By Jason Keidel
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In the old days, deep in the corporate black hole carved by Isiah Thomas and sponsored by Jim Dolan, this was a game the Knicks abandoned in the first quarter, at the first flash of adversity.

But these Knicks aren’t those Knicks. Isiah Thomas toils in some small college near the Miami Heat’s locker room, a minor man relegated to the minor leagues after he sexually harassed the Knicks into irrelevance.

Down by 22 points, the Knicks had the knack for the comeback, closing to within three points late in the fourth quarter before Dwayne Wade – the only true champion on the Heat – took over with 40 points, mostly in the paint, shredding a sleepy Knicks defense. But for the first time since the 1990s, we can be proud of the product in orange and blue.

Yes, the Knicks lost. No, there are no moral victories. But the Knicks play like they give a damn. And now we give a damn. We’ve waited over a decade for a team to cheer in MSG, which, for too long, has been a rotting house of rancid athletics. Let the three hockey fans left in America discuss the merits of the Rangers. The rest of us embrace the Garden as the home of hoop dreams. And we’re downright giddy that this gritty team comes to play.

Perhaps no man north of Dade County can say with a straight face that he roots for LeBron James. He’s the emblem of the nouveaux, hybrid athlete: half suit, half sweats. He’s a vessel for the marketing machine, synthetic to the core, swathed in corporate garb and greed, incapable of independent thought. He cannot speak without a sponsor’s cue card.

So many misguided New Yorkers were inconsolable when King James jilted the Knicks for a football state with no state income tax. Repeat after me: New York doesn’t beg ballers to play here; they beg us to come here. Cleveland rode his wings to no rings before he bolted to Miami, his decision aptly framed by our pals at ESPN – the palace of self-congratulation.

Notice the Knicks don’t need him? Miami has been burning the NBA lately, pummeling teams with the titanic force of their talented trio. But it takes five to win a title. Don’t be fooled by the 14-1 run. Miami is not winning the NBA title this year. Neither are the Knicks, of course, but the ascent feels official.

It’s not about Xs and Os, not about Mike D’Antoni’s love of cardio offense and cardiac defense. It’s about twelve guys playing hard and led by one star in Stoudemire who grinds through every game like it’s his last.

Amar’e aside, there are no household names to slap on the marquee. But the Knicks now play a brand of ball that tickles the main nerve of our blue-collar ethic. They aren’t pretty. They’re gritty.

For the first time in ten years, you’ll crack open your newspaper and read about them, check the schedule for the next game. For the first time in ten years they’ve gone from pungent to cogent. Donnie Walsh has cleared the cap and hired some chaps who blast through walls for their team and their town.

The Knicks are becoming winners. Drafts and chalkboards are important but not primary. Effort is all we want from our friends, family, and Knickerbockers. After a long nightmare they finally listened. We only pray that we’re not dreaming.

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pixy Keidel: True Blue Grit

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