by Matt Lawyue / @mlawyue
About three weeks ago I was packing for a trip to Boston to cover Game 3 of the Magic vs. Celtics series. As I’m stuffing my backpack with a handful of granola bars, Ben calls me in the afternoon asking if I’d like to write a sidebar to the SLAM 140 LeBron/Wade cover story, which just dropped today.
Me: About what?
Ben: Why you think LeBron should come to the Knicks. It’d be due tomorrow morning.
It’s perhaps the greatest, and most difficult assignment, I’ve ever received. Here’s an opportunity for me to put on paper all my gut-wrenching love for this team, but where the hell do I begin? How do I fit 22 years of Knickerbocker love in to 700 words? Ironically, earlier in the week, I had written a post lamenting the Knicks chances of actually signing LeBron, after they were bounced by Boston. I guess there are always two sides to the story, and I’m glad my pro-LeBron side is the one etched in print. By the time I arrived in Beantown, I knew exactly how I felt about LeBron and the Knicks. All that was left was to write the damn thing.
You’ll have to cop this issue to read it, which I’m sure not just Knicks diehards, but b-ball heads as well, will appreciate. Now, to the matter at hand, the Allan Houston Q + A. This is an online extension of my mag story, as I spoke with arguably the last remaining link to the Knicks glory days. We discussed the advantages of signing with New York, the pressures of playing here and how H20’s shooting touch matches up with current Knick, Danilo Gallinari’s. Enjoy.
SLAM: What are the advantages you see the Knicks having in luring one of the big time free agents?
Allan Houston: Well, one, I think the market is just so dense. I mean you got, millions and millions of people that are just hungry to be true Knicks fans again. You come in at a time and opportunity where people are just hanging on that. Just from a branding perspective there is no other place like it. To me, there’s playing in New York and winning in New York. Obviously winning in New York is the ultimate opportunity, because when you win in New York I’m not sure you can compare it to anything just from the opportunity of meeting the top people in the world in their field to the culture to anything you want to do, in terms of personal brand, it becomes multiplied. Now when you look at social media and the Internet that actually becomes heightened because you’re able to touch that many more people personally. It increases your communication, it increases your value and your brand automatically. I think that’s just one of the biggest advantages. I think one thing that I’ve always enjoyed being able to realize is the potential to have an impact off the court. You rarely find a player that comes in to this league that just doesn’t want to have a big impact off the court. What I found is that the opportunity in New York is endless. Your impact on charity or off the court, I don’t see how you can match it.
SLAM: You’re talking about branding, but in terms of lifestyle or living in New York, or even if you’re right outside in the suburbs, does that play such an important factor in free agents coming here? Was it a big factor for you when you came here from Detroit?
AH: For me just being in New York alone, it really didn’t matter where I lived, but the thing that makes it pretty cool is that you don’t have to live in the city if that’s not what you really want to do, but you can. Our practice facility is 20-25 minutes right outside the city and most people live in that area and that makes it just great because you can live in the city and have all those wonderful opportunities to be in the city and enjoy the culture, but for me the thing I love about it is I can come and enjoy something in the city, but I don’t live in the city and it just makes it great. You’re able to experience all the parts of it if you want to or you don’t. A lot of guys want some privacy. You have everything, really.
SLAM: I think one of the biggest things about New York, a downfall of it, is the amount of criticism because the media is such a heavy presence. It’s well known Patrick Ewing had a rocky relationship with the media and the fans. I guess after you signed a pretty big deal, in 2001, your six-year $100 million deal, you had your injuries and the media and fans got on you. What are the pressures of playing with such a big contract? How did you deal with that?
AH: Well, anybody who is looking to be in the position of being a marquee player is going to understand anywhere you go now in professional sports, you’re gonna receive a little bit of that. I think it’s something that’s gonna be there. The thing that I found is that in New York people are so passionate. They can treat you like a family member so they feel like they’re entitled to get on you because they care that much. I don’t think it’s a malicious thing. I think they just care about the team and you that much. About the news media, we can reach out to the fans immediately without having someone else speak for us. I believe you have to use that to your advantage. You have to let people know who you are. I think that what players are doing now, especially the top players, they’re letting the people know who they are. Even if there’s criticism, that criticism is based on, well, maybe I missed a shot at the end of the game. It’s not based on who I am as a person. If you get to let people know who you are, it’s not going to cancel it out, but even still, it’s how you look at it. Do you welcome that opportunity to impact millions and millions of people all over the world or do you say I’m worried about what article may say I didn’t have a good game? I think to me the perspective of these guys, I welcome that challenge because at the end of the day what I found is, even with a contract situation, nobody talks about that now. Everybody talks about now the impact they had on the community, on kids because of the type of person that you are. That stuff goes away, all that criticism stuff only lasts a short time because they get to know who the person is and the impact you had. To me, it’s more about the opportunity to have an impact on the franchise beyond what has ever happened before, is so far above any criticism you would have.
SLAM: There’s a recent report in the New York Post about how Donnie Walsh is grooming you to become a General Manager. The most recent, prominent player to become President or GM is Steve Kerr of the Suns. What have you learned from Donnie about managing a team and how to do things properly because he’s such a great mentor to learn from?
AH: I just really enjoy how his mind is, the stability. When I got here, what really sold me was the stability of the management team and who they were as people. What I have found from Donnie is the way he treats everybody around him the same. They way he’s very upfront and honest and direct. You’re not gonna have anything pulled over you with Donnie. He’s going to be very fair. Also, he’ll challenge the players to become better in certain parts of their game and life. To me, no matter what title or role I have I think my job is to represent the Knicks to tell people who we really are. I think all of us as a team, are an extension of the Knicks so that’s who we should be. Our character and who we are as people. I think his character and the respect that he has as a person from other peers and the people throughout the League, that speaks big. A lot of the things that we learn in terms of how to operate the team, those things take time to learn, but I think the biggest thing is as our organization grows, people have to trust us. Donnie, Jim Dolan, people have to be able to trust us and know who we are as people. The biggest thing I’m learning from Donnie is that has to remain firm.
SLAM: Great, I’m going to get you out of here on two last questions. Who are you picking for the Finals?
AH: I gotta go with the Lakers. After Game 1, it’s probably easier to say it now. In ’08, they were very disappointed in that and you can see how the tone was set in Game 1.
SLAM: The last question, if you and Gallinari played a game of HORSE who would win? Who do you think is a better shooter?
AH: Ah man, I don’t think I would ever say anybody’s a better shooter than I am, but he has beaten me in HORSE because he’s pulled out his left hand shot. We played a couple of shooting games and I got him in a few, but he got me in HORSE so I have to change up the shooting games a little bit. But I think he has a great opportunity to be one of the better shooters in this league. But he’ll tell you he just doesn’t want to be a shooter. That’s the thing I’m impressed with, he wants to be an all-around player and he sees himself that way. To be so young, he treats his job very seriously. He don’t joke around a lot in practice, he’s focused. He’s consistent with taking care of his body. That’s all you can really ask for, especially in a young player.