What is love?
Love, we’re told, is patient. Love is kind. And blind. Love makes the world go round. But that roundabout world is one messed-up marble; stands to reason any engine driving it would be, too. So love is also a battlefield, and it hurts, and can be kinda crazy, too. Whatever love is, it’s inevitable. It’s even in the air. Let’s localize love and talk 21st-century NYC NBA basketball.
It’s easy to feel like this century is ground zero in Knick history, the lowest of lows. Not true! From 1957-1966, they missed the playoffs 9 out of 10 years — and those were years the league had only eight or nine teams, with six making the playoffs. Of all the teams to miss the playoffs over that decade, only one besides New York (the Detroit Pistons) even exists anymore! Meanwhile, the 21st century Knicks have made the playoffs a meaty 29% of the time. All our kvetching and moaning is just decadent First Worlding. The Knicks have played 21 playoff games since the last time the Timberwolves did, May 31, 2004, when this prescient tune topped the charts.
True love endures, like cacti or genital herpes. Which Knick teams have been the loveliest to love this century? This isn’t the typical “good teams = loved/bad teams = unloved” binary. This is all about those thunderstruck moments when true love zaps you. This is about the three Knick teams I’ve loved the most this century.
BRONZE LOVE: 2005-06
A lot of you would stick 2005-06 in your mind’s wood chipper and never look back. Undoubtedly a lousy year within the grand narrative of the franchise. But look past the forest and there were a lotta trees to love.
I’m pretty sure Trevor Ariza became the youngest player in Knick history when they drafted him in 2004, so there was a lot of cooing and wonderment in my love for him. Also, he was a 2nd-round pick who looked like a legit NBA player, which was a miracle given the Knicks’ deplorable draft history before ‘04. The sweet is never as sweet without the sour, so thanks for the context, 1996-2003, a.k.a. John Wallace, Walter McCarty, Dontae’ Jones, John Thomas, Sean Marks, DeMarco Johnson, Frederic Weis, J.R. Koch, Lavor Postell, Donnell Harvey, Michael Wright, Eric Chenowith, Milos Vujanic, Mike Sweetney, Slavko Vranes, and Maciej “Light The” Lampe. Never forget how the world’s most sophisticated basketball fans responded to Lampe’s selection versus, say, another tall Eastern European big man who could shoot a dozen or so years later.
Back then Matt Barnes was an unknown ex-Clipper, ex-King nobody, yet to blossom into the charming feminist we know today. I’ve always had a thing for small forwards—it’s Freudian, or Jungian; embrace your kinks, yo—and despite Barnes only lasting about a month as a Knick, he made an outsized impression on me (he only played 6 games in New York but started 5; bluecheese999 or somebody must know if any Knick ever played so few games for the franchise while starting so many of those games).
Maybe I felt as strongly as I did about Barnes because he didn’t do anything that jumped off the stat sheet, and that, coupled with “play the right way” Larry Brown entrusted with pointing the franchise in a credible direction, gave me hope Barnes represented the franchise’s newfound emphasis on “play the right way” guys. Maybe I always wanted to be a 6’7” defensive-minded small forward and Barnes was the perfect avatar for my dream.
In addition to wielding perhaps the coolest gender-fluid name ever, Jackie Butler joins Earl Barron in the Hall Of Fame Of Knicks I Swear Would’ve Become Stars If Only They’d Gotten More Playing Time. Jamal Crawford was and still is as eminently watchable as anyone to suit up in blue and orange. Antonio Davis was man enough to walk into the crowd at the United Center to step in when he thought a man was threatening his wife.
I especially admired Davis for doing what he felt was right even knowing he’d face the wrath of a jumpy post-Malice at the Palace NBA front office, which he did, incurring a five-game suspension despite zero moments of aggression. I feel the same self-righteousness when I walk out of a store and the alarm goes off. I don’t stop and wait to prove my innocence. I got to keep on moving.
I still carried a torch for Jalen Rose going back to his Michigan days: he was a lefty, he could pass, and I was just starting high school when he and the Fab Five stormed the national consciousness in their past-the-knees baggy shorts. You cannot fathom how liberating this was if you didn’t live through the 1980’s. No sour, no sweet. Plus there was just something sweet about a Knick jersey that said “Rose” on the back. Some names look good on the back of your team’s jersey. I always thought Malik Monk would work well in New York just because “Monk” looks dope on the back of a blue and orange jersey. I happen to be partial to “Doncic,” too.
Lastly, there was Qyntel Woods, who’d entered the league in 2002 as a much-hyped man-child, the next Tracy McGrady, the pre-LeBron LeBron. Things didn’t go well for him in Portland, although back then nothing went well for anybody in Portland. Woods enjoyed the best year of his career in New York, and it felt like maybe for once the Knicks had bought low on a high-end talent. Understand: the Knicks had drafted well in the second round with Ariza, invested in some low-cost upside, and had one of the two or three best coaches in the league running the show. This was a miracle! Soon enough, Ariza was turned into Steve Francis, Larry Brown was fired with extreme prejudice, and Woods was out of the NBA for good. These days he plays in Europe and is known as the Polish LeBron. Love really is a winding road.
SILVER LOVE: 2012-13
Clearly the most successful Knick team of the century, the 2012-13 squad also came one Argentine away from being the Knicks’ first all-American roster since 2008, when Isiah Thomas ran the team.
Coincidence? I’m comfortable imagining Isiah was a xenophobe whose biases contributed to his shitty roster-building. That may sound kinda judgmental, so let me be clear: I am entirely willing to believe anything negative anyone suggests about Isiah. Ever. There’s literally nothing negative you could say about him I wouldn’t believe. Isiah broke up Chris Pratt and Anna Faris? Isiah sabotaged the Challenger and caused its explosion? Isiah traveled back in time and enslaved the Israelites? I can see it all.
There was an awful lot to love about the 2013 team beyond all the wins. Carmelo reached his Knick apotheosis, though it turned out to fall a smidge beneath Roy Hibbert at full extension. Chris Copeland parlayed a strong preseason into a surprisingly successful Broadway run. Special guest stars Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace were colorful character actors, along with Kurt Thomas, the platonic surly-but-heart-of-gold partner in a buddy cop flick. Amar’e Stoudemire was officially injury-prone, but there were other, pleasant enough diversions. Because love loves a wild card.
The ‘13 team loses major lovability points for two reasons: Kenyon and Martin. K-Mart had already earned eternal enmity for his enthusiastic bullying of the early 2000s Knicks as a New Jersey Net. So when the 2013 Knicks, 32-20 but losers of four in a row, signed Martin to a 10-day contract in February, and then a second in March, and then signed him for the rest of the season, I knew. Darkness would follow. Something fragile and beautiful had suffered the tiniest blight, but a little pregnant is still pregnant. The poison was in the bloodstream. You were loved, 2013 Knicks. I only wish we could have loved a little longer. A little better.
GOLD LOVE: 2017-18
Love is everything. The more, the merrier. One reason to embrace your irrationally intense affection for a team you’ve yet to watch play but already know will lose two-thirds of their games is because of all the love they bring from oh so far away. This year’s squad features humans from seven different countries. They are almost all likable! Bill Raftery voice: “The diaspora—united!” Check out The Last Supper...before Friday’s preseason tilt vs. Washington.
Comparing this image to da Vinci’s version, Joakim Noah is Jesus Christ, which makes more and more sense the longer you think about it. If Jesus lived today, the godless liberal media would explain turning water to wine by framing him as a PED user. In da Vinci’s painting, the man to Christ’s right was John of Patmos, who wrote the Book of Revelation. Kristaps Porzingis is sitting on Noah’s right. A unicorn is as sure a sign of the apocalypse as the falling star or four horsemen John decribed; given the impending doom Porzingis is set to rain down upon the NBA, he’s a perfect Patmos parallel.
If we continue the spatial analogy, Courtney Lee becomes the rock this team is built upon and Michael Beasley will betray us all for some silver. The twelve disciples were piss-poor rebounders and couldn’t create their own shots if their lives depended on it, and they’d once been led by a miracle worker who was sent away. There’s went to Heaven; New York’s went to Oklahoma City. The disciples had moxie off the charts. Maybe these Knicks will, too.
Frank Ntilikina is the latest Knick teenage draftee, a practice that began with Ariza. I don’t know how much writing the athletes who write for The Players’ Tribune actually write, but whoever shared Frankie Knicks’ story about his life, meeting Michael Jordan, and being drafted by New York provided even more reason to love a player I already love for being young, smart, gifted, and too foreign to fully grasp what he’s getting himself into with this organization. Please, please, please, God, don’t let the knee thing be a thing. Don’t leave us with this as our point guards’ ceiling this year.
Before playing a single game that counts, Beasley has already revolutionized neuroscience and placed himself on Basketball Olympus alongisde LeBron and Kevin Durant. Enes Kanter has ideas for improving the All-Star game that make this year’s new approach sound like hot garbage. Doug McDermott is the Knick Wally Szczerbiak was always meant to be. Mindaugas Kuzminskas is adorable on social media.
“Min-dow-gis Cooz-min-skes" pic.twitter.com/v2y58w5Ii4— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) September 26, 2017
Willy Hernangomez is adorbs, period. Tim Hardaway Jr. has a lovey smile. Lance Thomas might have an even lovelier smile and published a warm good-bye letter to Carmelo Anthony in The Players’ Tribune. Love conquers all, even 1,450 miles of distance.
The 2017-18 Knicks are already easy to love. Most of our conversations about this team revolve around the bottom line of wins and losses. We’ve come a long way in a short time, but we haven’t all arrived at the same place. A lot of fans want their team to win, night after night, all the time. But many of us are perfectly content to throw away any hope of a competitive season before any games have been played in favor of pragmatically gunning for ping-pong balls. Whatever’s cool! Remember:
Knicks fans see the games differently from one another and look for different things, too. Often our means and ends are at odds; one of the only ties that binds us is our love for our team. Like any long-term relationship, love doesn’t grow out of easy fun times. It suffers, it perseveres, and eventually, if we’re lucky, that little parasite chomps down on our heart and holds on for dear life. In less than two weeks, we get our turn on another wild ride of a season. Bite hard.