Every day it becomes harder and harder to remember the last time the Knicks made for good news. It has little to do with losing.
The 76ers took losing to a new tank high. The Cavaliers contributed to Cleveland’s moniker as the Mistake on the Lake. The Charlotte Bobcats once won seven games.
Losing happens. Losing as a corporate environment shouldn’t.
Which brings us to James Dolan. Under his ownership, The Garden and the Knicks have gone from a storied franchise that plays in The World’s Most Famous Arena to a sullied team that competes in building run by an Undercover Paranoid Boss.
Spike Lee and I hail from the same borough (his family moved to Brooklyn when he was a child). He attended Dewey High School. I attended Canarsie.
He’s 62. I’m 60. We’re of the same Knicks generation, the one fortunate enough to be in our formative fans years when the Knicks raised their only two NBA Championship banners to The Garden rafters.
We were raised on Red Holzman’s thinking man’s basketball.
None of us will forget that magical night when Willis Reed limped out of the tunnel, drained his first two shots, and Clyde Frazier turned in the greatest performance in Game 7 history. But most forget that every starter on that 1969-70 team averaged at least 10 points and two assists in the regular season.
Spike was the guy from Brooklyn who made it big. That’s what those front row Knicks tickets represent, more than his success as a director. Occasionally we would exchange a nod and quick handshake. Thank goodness for a press pass or I would never have gotten within two levels of Spike.
Of course, there was no social media and no smartphones back then when pickup basketball was the city game and we believed more titles were to come. We were naïve. Not we’re broken. Spike temporarily broken.
The Knicks have been reduced to a soap opera, The Garden as the set on which the segments are filmed.
If Dolan isn’t feuding with former players (Charles Oakley) he’s feuding with teenage fans and now he’s feuding with the most fanatical A-list fan any team in sports has known.
Spike is to us what Jack Nicholson is to the Lakers and a less subdued Drake is to the Raptors. Nicholson’s presence in the Forum has never been a distraction and, if Drake can just stop trying to run huddles, he can continue in his role as self-designated celebrity super fan.
Spike? Spike never was the story, with the exception of one epic exchange in 1995 with Reggie Miller. Heck, if Reggie, who scored eight points in the final 18.7 seconds of a Game 1 playoff game, can’t get under your skin, no one can. That’s a compliment.
Now Spike and Dolan are the story. It matters little who is right or wrong in Monday night’s EntranceGate blowup. It’s the pettiness. The constant siren of pettiness that sounds from The Garden and his heard around the NBA world.
Dolan is the common denominator in all of these petty episodes. The man with enough money to own the most valuable NBA franchise can’t buy himself a healthy sense of self.
The slightest perceived offense triggers some insecure fight response from Dolan. It’s as if he’s never outgrown that 10-year-old, “You started it! No, you started it!” phase.
Dolan announced the hiring of Leon Hall as the Knicks president on Monday morning. Dolan has been quick to remind us that he leaves the business of basketball in the expert’s hands. This way when Phil Jackson or Steve Mills falters, Dolan has his fall guy.
It can’t be his fault. But it is. Free agents know it is. Current players know it is. Current and former coaches know it is.
Makes you wonder if Rose checked the small print in his contract for an out clause. Makes you wonder if Spike will return next season. Makes you wonder if we should too.
Because these are not the Knicks Spike and I grew up on. This is not thinking man’s basketball.