By Lenn Robbins
With about five minutes left in the third quarter of what would turn out to be the final game of the season in The Garden, Hawks guard Trae Young engaged in a little star chitchat with comedian Tracy Morgan and friends on Celebrity Row.
There were more stars in the crowd than on the court: 50 Cent. Both New York quarterbacks, Daniel Jones and Zach Wilson. Just another New York happening in The City That Never Sleeps.
Surely the Hawks get some celebrities in State Farm Arena. But even Young, 22, is old enough to know that New York is where stars mingle and brands are enhanced. Not Atlanta.
And as the final minutes of the Knicks, 103-99, season-ending loss to the Hawks in Game 5 of their playoff series unfolded, Young and other NBA players surely must have taken note of the scene in The Garden.
With two minutes remaining and the Knicks down 11, the crowd was still imploring their team with that age-old chant of “Defense! Defense!” Somewhere, Red Holzman was smiling.
As the final seconds ticked down, the last thing the Knicks heard was 16,512 fans chanting, “Let’s Go Knicks! Let’s Go Knicks!”
This is what gets talked about when players, especially soon-to-be free agents, are discussing where to play and where to avoid. The Garden had become a place to avoid, what with the owner beefing with former players and having young fans ejected.
What player needs that nonsense? None.
Now, what player wouldn’t want to soak in the passion and glamor of Broadway? None.
The Knicks, who were soundly beaten in five games, clearly have work to do. They need a young star – a Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker, Young. Well maybe not the latter bowing fool. But a talent who can carry the franchisee and allow players such as a Julius Randle and RJ Barrett a better chance to thrive.
If Leon Rose, Scott Perry and William Wesley do their jobs well, then June 2, 2021 might be remembered as the night Knicks fans helped their franchise by reminding the NBA that there is no better place to play than here.