Death of the NYC Point Guard

By Vincent Thomas

I grew up in Buffalo on the western edge of the state of New York. In many ways, Buff shares more kinship and similarities with the more rust-belt/Midwestern cities, like Cleveland and Indianapolis or Detroit than it does with the world famous metropolis downstate on the southeastern tip of the state. As Buffalonians, we tend to embrace our separate identity and try not to invite too much lumping in with Gotham. But, growing up, I’ve always weaseled my way into claiming NYC basketball products as statewide property. This, coupled with my childhood idolizing of Magic Johnson is why I’m such a point guard nut to this day. Unlike any other region or position in any sport, New York City had this rep with point guards. If you trotted out a list of NYC point guards, it would stretch up and down Broadway. You’ve read this before. This is not news. From Cousy to Tiny to the present day, NYC has always been known as the city where point guards are born. Something about the cocksure way of the city itself, the nature of the games played on the blacktops and then pearls passed down from generation to generation made point guards proliferate in this city at ridiculous rates. There’s no such thing as Mobile, Ala. quarterbacks or Montreal goalies or Dallas pitchers. This phenomenon has always been incredibly unique to this particular city, this particular sport and this particular position. Incredible.

What’s news is that we must now officially put this myth to rest. When Steph skipped practice in Phoenix, got on a plane and headed back to NYC, reportedly having lost his starting gig to a dude like Mardy Collins; he effectively put a nail in the coffin of NYC point guards. The lore is gone and only history remains.

The end of times gradually began sometime after Kenny Anderson’s lone All-Star appearance and Steph leaving Minnesota or maybe Omar Cook going undrafted. For the past 15 years, NYC has only spawned greatly hyped point guards who go on to underachieve and often exhibit qualities in the NBA that are contrary to the very fundamental duties of the position. To look at so many NYC point guards these days is to look at a ball-player that seems to be unaware of the innate nature of the position. The subtle nuances — what used to be second nature to the Gotham products — have been eaten away by these other tendencies.

My favorite collegiate player of all time is Kenny Anderson. I was sure he’d come in the league and be just as dope as Tim Hardaway and Kevin Johnson — probably doper. Instead he was a journeyman. Remember all the extreme buzz surrounding Andre Barrett, Omar Cook and Taliek Brown as they entered the Big East as a trio of highly touted NYC-points? They’ve played a combined 235 games in the NBA, Taliek having yet to log a regular season minute. Bassy is hanging on for dear life out west.

And then there’s Steph. Steph is probably the most talented point guard to enter the league since Isiah Thomas and only Chris Paul has come along with similar skills since. That right there is not hyperbole or exaggeration. It’s fact. Give me another point that possessed or posses all the natural tools Steph does. Yet, at every stop, Steph has never really tapped into the transcendent talent that could have made some of his teams into perennial contenders. And it was often ego or misguided principals that built a frustratingly low ceiling for him and his squads. It’s what was reported to have fractured his relationship with KG and the Timberwolves (a tandem that could have been Shaq and Kobe-esque), it’s what submarined stints with the Suns, the Nets and now the Knicks. Given his talent, his pedigree, his opportunities and his brushes with brilliance; one wouldn’t be going to far to say that Steph’s career may be the greatest underachievement of his basketball generation.

I’m sad for the Knicks and disappointed in Steph. But more importantly, I’m depressed that this regional phenomenon is no more. If anything, we can expect for the next ultra-hyped NYC point guard to spend a tantalizing season in college, then head to the L and underwhelm for a career high on publicity and expectations, but low on results and achievement. That news/realization is bigger than anything on this day.

How did we get here?