(From the Fanposts, but I'm sticking it up top for the day so nobody misses it. -Seth)
April 8, 2012: The Bulls lead the Knicks 91-88 with 30 seconds remaining in the 4th quarter. The Madison Square Garden crowd rises to its feet as Steve Novak launches a wide open three point attempt from the left wing. In an unfamiliar kitchen on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, three siblings scoot to the edge of their chairs, anticipating a tie game and the ensuing "discount doublecheck" celebration. Like with all Novak shots, the ball flies toward the hoop on a perfect arc and splashes down the bottom of the net…before somehow spinning out. The Bulls grab the rebound and the Knicks are forced to foul. A loud groan is heard back in the unfamiliar apartment, where the worst week in the lives of the three siblings just got…well, not worse, but certainly not any better.
I know what you’re all waiting for and I’m not going to leave you in suspense any longer. No I’m not Glen Grunwald or Jared Jeffries, I’m not a wizard, I'm not a robot and I’m certainly not God. My name is Max Steinberg, I’m 23 years old and last month I graduated from Boston University. I was born and raised in New York City along with a younger brother and sister and this Sunday I would like nothing more than to celebrate Father’s Day with my dad. If all you want to know is how I am able to find such obscure stats or if you have no desire to read an incredibly long post about some random Knicks fan then I suggest you stop reading now. This post is not about how I do what I do, but rather who I am and how the Knicks managed to put a smile on my face in the midst of the darkest chapter of my life.
My father grew up in Brooklyn in the ‘50s and ‘60s, which of course meant that his sport was not basketball, but baseball. Thus I was born into a Yankees home, a place where any sports conversation with my dad would invariably drift toward Roger Maris’s 61 home runs in 1961 and outrage that the slugger was still not enshrined in the Hall of Fame. The first year I really followed sports at all was 1996, and in a lucky twist of fate, that was the year the Yankees won their first World Series since 1978 and began this recent period of sustained excellence. My first foray into the basketball world also came in ’95-’96. Every Sunday, my family would visit my grandmother in Brooklyn and after about five minutes, my younger brother and I would inevitably drift toward the television. She didn’t have cable, which meant our options were often limited to the news, some crappy movie, or the NBA on NBC. I bet you can guess what we chose. We were instantly captivated by the sport, and like millions of children before me, I was entranced with Michael Jordan. This was his first full year out of retirement and the year the Bulls would win 72 games, which meant that they would be featured on NBC nearly every week. It also meant that – brace yourselves – I started becoming a Bulls fan.
The day that saved me from the hellish nothingness of not rooting for the Knicks (or alternatively, doomed me to a life of rooting for the Knicks) was March 10, 1996. The Knicks had just fired Don Nelson and replaced him with Jeff Van Gundy, who would be coaching his first home game. I knew none of this. All I knew was that I had turned on NBC to find the player I most admired, with his unbeatable team, facing off against the city I loved, in the World’s Most Famous Arena. To this day I wonder if I would have remained a Bulls fan had Jordan and the Bulls played up to their usual standard, although I very much doubt it. Instead, the Knicks played a perfect game, pounding arguably the greatest team in NBA history 104-72 and gaining a new fan for life.
Once I discovered sports, I couldn’t get enough. Each year, my dad would buy a ticket package of about ten Yankee games per season, and I never got tired of going to the old ballpark. On December 21, 1996, dad took me to my first Knicks game. I don’t remember much about the game except the very end, when, as I can vividly recall, I wondered why Grant Hill was driving in for a layup with the Pistons down by three in the final seconds. He actually missed the layup anyway, and the Knicks won 95-92. Dad and I would only go to a few more Knicks games together, but with these games brought fond memories. About a month before Notorious B.I.G. was shot, we went to a game and actually sat one row in front of Biggie Smalls and P. Diddy (or so dad claimed; at the time I had no idea who either of the two were so I cannot verify whether this was the truth.) Another game my father liked to reminisce about was the one we went to where, according to him, the Knicks did not score for the entire first quarter (January 4, 2001 against Orlando. They actually scored 11 points in the quarter but were held scoreless for the first 6+ minutes.)
My first love was still baseball and I began learning as much about baseball history as I could, but basketball was a close second. I quickly became the go-to-guy for sports trivia amongst my friends. While other kids were doodling spirals and 3D shapes instead of paying attention in school, my form of doodling was trying to write down the starting lineups of every Eastern Conference team or the starting first baseman of every team in the Major Leagues. During some of the most boring classes, I would enlist a friend to look up trivia and attempt to stump me. More often than not I’d get the answer right, but there were plenty of occasions when the question was enough to keep me puzzled until the final bell. When I was in high school, ESPN aired a sports trivia show called Stump the Schwab, where random people tried to outsmart ESPN’s resident trivia expert Howie Schwab. Not long after the show was first aired, I was given the nickname of "The Schwab," although I’m proud to say that other than our sports trivia abilities, we are nothing alike.
And so my pursuit of sports knowledge continued unabated until the end of January 2012, when without warning my life took an abrupt turn for the worse. My father, who had been healthy his entire life, suddenly became incredibly sick. He was rushed to the hospital on January 31, where doctors discovered a massive tumor in his stomach and diagnosed him with an incredibly rare form of cancer called Burkitt’s Lymphoma. Unfortunately, his stomach was the one place where we would see a large protrusion and think nothing of it, believing he had just gained weight. This meant that by the time it was caught, the cancer was at a very advanced stage, to the point where he was placed in a medically-induced coma. That weekend was Super Bowl Sunday, and instead of going to the party I had planned to attend, I rushed home from school in Boston, where, alongside my family and closest friends, I watched the Giants beat the Patriots in the hospital waiting room, fearing that every breath my father took might be his last. Once again proving his resilience though, he did not die that night, and after the doctor’s initial prognosis that he might never be well enough to wake up, he was lifted from his coma after one week.
Even after waking up, he was not out of the woods yet. The next few months were hellish as he was unable to leave his hospital bed and for much of the time period unable to talk due to a tracheostomy. Some P&T regulars may have heard of a certain book entitled We’ll Always Have Linsanity. That title does not apply to me. I remember February and March 2012 as the nightmarish time in which I had to constantly shuttle back and forth from Boston to New York in a feverish attempt to keep from falling behind in my studies, all the while worrying about my father, who was in constant agony in a hospital bed. To the rest of New York, Jeremy Lin was a hero, but to me he was only a brief distraction during a painful period. In early April, my father took a turn for the worse. On the night of April 5th, I rushed home from Boston to find dad at death’s door. Throughout the night, my family and I were by his side, knowing that his time had come. Dad died around 6:00 AM the following morning.
Due to a quirk in the Jewish calendar, dad’s funeral was forced to take place at 10:00 AM that day, a mere four hours after his death, and he was buried by noon. When I finally got home in the late afternoon, I needed something to distract me. Ironically, April 6th was also Opening Day for the Yankees, long one of dad’s favorite days of the year. I turned on the TV to try to watch the game but it couldn’t keep my attention. When Mariano Rivera blew the save and the Yankees lost, something that normally would’ve infuriated me, I felt nothing. Two days later, I was still feeling miserable and after a long morning of getting condolences from friends and relatives, my brother, sister, cousin and I decided to sneak out of the apartment to get a break.
My cousin had come up with her parents from Florida and they were staying at the house one of my mother’s friends who had gone away for the Passover holiday. Once I heard about their big screen TV, I immediately decided that we were going to head over there to watch the Knicks-Bulls game. Once we got there though, we could not figure out a way to turn the damn thing on. Instead, we huddled in the kitchen around a tiny portable television. So that was the scene as Steve Novak attempted his game tying three pointer that seemed destined to send the Garden into a frenzy but somehow rattled out. Two Derrick Rose missed free throws later though, Carmelo Anthony knocked down a spectacular game tying three, and I went ballistic along with the 19,000 fans at the Garden. Not long after that, Melo hit the game winning three in overtime, and for the first time in what felt like forever, I had a huge smile on my face and was jumping up and down like it was a normal day.
I’ve often heard of the magical beauty of sports and many times I thought I had felt it. I’ve watched the Yankees win five World Series titles. I can still remember exactly where I was when Allan Houston’s runner beat the Heat and Larry Johnson made his four-point play. I’ve marveled at some of the greatest moments in sports history, including Usain Bolt's world record run, Michael Phelps’s eight gold medals and David Tyree’s helmet catch. Yet I had never felt anything close to the pure exhilaration that came from seeing Carmelo Anthony pull up from about 2 feet beyond the three point arc and splash a game-winner over the outstretched arm of Luol Deng. When nothing could get me out of my funk, Melo and the Knicks stepped up.
So on this Father’s Day, I am forced to spend time with my father only in my memories. Unfortunately, I can’t help but remember the pain I experienced in the hospital just over a year ago, yet I will also remember all the good times we had, including those Yankee and Knicks games we experienced together. And even as I’m reminiscing about my dad, in the back of my mind will be a memory that came after he had already passed away: jumping up and down in front of that tiny television, once again smiling after it felt like I might never smile again.