Tuesday, April 1st, 2008 at 12:31 pm  |  40 responses

The Knicks Have No Idea Where They’re Going

And neither do I !!!

By Matt Caputo

Last week, late in the fourth quarter, as the Knicks faced an infinite deficit against the play-off chasing New Jersey Nets, Jamal Crawford went to the foul line. From the tiny JVC I watched the game on, the Garden crowd seemed as quiet and docile as usual. I can only imagine how pathetic the Knicks look in high-def. With or without top-of-the-line reception, when the MSG Network’s cameras close in on Crawford from the sternum up, it’s hard not to notice the unusual bandage he has worn on his left shoulder since January. I have no clue why he wears it, or why I watch Knicks games when it’s clearly not “the thing to do.”

“I wonder why he wears that thing on his shoulder,” says Maggie Coughlan, a Nyack native and lifelong Knicks fan, sitting on the couch next to me watching the Knicks leading scorer take aim for the basket. “I wonder if it’s to keep his shooting arm warm.”

As Crawford raised his narrow arms for his first free throw, the Knicks were locked into their seventh consecutive losing season. And this season is by far the most disheartening and counterproductive, probably of all time. And tonight, the only nearly serendipitous happening at the Garden came right after Maggie’s sentence ended, from a guy who hasn’t played for the Knicks since 1977.

“I bet you’re wondering why Crawford is still wearing that bandage on his shoulder,” said Walt Frazier, answering Maggie’s question as Crawford released his shot.

Before I could react, Maggie shouted “Oh, my God, isn’t that crazy?… It’s like we’re the only ones watching.”

This got me thinking about who the Knicks are as a franchise, something my coworker Andrew Pitagorsky says will speed up the aging process. As a lifelong basketball person (broke into the business in the sixth grade, keeping score in the “Dads League” in Queens for $5 a game), it’s tough to deal with the amount of talent that has passed through Manhattan producing so little success. Over the last week, I’ve been trying to gain insight into why people still bother with the Knicks at all, and if there is anything salvageable in this 62-year-old franchise.

They haven’t won a title since 1973 and have only won two conference titles (in ’94 and ’99) since then. To their credit, the Ewing, Starks, Mason and Harper bunch brought New York close, but not all the way. To think that the Knicks have had Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Mark Jackson, Rod Strickland, Bernard King, Allen Houston, Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury and quality coaches like Hubie Brown, Rick Pitino, Don Nelson, Larry Brown and Lenny Wilkens in relatively recent time and have only been serious contenders twice is beyond me. Right about now, you start to develop a better appreciation for Jeff Van Gundy.

In a city where basketball knows no rival, the New York Knicks have been a nonfactor and might as well be cursed. In fact, they probably are.

Legend has it that the BAA, the NBA’s predecessor, didn’t even have a New York franchise in their original plans. Eventually the league’s founders, made up of owners from markets that are now largely removed from today’s major-league sports blueprint, decided a New York franchise was essential to the new league’s street credibility and validation to the media. The “Knickerbocker” logo was picked out of a hat. New York had always been a basketball town, so it made sense to try putting a team in the city. College basketball was a popular draw for Madison Square Garden, so the local fans were already familiar with the sport. So much so that it forced the Knicks to play only a limited number of games there for years. Taking second priority to more lucrative college contests, the Knicks played many homes games at the 69th Regiment Armory until 1960.

It’s hard to say if the Knicks could ever captivate New York sports fans like the Yankees or Giants have. Even the Mets, who are 15 years younger than the Knicks, easily have more fans than they do. But with the popularity of basketball being what it is in New York, the coming of Donnie Walsh or whatever GM to the organization should focus on restoring the team’s relationship with the city’s die-hard hoops heads. Knicks fans haven’t forgiven the organization for drafting Frederic Weis (or Jerrod Mustaf, Monty Williams, Dontae Jones, John Thomas, Donnell Harvey, Frank Williams). And now, worse than their terrible taste in draft picks, Knicks fans are faced with having to end and recover from the Isiah Thomas era, which has no end in sight!

Because of their perpetually losing ways over the last decade, the most exciting time to be a Knicks fan is in the off-season, when there is still a chance that they will make the play-offs. Dealing with losing is never fun. However, for some creative Knicks supporters, it has been profitable.

“It was just getting so painful and tough; I can excuse one or two mistakes by a coach or manager, but I don’t know any other coach who has done as bad a job as Isiah. I just don’t like the idea that one man has a monopoly over the team,” says Ivan Cash, the SUNY Geneseo design student who was arrested in January of 2008 for attempting to sell T-shirts that read, “DON’T HATE THE PLAYER. OR THE GAME…HATE THE COACH,” outside Madison Square Garden. “They’re a joke this season. I don’t really watch anymore. I used to schedule my day around games, and now I just check the box score, if that.”

Although he’s stopped going to games since being arrested and held “for about the entire length of the game,” Cash continues to sell his shirts via hatethecoach.com. If supporters like Cash, who have been arrested in the name of the Knicks, are disillusioned and uninterested, where does that leave the average Knicks fan? The fact is, there probably aren’t any average Knicks fans left. Without a bandwagon in sight, the Knicks die-hards, especially with baseball season starting, are finding more and more reasons to care less and less about the city’s black-sheep franchise.

“I go back to the late 1950s with the Knicks, and the scenarios go on and on and on,” says Dr. Arthur Nathan of Freeport, Long Island. In December of 2007, 67-year-old Nathan, a dentist, posted an eight-foot pink slip outside the Garden and held a rally calling for the removal of Isiah Thomas. “Where the truth lies, I have no idea.”

As it stands, the Knicks are 20-53 and have no shot of even matching last year’s sad win count of 33. They dealt with a very stupid sexual harassment case, a Stephon Marbury who didn’t have his heart in it, and a head coach and team president who couldn’t find anything wrong with his team on the floor. This season a number of fans, including Dr. Nathan, came out of the woodwork to air out the city’s forgotten franchise.

“Hopefully I put some thoughts in Dolan’s mind with my pink slip,” says Dr. Nathan, who says his business has sped up since taking his public stand against the Knicks. “I’ve got news for you, the Knicks fans are crazy. Why they still fill the Garden instead of leaving empty seats is beyond me. With Dolan, everything is the bottom line, and we’re keeping his bottom line the way he likes it by still showing up at games.”

He’s right. Unlike other cities, where having a losing team would be grounds for fans to stop showing up at games, in New York there are far too many corporate interests ensuring that Garden seats get bought and frequently occupied to make winning and losing an attendance factor. The New York papers have advertisements for Knicks games with photos of the stars of other teams—like LeBron, Kobe and AI—essentially classifying the Knicks as what the boxing world refers to as “an opponent.” With the Knicks’ good years coming few and far between, it’s understandable to assume fans have come to care less and less over the last decade. Many have stopped caring about the team completely.

“I went to my first Knicks game with my pops, who is an old-school fan. I also went to something called the ‘Knicks Experience’ event and got to tour the Garden and meet Walt Frazier and some Knicks from the ’90s,” says Benny Rupel, a lifelong Manhattan resident who played varsity basketball at both Humanities High School and SUNY Purchase College. “I don’t know a lot of young kids who are really big Knicks fans. I don’t know if I am anymore, myself. They haven’t had real street credibility since they had Anthony Mason on the team. People are booing at the Garden, but they don’t stop showing up. I don’t think they will ever have the feeling in New York that the Yankees have.”

What’s troubling about the lack of support (or at least positive support) for the Knicks is that other than those insane few folks who make giant pink petitions, or sell shirts mocking the coach, the fans aren’t getting any younger. The only thing lower than people jumping on a successful sports team franchise’s bandwagon is for people to stop supporting them when they lose. Fifty percent of being a sports fan is being behind your team when it’s not easy. As long as the seats of the world’s most famous arena are occupied, their losing ways and horrendous executive decisions could continue forever. The Knicks could be “in a rebuilding phase” for the rest of their existence.

“The Knicks were the soul of New York to me. People could never get tickets; they would pay triple the price to get in,” says Waheed Hosein, arguably the Knicks’ most animated fan, who is always quick to ask you if you caught the game last night, in a ground-floor lobby on 25th Street and Broadway. As die-hard as they come, Hosein feels the Knicks need a franchise with a style of play the city can appreciate. “It’s a shame, a shame that we have the mecca of basketball, the capital of basketball, here in New York City, and we’re a laughing stock because of Jim Dolan and Isiah Thomas.”

There are tons of reasons why the Knicks should be good. This is a city that idolizes their sports stars, and basketball is its most popular game. The Garden is a great arena, and it’s as special a basketball venue as they come. It’s a city where a championship basketball team would inspire the most momentous victory parade in sports history.

“I care because I go back to when the Knicks were the Knicks—I mean, like the ’69 Knicks, who had Willis Reed coming out on the court on one and a half legs,” says Dr. Nathan. “Now when they’re down 10, people leave, because you figure they’ll be down 30 in another 10 minutes. In the old days, if the Knicks were down by 12 at home, no one would go anywhere because you figured they’d come back.”

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  • http://www.freewebs,com/betcats BETCATS

    good sh!t Matt!!!!!! Really good stuff. I actually finished it!

  • http://www.mybleedingfingertips.blogspot.com/ Myles Brown

    Great quotes and some fresh new angles on a tired old story. Nice work Caputo.

  • http://whitehoteboysworld.blogspot.com Eboy

    Damn Caputo. That sh*t was ridiculously good. The history of how the franchise came about, the relevence to NYC, the lifelong fan’s reactions, really fuc*ing great. Like Waheed Hosein said in the piece, when I lived in Jersey, it was almost impossible to get Knicks tickets back in the day. A franchise with a history this great deserves so much better. Let’s all hope for the sake of NY basketball, sh*t, basketball in general, Dolan get’s his head right, get’s the right people in place and the franchise can reestablish itself. Nice to see a piece staight from you too instead of your putting other people over. Great job, Matt.

  • http://why-bother-reading.blogspot.com/ H to the izzo

    Nice piece Matt.And we got similar starts into basketball except I insisted on wayyy more than $5.

  • http://redrawblak.blogspot.com BCW

    you know…i do see a lot of young fans at the garden when i’m there (maybe because i sit in the uppers, instead of down near the floor?). young meaning kids and young meaning my age (20s). i think we may be overestimating the death of the fan base…just the death of our enthusiasm for this season, because it’s been so painful to watch.

    however, i was surprised when one of my students (i teach 8th grade) TURNED DOWN FREE TICKETS to the garden because he ‘didn’t want to see the knicks play’, and had ANOTHER turn down a seat because he ‘doesn’t like basketball’. Are you kidding??? i teach middle schoolers in inner-city brooklyn, and they don’t want to go to the garden? of course, i had no trouble finding other kids to take their seats…which, i think, is exactly why msg has been filling up lately. there’s always SOMEONE willing to go to the world’s most famous arena to see a team that, as bad as it is, still receives enough media coverage to seem interesting to tourists, casual fans, the bridge and tunnel crowd, etc…

  • maio

    Golden State had better talent, less success and had fallen deeper. But it’s Oakland.

  • http://www.freewebs,com/betcats BETCATS


  • http://www.myspace.com/hemantsbeats what

    Don’t forget Michael Sweetney.

  • Gooch

    I agree, the Knicks are a joke. I have tickets and don’t even want to go to the games anymore. I mean i still enjoy the atmosphere, but the game itself is so boring. They’re just an uninspired team. I think they reflect New York in and of itself though. New York is just uninspired, period. It’s going through a malaise just like The Knicks. So it’s no surprise.

  • http://slamonline.com Sam Rubenstein

    Great work Caputo. One thing I loved about the 1990′s was the NY Knicks. But obviously they folded around Y2K time

  • http://slamonline.com Matt Caputo

    We needed to be bracing ourselves for the Knicks crash.

  • http://Maggiecoughlan.com Maggie

    This is really well done.

    Way to really turn a miserable season for the Knicks into a great read.

    Bravo Matty.

  • Kevin Douglas

    The best article I’ve read all year.
    Would it be so hard to bring back Van Gundy?

  • http://tadone.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    It’s cool that we get a star from the story posting on the story. Take a bow, Maggie.

  • don.keynutts

    I know the Knicks have struggled for the last 10 years, but they’re still one of the most tempting teams in the league for free agents, coaches and GMs. Your salvation is on the way.
    Don’t you think Lebron would love to come to NYC and be hailed as The Savior???

  • BxBaller

    All those fans who talk about not following the Knicks anymore aren’t real fans. The real fans are the ones watching when the team is going through bad times, and who still proudly rock there colors. Being a NYC dude, it’s like that with all the teams here. Before the Mets started to win, you would get laughed at if you were a Mets fan. When the Knicks start winning again those “fans” will be back, and that just makes me sick.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Sammy

    Great work Cap

  • Slobodan Chutzpah

    All true and well done, considering that there’s almost nothing more to be said about the soul-destroying situation in which the Knicks are mired. Unfortunately, this is still nothing new, and won’t help in getting rid of Dolan and Thomas.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Millions upon millions of people in New York (and countless tourists on top of that). The Knicks will never play to an empty house, and they’ll never stop making money, no matter how bad things get. It’s disgusting.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    I forgot “and fewer than 20,000 seats” at the end of the first sentence. Oops.

  • http://myspace.com/mrdyalekt d.Y.

    Dope piece. I got that shirt from homie outside MSG a few days before the arrest. Where were all the vendor liscence hecking cops when folks were selling terrorist cards and other idiocies after 911.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Good stuff, Caputo. Thanks.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    I miss Mark Jackson in the Garden.

  • http://breadcity.wordpress.com Jake

    That was awesome.

  • http://www.another48minutes.blogspot.com Gerard Himself

    good one Matt. I remember reading Spike Lee’s book “Best Seat in the House” in the late nineties. Not a Knick fan myself, but understood why he’s so in love with this team. To think what happened since then is beyond believe.

  • http://www.another48minutes.blogspot.com Gerard Himself

    *beyond belief.

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    Wait, so why does Crawford wear that bandage on his shoulder?

  • Michael Lee

    Like Lang im wondering the same thing… and I am a lifelong Knick fan…well not my entire life just when i was 4 on up…so its close enough

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    That bandage conceals a second head only he can hear that just screams “SHOOT!” all the time.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Or it could just be a deck of Luckys. Or a pager.

  • chintao

    From the file of the ironic comes this quote: Madison Square Garden sports teams’ financial success is dependent on their ability to generate advertising sales, paid attendance, luxury box rentals, and food, beverage and merchandise sales. To a
    large extent, the ability of the teams to build excitement among fans, and therefore produce higher revenue streams, depends on the teams’ winning performance, which generates regular season and playoff attendance and luxury box rentals, and which also supports increases in prices charged for tickets, luxury box rentals, and advertising placement. Each team’s success is dependent on its ability to acquire highly competitive personnel.

  • http://king-mag.com Young JFK

    And am I the only one who thinks Mardy Collins is the worst guard evar? Right next to Smush P.

  • chintao

    The above was yanked from Cablevision’s (the Knicks’ parent company’s) annual report. I was looking for a breakdown on how much income Cablevision generates from seat sales. Unfortunately, the report is not that detailed. Still, by using a little deduction, we can arrive at a ballpark idea of how important seat sales are to Jimmy D’s bottom line. The average price of a ticket for the Knicks is $75. MSG seats about 20,000. That means that each game is potentially worth $1.5 million on tickets alone. There are 41 home games (not including the playoffs, which haven’t been relelvant for quite some time). That means that, in a year, MSG has the ability to rake-in $61.5 million. Cablevision, the Knicks’ parent company, pulls down almost $6.5 BILLION. That means that ticket sales probably represent less than 1% of the revenue Dolan sees every year.

    Given that the Knicks are such a tiny part of his empire, one might wonder why Dolan hangs onto them. The answer is that he needs teams like the Knicks and the Rangers to provide content for the cable channels he owns (MSG and Fox Sports Net (a/k/a MSG Plus). His needs are particularly acute, given the trend of teams jealously guarding their television rights in order to launch their own channels.

    From these facts, we can see that the channels (with all their advertising revenues) and the merchandising are where the real money is. Therefore, if we want to hit James Doldrums in the wallet, we will have to stop rep’ing the team on our shirts and hats. More importantly, we will have to turn off the TV. Maybe the fans should get off their asses and do a little playing; start a rec league with games scheduled to directly conflict with the Knicks. Start the renaissance on the blacktop and watch it spread to the hardwood.

  • http://www.nba.com hursty

    Jesus loves the Knicks, LMAO at the sh!tty state of the Knicks still.

  • chintao

    I know this will get much bigger pub, but everyone always likes to be “FIRST,” right? After last night’s loss, Isiah was asked about whether he had any regrets in the face of the imminent hiring of Donnie “Sword of Damocles” Walsh. Zeke had this to say:
    “No, I look back and I look at what we started with and where we’re going and I think we have a very bright future,” Thomas said.
    I have to co-sign that “Successories” comment somebody made the other day. The people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima had a “bright” future in early August 1945. For the Knicks, it seems that there is only darkness.

  • Slobodan Chutzpah

    Speaking of whom, Walsh is one of the worst moves the Knicks could have pulled off at this point. Walsh is a timid GM who has a sub-average track record for this millennium. Also, he made a panic move and traded Artest for 60 cents on the dollar, concocted one of the worst moves in NBA history with the Golden State trade, and still has failed miserably at bringing in character guys. Not good.

  • Slobodan Chutzpah

    Plus, Walsh hired Isiah in the first place, and relinquished control over the 2002 draft pick to him. Despite every other Pacers exec wanting Prince, Isiah drafted Fred Jones. Good times.

  • jedi420

    Nice piece, at least there are still some die hards left, I have been a Knicks fan for as long as I’ve watched basketball (20 years)and I’ve had to switch their games off at least ten times this year in absolute disgust. It’s just a complete lack of effort and passion, it starts with the coach, the players obviously have stopped playing for him.

  • http://kicksandflix.blogspot.com Benny Kill Kam

    Great article man! You are a great writer and I look forward to reading more work from you! Great job!!!!!!

  • http://youtube.com/hitalikentertainment c hustle

    yo matt that column was mad good fam. keep up the good work. hope all is well.