By Jason Keidel
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New York has been in an odd position over the last year. In the echo of the LeBron and Cliff Lee snubs, we find ourselves the pursuers, not the pursued. Fifth Avenue doesn’t seem to have the sheen it usually has in enticing talent to New York. The city begged LeBron to take his talents across the Hudson. (How’s that going?) Don’t beg Carmelo Anthony. The Nets must because they’re the Nets, always second-place even when they’re in first.
The Nets are a forlorn franchise, irrelevant since they left Long Island decades ago, taking memories of a rainbow ball and Julius Erving’s outsized Afro soaring over A.B.A. rims. Jason Kidd infused the squad and the swamp with some mojo long ago, a stellar but silent romp over the Knicks, fast-breaking deep into the playoffs twice before being swept off the floor like so many bumps of snow from the New Jersey Turnpike.
Denver has asked the Nets for everything short of naming rights to their new building in Brooklyn. Even that edifice is being built on land reserved for another team. Had Robert Moses allowed an easy deal to get done, the Dodgers would still be in Brooklyn, in that exact spot.
The symbolism is endless. The Nets always shrink the shadow of Madison Square Garden, and now chase a player who doesn’t want to play for them. Worse, Anthony covets the Knicks, who have what Anthony wants but not necessarily what the Nuggets want.
Even when the Nets were good they didn’t draw. According to ESPN.com, the Nets’ average attendance in 2002 was 13,760, while the Knicks averaged 19,783 – and the Nets played in the NBA Finals that year! The numbers were slightly better for the Nets in 2003 (15,184), when they made their second trip to the championship round, but still fell far short of the Knicks (19,011) in attendance.
It’s location. The Knicks play in Manhattan and the Nets don’t. No matter what our basketball and hockey teams have done to desecrate the shrine, MSG still matters. Heck, I was leaping around the house when St. John’s beat Pittsburgh on Saturday, and I don’t give a darn about the team whose real name (Redmen) was usurped by the PC Police.
You can argue that legacy puts butts in the seats but the Knicks have won just two titles, and no one under 45 remembers either. (I was in diapers for both.)
Carmelo Anthony, 26, is in his prime and primed to make any team exponentially better. There’s no doubting his skill, but we’re acting like Wilt Chamberlain is about to migrate from the Kansas prairies and redefine Dr. Naismith’s game. We just need something to talk about.
Rumors are often spawned by boredom. February is a white lid on the black hole in our sporting calendar. Had the Jets won the Super Bowl we’d talk about them. Had the Yanks signed Cliff Lee we’d talk about them. We’ve already put a post mortem on the Mets.
(When your ace doesn’t plan to pitch until August and Bernie Madoff is the face of your franchise, you can understand why Mets fans are macabre this year.)
Poor Ed Coleman doesn’t know if he’s going to be grilled about pitching staffs or Ponzi schemes. My man Sweeny Murti has to answer questions about Derek Jeter’s “feelings” after an occasionally cantankerous contract negotiation last year. This is what happens when the sports fan, bracing against a bitter winter, has nothing to keep him (or her) happy.
Perhaps the esteemed beat reporters don’t realize how vital they are to our sanity. As they report under palm trees they become our bridge from blizzards to baseball. Get us from ‘Melo and Madoff to March 31 and the comfort of our pastime
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
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