By Jason Keidel
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At the risk of redundancy…the New York Knicks are a good basketball team. Just ask the San Antonio Spurs, who just fell to a high-octane offense and high-octave fan base at the Garden.
Before this season I hadn’t written a column on the Knicks in three years; I’ve written three in the last three weeks.
My inbox popped with caustic responses, imploring me to attend 12-Step meetings for Kool-Aid addiction. Where are the haters now? The New York Knicks – yes, your New York Knickerbockers – just stomped the Spurs, the best team in the NBA so far, by far.
Somewhere between Isiah Thomas and Mike D’Antoni, between Isiah Thomas and Donnie Walsh (yes, sadly, Thomas reported to Thomas) the Knicks got good. Their roster went from tormented to talented in about 18 months.
Cynics labeled the Knicks (20-14) flukes after the first quarter of the season. The Spurs, led by a great coach and greater player, are not flukes. They entered the Garden with a 29-4 record, a fistful of rings, and a history of making quick work of the Knicks, going back to the beat-down in the 1999 NBA Finals. Last night they left the Garden shell-shocked, with Gregg Popovich benching his beleaguered starters with three minutes left in the game.
Wilson Chandler (31 points) was the hero last night. Chandler is one player in an interchangeable roster of ballers who care about the number on the board instead of the name on their backs. Amar’e aside, the marquee at MSG doesn’t glitter with glamour. They just win, more than before, by far.
Basketball had become a black hole in our sporting calendar, a crumbling bridge between football and baseball. As the town became cold, the team was colder. Frankly, we’re all looking around at each other to see if we’re seeing it right. Even Al Trautwig reassured the audience that the score on your screen is accurate.
The slow drip on the city’s soul was commensurate with their Knicks. When they stink, it feels like the five boroughs are equally pungent. Fans sag while the water cooler chat is distilled to two sports (baseball and football), leading us to forget that New York’s radiant heat simmers on asphalt.
New York may be a baseball town, but you don’t see kids on every corner rounding bases. The city’s soundtrack is an outdoor rhythm of squeaky sneakers and the metallic rattle of a rim after a dunk and wind-chime swish through a chain net.
For sports fans, New York is just a better place when the Knicks are a better team. It gives us a reason to leave the house in January, to mush through the slush and crunch on the salt toward a building that was toxic for ten years. And rather ogle at courtside seats, a de facto star-gazing session with Spike Lee and Woody Allen leading a parade of pretentious celebrities who act like they own the building, the real fans are real people who cheer in darkness, just beyond the flashbulbs.
The Knicks’ next game may be a loss. They may stink for a night, but they won’t stink for a month. Those days are over. Last night, when you saw the garbage stacked two-stories high on the sidewalk, you knew the Knicks didn’t belong in the pile.
Now the games are played on the court, not in court. No more sexual harassment lawsuits, no more suits filled with a clueless Dolan explaining the inexplicable. Now the players do the talking, and their play does the talking.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com