The New York Knicks are below contempt. So why does everyone hate them?
Early Saturday morning, before the New York Knicks took the court to face the Charlotte Hornets, team president Phil Jackson grimly trudged behind a podium partly to discuss his second major transaction, one that sent guards Iman Shumpert and JR Smith to the Cleveland Cavaliers in return for basically nothing, and partly to explain how the season had gone so horribly wrong. “This is a mea culpa,” Jackson said, throwing himself upon his finest sharpened Zen sword. “I take responsibility for it and the fans, I want them to leave Derek [Fisher] alone in this regard. He’s doing the best job possible. It’s not his fault.”
That the Knicks are a terrible team is not news, not the kind that requires a formal press conference, at least. They’re dead last in the at 5-35, having dropped a franchise-record 15th in a row and 25 of the last 26. They’ve proven wholly unable to master even the basic concepts of the newly installed triangle offense, suffered a slew of debilitating injuries and the less said about their defense the better.
What then is to be done? Jackson explained that it was finally time to unleash a purgative blaze worthy of a howling dumpster fire of a team.
“[People] have told me many times that there’s been this impression that maybe the team should blow it up and should start over again and it’s never happened,” Jackson said. “The reality is this is probably the best way to go about the business. And to begin and to restart and to do it the right way and put it together in a way that really makes sense instead of bringing dominant people in to try and fit into this jigsaw puzzle makes it pretty difficult. We hope we’re on the right track even though this isn’t the track we anticipated.”
The consensus is that Jackson is correct, and that a long, slow rebuilding process – the antithesis to the quick fix, sign-the-shiniest-free-agency-prize-available approach that’s been New York’s modus operandi pretty much since Jackson himself was scampering around the court in short shorts – is absolutely necessary.
What’s odd is that for a franchise that’s been a joke for 15-plus seasons, save for a few, ever-so brief , the Knicks are the target of a particularly giddy brand of scorn and ridicule, both from NBA fans as a whole and even at times, the national media.
Granted, New York teams in all sports are often a priori loathed because of their big market status, and self-important attitude. But the Knicks are a far cry from the Yankees or Giants; this isn’t a brief chance to take a few well-deserved pot shots at a rich schoolyard bully. This is kicking a guy who’s been lying in the gutter, bloodied and wallowing in a pool of his own vomit for as long as anyone can remember.
To be clear, the Knicks have earned each and every joke that’s made at their expense and the criticism they’ve faced is wholly justified, but it’s a no-win situation. Fail to rebuild “the right way” as they have for years, and they’re laughed at. Do the right thing and deal away productive players for cap space and draft picks, and they’re still finding themselves like a pre-teen social outcast that’s been pantsed and wedgied while the mean kids snicker and point.
Take Saturday’s 110-82 drubbing by the Hornets; It’s a minuscule slice of the basketball-viewing public, to be sure and one in which the more glib, zingery one-liners are rewarded, but as the team grimly slogged through a stretch between the 2nd and 3rd quarters in which they were outscored , it was like swimming in a on Twitter. Tweets sadistically showed photos of sad fans dressed as the or gleefully highlighted the pitiless crowd at Madison Square Garden that went so far as to .
And then there’s the way the team is covered. Charles Barkley’s empty if TNT had the temerity to put the Knicks on again might have been the most noteworthy example, but he’s not alone. Deadspin (an equal-opportunity dispenser of snark, to be sure) has a dedicated tag, and the New York Times went so far as to print a for their beat reporter requesting suggestions for a better team to cover than the Knicks, “perhaps a high school or a college squad. For that matter, maybe you know of a strong coed team at your local Y.”
Why? What makes this Knicks team different? I asked , NBA writer for CBSSports.com and Editor Emeritus of Hardwood Paroxysm, and he explained that in one aspect, the criticism is the same as it would be for any garden-variety, putrid NBA team but there is added ferocity afforded to the Knicks.
“I think there’s a sense that New York is treated like an ‘important’ team when there’s no real reason,” he said. “When the Bobcats were a ridiculous entity year after year, it was a side item, not a daily conversation. The Lakers get talked about because they’ve won 16 championships and have an arguable top-ten/top-five guy on the team [Kobe Bryant.] The Knicks, though, get talked about as an important team when they haven’t been good since Ewing. Not really, truly good.”
The thing is, the Knicks are important, regardless of their record, but not in a way that’s fun to acknowledge. For proof we need look no further than the fact that after an unremarkable 37-45 campaign in 2013-14, the Knicks were still in the league’s national broadcast schedule.
As at ESPN last year, despite all their egalitarian talk about parity, the NBA has a vested interest in having the Lakers and Knicks of the world be good, or at least entertaining. Despite a boffo 2013-14 season, ratings took a serious plunge league-wide, mainly because fewer eyeballs in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago were glued to the screen, and the gains made in smaller markets weren’t nearly enough to offset the loss of the big city folk.
“This reality runs counter to a technology-based argument on behalf of small-market teams: Market size doesn’t matter because people from all over can easily watch the biggest stars whether they play for Oklahoma City or New York City. The internet! Apps! No player will be underrated ever again!” Strauss said.
“Just because people can do something doesn’t mean they will. Even though fans could splurge on League Pass and watch any team, they still largely follow the teams within reasonable driving distance. This is especially true of the NBA, according to a Facebook-based that the New York Times released.”
Which brings us back to Barkley’s tirade, and the ways in which it rang true for the bulk of NBA fans. Why would anyone without a rooting interest want to be subjected to this much execrable ball? In this instance, familiarity is certain to breed contempt, especially when it seems like money and profit, and not the interests of the NBA consumer are the motivating factor.
Seeing this putrid team pop up on one’s TV night after night only serves to reinforce the notion that New York is right to perceive itself as the center of the universe, sporting and otherwise, as if all their arrogance and elitism had somehow been vindicated, despite the total lack of concrete evidence that would support all this crowing and chest-thumping. You know, like winning.
That perception, that they’ve bought importance without earning it, or that their importance is intrinsically tied to an inherited wallet is going to be disliked, that’s for sure. So for now, while they sputter through the final 42 games of a lost season, expect New York to be mocked, and mocked again. And should they actually climb out of this hole and build a contender? Yeah, they’ll still be summarily loathed.
Is that fair? Probably not, but to paraphrase Aaron Sorkin, “That’s life in the NBA.”