds, but the Wizards were defeated, and their fans drowned out by the enormous contingent of Knicks' fans, who managed to just about fill the Verizon Center to its capacity.

Wizards guard John Wall races up the floor
Wall is mugged by Knicks point guard Raymond Felton
Wizards forward Trevor Ariza drives around Knicks guard J.R. Smith
A driving Trevor Ariza is confronted by J.R. Smith
Carmelo Anthony averages 28.6 points per game. He is also tied for third in the league with 11 technical fouls on the season.
John Wall looks for an open man
Raymond Felton is defended by John Wall
John Wall dribbles towards the basket
A driving Wall is chased down Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton on his way to the bucket
John Wall contemplates his next move
With the departure of Jeremy Lin this past summer, Knicks head coach Mike Woodson, right, entrusted the starting point guard job to Raymond Felton.
The often impulsive J.R. Smith fouls out of the game
Carmelo gets an explanation from referee Jason Phillips
Wizards guard Bradley Beal shoots over the outstretched arms of Knicks swing-man Iman Shumpert
If last night's game was any indication, the Knicks are headed in the right direction, but are New York fans delusional to think it possible that their team could win a title this year? Maybe a little. After all, it hasn't happened in 40 years, so just the idea takes a lot of imagination.