Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that a player is joining the New York Knicks after 14 seasons in the NBA. This mystery player has traveled widely in those 14 years, having suited up for the Bulls, Pacers, Kings, Rockets and Lakers. Just focus on that list for a moment: with the exception of Sacramento, each team ranks on the Knicks Fan Hate Scale, ranging anywhere from "mild dislike" to "Reggie Miller is a punk-ass bitch!" Wouldn't it stand to reason that said player would be at least disliked by Knicks fans?
That certainly is not the case with Metta World Peace. Not only did Metta fit in seamlessly on Knicks Media Day, but he might already be the most popular Knick on the team. How could all of this come together so quickly for a guy who has played over a decade for various Knick nemeses?
For years I've been fascinated by what it means to be a true Knick. True Knick-dom is a concept more nebulous, more confusing than the equivalent of just about any other franchise. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are all true Spurs. Paul Pierce is still a true Celtic, even though he plays for the Nets. Nikola Pekovic is a true Timberwolf...hell, he's probably one-fourth wolf, genetically speaking. There are no such Knick equivalents, and there probably won't be for some time. Players simply do not stay Knicks throughout their career, or even most of their career -- the dysfunctional front office won't allow it.
Still, the true Knicks are out there. I've meditated on this subject before in an article about the true Knick-itude of J.R. Smith, who hasn't been a Knick for two full seasons yet. How can we tell the true Knicks from the regular-ass Knicks? Just as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said in his famous definition of pornography: "I know it when I see it." And Metta World Peace certainly fits the bill. One could even say that his entire NBA career has been a mere prelude to this moment. Consider all the true-Knick things that he has accomplished in his career:
1. He is the quintessential Knicks draft pick.
...in that he was never drafted by the Knicks. Let's wind the clock back to the night of the 1999 NBA draft: a popular, talented local kid who had just taken St. John's to the Elite Eight miraculously falls to the Knicks with the 15th pick.
The rest, as they say, is history: the Knicks drafted Frederic Weis, the only player in the first round who never played a game in the NBA. Did you know that 1999 was also the year James Dolan took over control of the Knicks? IT ALL FITS!!!
In a bizarre, Knicks sort of way, the fact that Metta was stupidly passed over by the Knicks front office doesn't make him any less of a Knick. Remember, there's no such thing as a lifelong Knick anymore. First, the Knicks usually don't hold a draft pick long enough to draft a player, and even if league rules blatantly force them to draft a young player, he's usually traded before the ink dries on his rookie contract. It's fun to retroactively dream of a young frontcourt of Metta (Ron), Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas holding up the team's legacy of defense and bad-assery as the Knicks stormed into a new millennium, but we know deep in our battered hearts that such dreams are utterly pointless. What chance would Metta have had against the front office trade brigade? Camby was shipped off to the Nuggets for Antonio McDyess and his rigor-mortis knees, and Thomas was traded to the Suns for Quentin Richardson's bad back, overall crappiness, and Nate Robinson. Kurt, do you have anything to add?
Fair enough. But, like all true Knicks, Camby came back (after he was old and broken-down). Thomas came back (after he was old and broken-down). Hey Metta, are you old? Were you just amnestied? Then welcome to the Knicks, baby!
2. He broke Michael Jordan's ribs.
It's true, those nineties Knicks teams never beat Michael Jordan, but they probably ranked a close second to the Bad Boy Pistons in terms of teams most likely to send MJ to the hospital. I mean, Charles Oakley is probably Jordan's best friend in the world, but if the two of them played a pickup game today Oak would probably impale MJ with a rusty harpoon.
The player known at the time as Ron Artest didn't actually play for the Knicks in 2001, but he pulled a total Knick move when he broke Jordan's ribs in a summer pickup game. We don't know the story of what really happened -- Jordan has an ability to cover up secrets that even Vladimir Putin must envy. According to the Chicago Tribune, Michael was "in full trash-talk mode that day." Could he possibly have said anything worse than he did all those times he used homophobic slurs on 19-year-old Kwame Brown?
3. He destroyed NBA basketball in Indiana.
I can't tell you how many tell times I've heard quaint tales of the pure basketball they play out there in Indiana -- white kids playing on backyard dirt courts, small white schools beating scary black city schools in movies, Bob Knight choking a bitch -- you know, real basketball!
And oh how they loved their Pacers! Quick question: Can you name the winning-est team of the Reggie Miller era? It wasn't any of the teams that tangled with the Knicks in the nineties. No, it was the 2003-04 team that went 61-21 with the help of a young forward named Ron Artest. To put that record into perspective, no Knicks team has ever won 61 games (the 92-93 and world champion 69-70 teams both won 60). That Pacers team lost to the eventual NBA champion Pistons (thanks in part to this play, tee hee) but looked to come back even stronger in 2004-05.
And then...World Peace happened.
That Pacers team never really recovered from the Malice at the Palace, Reggie Miller retired without a ring, and Knicks fans collectively played the world's smallest violin.
In the end, being a true Knick isn't about whom you play for, but about whom you destroy. Sure, Metta played for the Bulls...but he also broke Michael Jordan's ribs. Sure, he played for the Pacers...but he burned that franchise so badly that last season's Eastern Conference finalists finished in the bottom half of the league in attendance. So welcome to the Knicks, Metta World Peace. It feels like you never left, even though you never technically arrived in the first place.
Question for the Comments:
If the Knicks had drafted Metta, which injured and/or crappy player would they have traded him to get?