By Jason Keidel
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One of the privileges of my job is meeting great people like you. Though I’m hardly a hero, I provide my personal email address while many columnists hide behind their columns and a bogus, company issued email outlet. I provide you the hotline to my hotmail because I actually want to hear your opinions. Anyone who has emailed me will tell you that I respond to all missives, provided they aren’t vulgar.
I’ve never been a jock-sniffer, stargazer, or otherwise awestruck by celebrities. Indeed, I’m more interested in the nuances of the working stiff than the pampered stud who hasn’t flown coach since high school and has six sycophants ready to lug his luggage from the private plane to his luxury suite. The fact that someone appears in a glass cube (my television) doesn’t mean he’s special beyond his obvious athletic splendor. I, like you, just happen to love sports and I’m fortunate to fuse my two passions (sports and writing).
The real rapport is not between the anchor and athlete, though you’d never know that by watching ESPN. Glorified groupies of the highest order, you wonder when Stuart Scott and Scott Van Pelt will just sit on LeBron’s lap during their next interview. If you’ve ever listened to ESPN Radio, you’ll notice the dearth of phone calls coming from the proletarians, the blue-collar fans who feed ESPN’s titanic treasure chest. They can’t be bothered to hear your views at the “Worldwide Leader.” At the risk of shilling for my people, you’ll find exponentially more fan interaction at this end of the dial.
If you listen to WFAN, you know that Mike Francesa cherishes chafing Jets fans. Likewise, I trade on tweaking Knicks fans. It’s a guilty pleasure and one I try not to exploit too often, except when the Knicks revive their knack for springtime slumber.
And as much as I’d love to lambaste Amar’e Stoudemire for his on and off-court conduct, I give the guy a pass. Fresh off another brutal loss to Miami, ensconced in the ashes of a charred season, Stoudemire tried to muscle his way out of a mental problem, punching glass and wrecking his left hand, rendering him inert for the playoffs.
And as much as I’d love to call Amar’e a microcosm of Knickerbockers ineptitude, yet another bonehead in a graveyard of knuckleheads, Stoudemire doesn’t stand out. In fact, I’m half-tempted to do the one thing he can’t: clap. Heck, I’d give the man a singular, standing ovation.
When Paul O’Neill pounded the Gatorade tub and pummeled the dugout, going Godzilla on the clubhouse, we call him a warrior. But when Stoudemire goes Hal McRae he’s an idiot? Not fair.
In fact, that’s the very kind of fire the Knicks have missed since Pat Riley and his mini-me (Jeff Van Gundy) prowled the sideline. There’s winning and there’s misery, Riley famously said. He’s right. And Stoudemire, for all his woes, diminished skills and bloated contract, actually gives a damn. And I applaud him for that. If the rest of the Knicks had his heart then this series could have gone six or seven games. Yes, he could have expressed his emotional pain in a more prudent manner, but at least he feels the agony of defeat.
What I can’t take are the excuses. One fan called Boomer & Carton yesterday and said he understood why Stoudemire punched the glass: his brother’s death. He actually said it. I wouldn’t ever trivialize a tragedy like losing a brother, but Stoudemire is an employee who, like the rest of us, must report to work after taking his legally allotted bereavement leave. Brett Favre threw four touchdowns the day after his dad died. Sadly, our loved ones leave us, and you won’t see the Knicks send flowers to you when it happens to yours.
Here’s a partial list of excuses Knicks fans have used to exonerate the team’s rancid performance in the playoffs:
- Jeremy Lin’s knee.
- Iman Shumpert’s knee.
- Tyson Chandler’s flu.
- The referees conspire against the Knicks.
- Stoudemire’s injuries and family issues.
- Mike D’Antoni cost them the No 6 seed.
- The condensed schedule fueled by the lockout.
News Flash: every team has lost ample tread on their tires because of the truncated, chaotic season, with team planes whizzing by each other in the clouds during brutally long road trips. And don’t cry when your fourth or fifth-best player (Shumpert) gets hurt. Just Ask the Bulls about loss. Derrick Rose, the league’s MVP, is better than Lin, Shumpert, and Chandler combined and you don’t hear the Bulls balling or their fans whining the way we have.
The Knicks have lost 12-straight playoff games. Twelve. Think about how hard that is to do. And each one has come with a conga line of excuses. If the Knicks lose again in Game 3, they will be the dubious owners of the longest postseason losing streak in NBA history.
Each loss adds to the Knicks’ miserable playoff mosaic, which started long before any of the aforementioned players and forces affected this season. If the Knicks actually play their cards properly – which runs counter to their nature – they could be a very good team for a few years.
And the Amar’e injury is actually a tactical gain. This season, beyond being the quintessential rollercoaster, has become a referendum on the awkward algorithms of their team chemistry. When the Carmelo trade happened, I said that the biggest problem would be fitting Anthony with Amar’e, as both need myriad touches and the same part of the paint in order to prosper. Now we’ve learned that not only is Carmelo a better player, but also that Amar’e is injury prone and has lost several tiers from his formerly high-flying game. So the Knicks, who need not worry about ‘Melo, Chandler, and Stoudemire playing bumper cars in the paint, have a better chance of beating the Heat tomorrow because of this accidental serendipity.
Since I’m not a capologist – nor do I play one on television – I can’t tell the Knicks how to fix the Amar’e problem. But it’s clear they have one. And either Amar’e plays for another team next year (assuming a team would take his swollen salary) or he accepts shaved minutes and a shared role among players with a fraction of his traction.
Next year’s answer may come from STAT’s former Phoenix running mate: Steve Nash. I know New Yorkers are quick to kill Nash for his lack of defense and his advanced age, but last I checked the 38-year-old hardwood surgeon still led the Western Conference in assists (10.7 per game). He’s a pass-first, point guard who will get Carmelo the ball exactly where he wants it. You can put Shumpert on the opponent’s best guard and let Nash funnel his foe right into the paint, where Tyson Chandler – the league’s best defender – will swat shots all night. (And who better to school Lin on the nuances of playing point guard?)
This season is lost. Next season needn’t be. In light of the quarter-billion they’ve spent on salary over the last two years, and their seriously spiked ticket prices, they can’t afford to be anything but a 50-win team from now on. Whether the Knicks improve to an elite team in six months depends on a few alterations, both physical and metaphysical. And for a team with no point guard, Steve Nash bridges a prodigious gap, and could make the Knicks contenders.
You know I need no excuse to vaporize the Knickerbockers. And while my public contempt for the Knicks sometimes clouds my judgment, I just can’t kill Stoudemire for what he did. More Knicks need his nads. And then they need Nash.
Feel free to email me: Keidel.Jason@gmail.com