By Jason Keidel
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Like many of you, I grew up in NYC when it was bit dirtier, a little grittier and a lot better. And in most neighborhoods there was a dude you didn’t mess with. My slice of the Big Apple was ruled by a guy named Butch (of course).
Being of modest intelligence, I made sure he was my friend. Rather, I was sure to be his friend. Even still, he’d stroll into my apartment and yolk me up — the ’80s term for putting a young man in a headlock — in my own room.
“Really?” I’d say each time, as if to assure him that he was indeed the Alpha and that this ritual was redundant, and most uncomfortable. Then he’d let go and make me watch Miami Vice, which was more painful than the headlock.
But under the muscle and occasional menace, Butch was a great guy — and still is, for that matter — married for 20 years and an amazing father of two teens. We’ve been brothers since the ’70s. But back in the day he was known to rough people up, and for one reason: You said something about his mom.
Which brings us to the NBA, where one player allegedly insulted another player’s family. And the most intimate member — his wife.
I realize how incongruous this is, as I am an admitted, ardent Knicks hater and a rabid Carmelo Anthony detractor. But I’ve got his back on this Kevin Garnett deal.
I’m good with Anthony stalking Garnett after the game. In fact, I’m disappointed that he didn’t bring a tire iron. Yes, when you make $100 million you need a certain equanimity under stress, to grow a spiritual membrane to shield you from chumps like Garnett. But Melo’s still a man and his woman was allegedly insulted. And that cuts deeper than contracts.
Maybe you had to play basketball often as a young man. Maybe you had to play in a city, in or around the projects. But Garnett gutted the line. Had anyone in my ‘hood said what Garnett allegedly said we’d have to peel the offended off the joker. Compounded by reports that his marriage is strained, Anthony was ripe with rancor. And I’m quite sure Garnett knew it.
Assuming that KG made those exact comments about Melo’s better half, then the question isn’t why he stalked the throaty Celtic, but why he didn’t drop Garnett when he said it. Sure, you could say there’s a certain insincerity in picking a fight knowing that a phalanx of cops would form a buffer between the combatants. But I think he was sincere, and I think he was right. And I say “right on” for confronting a larger man, which stands in wonderful relief against fake tough guys like Ron Artest, who during the “Malice in the Palace” cowered and ran from Ben Wallace before leaping into the stands to assault a drunken fan half his height. Wallace mushed — more ’80s vernacular, meaning shoved in the face — Artest in front of the fans, cameras and the country, and his impulse was to run and slug a smaller man.
Call me childish for defending Anthony’s dignity. But one of the reasons we love sports as adults is because it connects us to childhood. And while we grow physically and metaphysically, we occasionally lean on lessons learned on dad’s lap or in the YMCA — where he made me box as a kid — or conquer fears just long enough to fight that dude you’re not sure you can beat, but you get the respect just for giving it a go even if you get smoked.
Now if these rumors are true about Jim Dolan recording conversations from the sideline, coddling Anthony beyond any reasonable measure, then the Knicks have problems beyond self-righteousness or redefining trash talk. One of the beauties about the season so far for Knicks fans is that they have dominated the back page without the owner appearing on the front. One could easily argue — and I would — that the Isiah Thomas regime was the most inept and corrupt in NBA history, making the Clippers look like the John Wooden juggernaut. And thus anytime Dolan’s name appears anywhere other than your Comcast cable bill, you should worry.
But to knock the Knicks for flashing some fight and showing some heart — an organ they’ve lacked since the 1990s…?
No way. I applaud them.
Some infractions should be addressed by the players. For over a century, baseball players handled their business between pitcher and batter. A little high cheese here, a brushback there, a “slipped” slider that thuds right into the hitter’s back right between the numbers, has almost always settled diamond disputes. Anthony channeled his inner Charles Oakley, summoned the spirit of Rick Mahorn for a moment and, frankly, it was refreshing.
No, this doesn’t condone random or rampant violence. And I largely adhere to the Sticks-and-Stones credo. But there are enough holes in Melo’s game that disparaging his wife is quite unnecessary.
“How do you legislate trash-talking?” you might ask. “If wives are off-limits, then where does the censorship end?”
It ends with Garnett prostrate on parquet, his long, lean frame sprawled under the lights with Melo reading his rights.
And you needn’t be a Knicks fan to smile at the sight.
What is your take on how Melo handled the situation? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…