Intro by Sam Rubenstein
In a hype-saturated age, before a hypeinured crowd, in a building whose owners have enough chutzpah to call the place “the world’s most famous arena,” Jordan did more than live up to his extravagant billing that night. In his fifth game and 11th day back in the league, he somehow surpassed it. He did, indeed, go for 55 points against the Knicks—more than anyone had scored in the new Garden since it opened in 1968 and the highest total to that point in the NBA season. Dunking but once, he scored blithely, over and around six different members of a team notorious for its defense, until it came time to win the game. Then he did so with a pass.
That was from the old Alexander Wolff piece from Sports Illustrated about Michael Jordan’s (in)famous double nickel upon returning to the garden for the first time post “retirement.” I guess that’s the same situation I find myself in, at MSG for the first time since stepping down as SLAM’s online editor. I am a New York City public school student teacher and warden of an asylum run by the inmates now, but if I may return to thoughts of the double nickel… I remember that night well. I was in High School, and I was supposed to be doing my homework. My family did not have cable TV, so I would listen to games on the radio, and that’s what I was doing instead of my homework. Bill Wennington! And now, a thousand years later, I am the one who should be yelling at kids to get their work done before turning on the basketball game. And now, as I use repetitive sentence structure with coordinating conjunctions (I get a zero for the day), it’s not MJ and the Bulls, but Kevin Durant and a 1-7 team that used to be the Sonics.
I am joined here by Online Editor Ryne Nelson and Assistant Editor Matt Caputo. Oh great, more overly-enthusiastic and excitable young people. I’m gonna go sit with someone I can relate to. Hey Steph! Is that seat taken?
I kid, I kid. And now I pass off the responsibility to Ryne, much like MJ passed to Bill Wennington. Still got the zingers baby!
—End of Sam’s self-typed portion. Will contribute with spoken one-liners if the writer needs assistance. Shout out to classes 701 and 801! Watching Nate Robinson out there reminds me of every single one of you.
Game Notes: Thunder at Knicks
This was the first time I’ve seen Sam since the summer, but it hasn’t seemed long at all. The interim was packed with half-rushed, half-flustered, half-inane emails (from me to him). Months passed like seconds. Well, seconds, with sprinklings of time warp-induced whiplash.
As Sam alluded in this intro’s intro, we so happened to be at the 116-106 Knicks blowout (a ‘no contest’ from tip-off) against the Thunder. Before the traditional game notes, I should point out the Knicks are now 2-0 when I’m in attendance. That extremely impressive undefeated record cannot and should not be overlooked.
Further, as Matt Caputo deftly brought-up during the manhandling, the Knicks’ roster hasn’t changed much since last season (Chris Duhon? Please). So, to the good people at MSG: Make that a season pass for yours truly!
If you’re at a basketball arena almost two hours before tip-off to talk with the players for five minutes, you better make the time worth it.
If you keep that thought in mind, you won’t often be hiding your insecurities behind your fork and knife at the $8 media buffet. The moments leading up to and following the game are the reporters’ true clutch time.
I was on time and found the Knicks’ locker room (on my own, without struggle, thank you). Easily more compelling than Jerome James, Eddy Curry and Danilo Gallinari was Stephon Marbury. I felt a collective inner groan among reporters who realized that, between the four players, there was a combined 47 seconds of court time per game. Nonetheless, we crowded Steph who spoke for two minutes while lacing his Starburys.
The conversation immediately summoned Redundancy and Persistence who duked it out , especially toward the end. Then, Professionalism stepped up and, by my estimation, won the contest. Here we go…
Stephon Marbury: “There’s nothing going on. The only thing that’s going on is a humbling experience. That’s it.”
Are negotiations even possible?
“There’s nothing going on man.”
You said you weren’t willing to take anything less than what you were owed. Is that still the case?
“There’s nothing going on but a humbling experience. That’s the only thing that’s going on here at the New York Knicks organization as far as me.”
Is that because you don’t want anything going on or because they don’t want anything going on?
“There’s nothing going on right now man.”
Did you meet with Donnie Walsh?
“Yeah, I met with Donnie.”
How’d that go?
“It’s how it sound: Ain’t nothing going on.”
Was it a productive meeting?
“Umm…There’s nothing going on right now.”
Was the subject even discussed of buying you out?
“There’s nothing going on right now.”
Was it discussed that, at any point this season, you’ll be on the active roster?
“No. I didn’t have that conversation.”
Will anything change your mind about what you will accept to leave the Knicks this year?
“Would you accept anything less if somebody owed you money? If I owed you $100, right, and I said to you, I don’t want to give you $100, I want to give you $80. What would you say?”
Well, what if you could go make $21 million somewhere else?
“We ain’t talking about ‘If’…We talking about if I owed you $100, and I said I wanted to give you $80, what would you say?”
Do you think someone…
“What would you say?”
“What would you say?”
It depends. If someone was going to offer you more money…
“No, no, no. But what would you say, though? You didn’t answer my question. You going into ‘If.’”
[Laughs] Alright, different question.
“[Laughs] Oh, you want a different question now.”
Have you checked to see if anyone would give you more money?
“I’m going to shoot.”
The Knicks locker room became much more subdued upon Marbury’s departure. I followed him down the hallway but continued into the Thunder locker room. I sat down with Kevin Durant, who at 20 years old, was already the brightest star at the Garden.
I began benignly, asking about OKC’s slow start, consistency, matchups, etc. I bought up something I immediately wanted to take back: His thoughts about an excellent writer’s opinion that the Thunder could be the worst team in the League. I hit a nerve.
“Why would I think something like that? People have their opinions, but they don’t know how hard it is playing in this League or how hard we work. I wouldn’t say we’re the worst.”
Durant’s response was angered and quick. There was frustration in his voice. Frustration that it put me on edge. If he decided to end the interview, I would have understood. Instead, Kevin answered the question, not hiding his frustration, and showing the composure of a young leader.
I recovered, telling him I enjoyed watching his late-game heroics, especially his brilliance during the final weeks of his rookie season. For the fans in Seattle. For Sonics fans. I may have pissed off Kevin Durant, but I learned two very important things:
1) He is easily a franchise player—his drive will win ballgames as he develops and his team improves.
2) He could light up the Garden. Lighting a fire under a player who really cares about winning could result in a masterful performance (see Sam’s intro).
I had a good 15 minutes with players. MSG security was straining media from athlete, which was my, Sam’s and Caputo’s queue to shell $8 to stuff our faces and reminisce. Sam’s stories about his 7th grade class proved more compelling than the game, but alas, that belongs in a future Sam column.
— Ahhh, I’m stuck with game notes for the second time in a row. And I’m loving every second of it.
— Right away, I know something good will happen because a Naperville, Ill. resident is honored before the game. For what, I wasn’t paying attention—I couldn’t hear—but hearing my home town announced at the Garden was a welcome surprise.
— There was a bone in the Sam’s chicken fingers! Not quite the good omen that the Naperville dude was, so maybe things are neutralizing. Sam thankfully found the bone before consuming rest of the chicken, breading and grease.
Not much of a crowd early on but noise levels are high. If nothing else OKC mascot, the Thunder, lends itself to a lot of bad clichés. So here’s one: I have a feeling this place is going to get thunderously loud.
— Already an interesting lineup move. P.J. Carlesimo starts Robert Swift at center. Ughh.
— There was an Eddy Curry sighting in the locker room, but nothing on the bench. It was the same last weekend as well.
— Caputo mentions he would love to see Jerome James in the game. I hope that means Caputo wants to see a major Knick blowout.
— About 65 percent of the crowd has found a seat early in the first. The chants of DE-FENSE are weak to say the least.
— Nick Collison, a fellow Linkstigator, is getting everything he wants on the interior. The Knicks’ bigs can’t/don’t play defense, and the he’s taking full advantage of it.
— Zach Randolph is hitting a three here and there this season, but it’s a cop out. Dude needs to play on the inside. He scored 20 per game for many years playing on the interior, and he’s the only Knick with polished post moves.
— Desmond Mason’s arm sleeve has to be the *thickest* sleeve in the League. It’s no thinner than a cast.
— Kevin Durant and Jamal Crawford are trading buckets. Neither plays defense, so I’m betting they’ll be the high men tonight.
— The Knicks are really aren’t playing well, but its already a rout. The Knicks win.
— I argue David Lee needs to start. Sam and Caputo point out the starting roster makes sense, and Lee brings energy. D’Antoni knows what he’s doing.
— Barring any Kevin Durant late-game heroics, the Knicks are on their way to another win.
— Pac-10 backcourt saturation—Westbrook (my main man, and fan of grapes before games) and Nate Robinson.
— Nate’s does his best defensive back impression as he ‘intercepts’ an outlet Jamal Crawford pass for an easy layup. The most electric player on the court does his thing again.
— Umm…I guess the first quarter just ended now. I swear the second quarter started about six minutes ago. Well, that’s a rare 37-point first quarter for the Knicks! They had me fooled.
(The real) Second quarter
— Russell Westbrook is going to be a nice player, but he’s making mistakes that can be characterized in no other way than a rookie mistake.
— I’ve never seen Robert Swift get a rebound (let alone score). It’s true—he does play basketball.
— The Knicks may be dominating, but they’re also committing their share of turnovers. If they played a defensively capable team, this would be a very close match.
— I knew the Knick fans were tough on their teams, but they’re also tough on themselves. Nick from Manhattan gets a chance to go to Italy during a timeout. You’ve seen it before: hit five(ish) jumpers from different spots and the tickets are yours. He only makes the layup and gets stuck on the 10-footer for over 20 seconds. The crowd boos without mercy.
— Nate Robinson is taking over the passing lanes as well as the crowd’s heart.
— The Knicks are sharing the ball this season. Although Nate is killing, he’s not hogging the ball a la Ben Grodon.
— Kelly Ripa is at the game. Caputo swears to find her tonight.
— With little liaison, Caps makes this point: You knew Nate and Jamal would have good nights against the team formerly called the Supersonics.
— Caputo heard Isiah Thomas and Fred Jones opened a business together. This guy’s on a roll!
— Sam: “Zach Randolph vs. Robert Swift—this is why I watch the NBA.”
— The entire arena is full. I’m told the arena is quite small, but it’s still a good turn out given it’s the Knicks and most fans still can’t name a single Thunder player.
— A woman sitting next to us has her back to the action the entire game. She’s literally sitting backwards in her seat. I wonder how much I’d actually miss if I did the same thing for a quarter.
— Zach Randolph finally gets an offensive board after I finish a small rant on how he’s afraid to play inside.
— Wilson Chandler is still young and streaky. He doesn’t need a big game tonight, but it would be nice to see some consistency at some point.
— I can only see one Knick jersey in the crowd. If I was a Knick fan, it might be a bit depressing.
— Kevin Durant isn’t getting touches every time down the court. This is wrong. Who cares if he shoots 40 shots at 40 percent the entire season? He’s their only hope if they don’t want to make Vince’s 70-loss prediction a reality.
— Caputo, Sam and I return to the media room for refreshments (as if we didn’t take seconds and thirds before the game), but no dice. None at all, actually. There was cake and coffee. Zero points for the MSG caterers.
— Sam had a Lang Whitaker special: a halftime coffee.
— I hear the Wizards provide free Cold Stone to the media at halftime.
— I don’t know Dream Girls, but I sort of want to check it out after this eight year old passionately belts out the theme song. Both teams stop their warm-ups and witness this future pop star.
— I can’t remember the last time the Knicks started the second half with 68 points. Sadly, I can remember when they finished the game with 68 points.
— I’m not sure why Robert Swift is on the court. He goes for the body rather than the ball and gives Zach Randolph an easy layup and foul.
— Carlesimo apparently feels the same way and takes Swift out of the game four minutes into the quarter. That took much too long.
— Caputo and I debate whether Wilson Chandler’s more consistent than David Lee. Again, I argue David Lee would be just as good or better in the starting lineup. But I also like Wilson in the starting lineup. I shut myself up.
— Either the crowd is quieter or the P.A. is 30 decibels higher this half.
— There need to be an embargo on Zach Randolph jump shots.
— Sam gets a text asking if Desmond Mason is Anthony Mason’s son. Not sure who it’s from, but I like whoever sent it.
— Russell Westbrook has some impressive moments, but like the rest of the Thunder tonight, they’re too few and far between.
— The Knicks can deal with it tonight, but they’re really going to have to address their frontcourt woes in the near future.
— The Thunder have a nice core, but they need to get rid of everyone except four players: Durant, Jeff Green, Westbrook and Nick Collison. Maybe Earl Watson can stay.
— Nick Collison is 28 years old but has played one less season than 23-year-old LeBron James. I realized that randomly.
— Fans start leaving with 11 minutes of game time remaining.
— Caputo notices Robert Swift jumping up and down when the Ramones come on.
— There’s one Thunder fan in the close seats. It’s a 10-point game with six minutes remaining. If the Knicks blow this game, it will be one of the most epic failures in history.
— Jeff Green is getting whatever he wants. He connects on a sweet hook to put the Thunder within eight for the first time since, well…forever.
— The crowd is as noisy as they’ve been all game. I think they secretly enjoy the struggle. They’ve know nothing else for 30 years. This is what’s comfortable.
— With the old stadiums and the losing teams, I realize this—Knicks : Madison Square Garden :: Cubs : Wrigley. Or something like that.
— Seriously, you can’t win with Robert Swift playing 25+minutes. Can you?
— Jeff Green’s a very nice player. Trading Ray Allen for him was a very wise move financially and futuristically (??). However, he needs to give the ball to Kevin ’Closer’ Durant!
— The Knicks are back up by 11. There’s not really a hope for the Thunder.
— Sam’s been getting me on everything David Lee can’t do—rebound his missed layups, handle the pick and roll, etc.. I’m also been verbally beating on Zach Randolph, and Sam lets me know whenever Z-Bo does something positive (or anything that can be spun positively).
— Jamal Crawford does his thing and the game’s over. As I said, you can’t win with lumbering Robert Swift on the court.
— Somehow Z-Bo gets a quiet 30 and 20. Sam brings up another nice point—if this was Dwight Howard, everyone would be going crazy about it. Something about Z-Bo—maybe his physique or demeanor—that makes people completely forget about him.
— Oh yeah, Zach doesn’t understand what an assist, block or steal are…and he loves the long ball now.
— I overhear a colleague saying Jamal Crawford is going to be an All-Star this year. I say no, unless the Knicks are one of the East’s Top six teams.
–The Knicks are 6-3, a better record than the Hornets and just as good as the Jazz and Magic. You never know, Crawford has an outside chance at the All-Star game after all.