It has been about a decade since being a New York Knicks fan has been fashionable—or at least not embarrassing. Although the franchise has not won a championship in my lifetime, it was one I could be proud of essentially since I started following basketball in the late ’80s until the end of last century.
The Knicks were of course built around Patrick Ewing all those years, but aside from having an eventual Hall-of-Famer they were the toughest team around. Guys like Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason and John Starks were players that would fight to the death. Not exactly comparable to the drek of the 2000s where we were treated to Stephon Marbury’s underachieving and his off-court drama, Quentin Richardon’s inability to come close to the player he was in Phoenix, Jerome James and his bloated contract/weight, Eddy Curry’s weight gain/production drop, and the guy who sums up the decade of doom, Isiah Thomas.
During the last decade, when I would get into conversations with people about the NBA and the subject of our favorite teams came up, mentioning that I was a Knicks fan was equivalent to saying Justin Bieber is my favorite musician (or saying I’m a Mets fan, but that’s for another post). I was ashamed of what this once-proud franchise had become. Fans would come with paper bags over their heads, ready to boo at the first media timeout. There were plenty of empty seats at Madison Square Garden for the first time in years. And why not? The prices were still sky high to come watch the NBA’s punching bag.
The firing of Isiah Thomas and hiring of Mike D’Antoni, along with hiring GM Donnie Walsh, brought renewed hope in 2008. And with the Knicks positioning themselves financially to obtain LeBron James in the offseason before the 2010-11 season, there was some promise, despite the product on the court largely producing the same old results.
When the Knicks didn’t land LeBron, but “settled” for Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton, it still felt like the Knicks were playing second fiddle (or perhaps an even lower ranked fiddle) to the more superior teams around the league. I saw the opening night roster as one that could possibly squeak the team into the postseason but probably not much more. And the frustrating part was that it seemed that that was probably as good as it was going to get, with Miami set for years to come, the Bulls inching towards being an elite team, Orlando and Atlanta still right there, and the Celtics good for another run or two.
But now the Knicks are 16-10. Will they surpass my expectations of just getting into the playoffs? It’s hard to say this early, especially since they haven’t played a ton of good teams yet. But if you’ve watched the team this year, even in some losses, you know this team is different. No one seems to be dogging it. No one has vendettas against the coach from what I know. And Amar’e Stoudemire has been even better than I think the most optimistic Knicks fan could have dreamed.Raymond Felton has also been better than anyone thought, giving the Knicks their best point guard since…I don’t know, Mark Jackson? Needless to say he’s a huge improvement over Chris Duhon or the enigmatic Marbury.
Oh yeah, and there is a decent chance that they will land Carmelo Anthony, which would form an unstoppable pair of players when combined with Stoudemire.
I’m not used to considering the Knicks a good team. To go from brutal year after year to actually being a winning basketball team almost feels like too much too soon. But hey, us Knicks fan will gladly take it. I’d be naive to think the Knicks aren’t immune to a big losing streak or that they won’t be fighting to stay above .500 for a good chunk of the season. They did start 3-8 after all, plus with such a thin bench any injury to a starter could be crushing. But watching them play this year, and most especially in a down-to-the-wire loss to the Celtics, this is a team to be proud of.
So Knicks fans, pull all the old Knicks T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, etc. out of the closet. It’s safe to wear them again without smirks, taunts, and fingers pointed your way. Yes, it is cool to be a Knicks fan again!
What I’ll be watching this weekend…
- Knicks-Heat tonight
- Giants-Eagles Part II – also known as Matt vs. his wife, the Eagles fan!