To follow the 21st century Knicks is to bind oneself to a pendulum that swings from everyday drudgery
to futile, fervent denial
to the familiar terror of forever falling down a bottomless pit.
Sunday’s victory over the mighty Spurs notwithstanding, New York’s win-now roster mostly doesn’t. Phil Jackson keeps passive-aggressiving Carmelo Anthony and doesn’t appear to have a consistent team-building strategy; even if he did, no one would know, as he only deigns to address the unwashed masses via obscure tweets every solstice or so. Even owner James Dolan hit a new low this week, devolving from overseer of a hopeless present to iconcolast of a beloved past, then compounding his injuring of history by insulting it. Though it does take two (or nine) to shame-tango.
We can curse the darkness or light a candle. If you’re still a Knick fan, panning for gold in a river of relentless metaphorical shit is second nature to you. I always hope, but I keep that hope buried deep down in places people don’t talk about at parties. I’m not watching this year because #hope. I watch because I love seeing something I’ve never seen before. That’s fun. Fun is it’s own dimension. There’s no relationship between fun and greatness. Just because someone’s great doesn’t mean they’re fun. Karl Malone? Tim Duncan? Ambien. Chris Paul? Surly melatonin.
My All-Time Fun Knicks Team (“all-time” = 1990-2017):
- Jamal Crawford
When you’re young you watch basketball for the end, not the means. However a possession ends, a game, a season, that’s your takeaway. The more you watch, the more you come to appreciate the passes that lead to a shot, the rotations that contest one, the moral victories, etc. Jamal Crawford first caught my eye in Chicago because he looked like a child in a 6’5” body: baby-faced, skinny, a permabounce to his step (he still looks like he’s 26, not 36). After years watching Derek Harper and Charlie Ward and Chris Childs and Howard Eisley’s missionary-position ball-handling, Crawford’s handle was like going from Atari to Wii. The crossovers, the shimmying, the tempo shifts, the liquid footwork: Crawford getting his shot off was a little bit of heaven. When he’d bust out The Invention, the darkness was lifted, if only for a moment.
The more loosey-goosey the game, the more dangerous Crawford became. His magic was a magic of gaps, seeming impossibilities, and paradoxes. If you saw the game in the clip below, you’ll never forget it. It’s like God designed this sequence in a lab for Crawford. And for Gus Johnson.
Earlier this week Crawford hit a zany shake-and-bake fadeaway and an unorthodox three to give the Clippers the lead for good against the Knicks. Even when he’s doing it to my team, I’m not bothered.
- Latrell Sprewell
The first time I really took an interest in Latrell Sprewell was when the Knicks were in Oakland and Sprewell got involved with John Starks.
Then one night at MSG he single-handedly destroyed the Knicks; Marv Albert was doing that excited non-partisan excited voice Marv does whenever someone is doing something legit special in the fourth, and I thought “Can’t see it, but I’d love to see this guy on the Knicks someday.” As luck would have it, Spree laid hands on his coach, P.J. Carlesimo, Starks was headed west, and Spree was NY-bound.
I’d never seen anything like him. Not on my team. The Knicks have a long history of greats who aren’t as big/strong/pathletic as the GOATs of their age. Willis Reed was a lot of things, but he wasn’t Wilt or Kareem or Russell. Bernard King was a scoring champ, but he wasn’t Dr. J. Patrick Ewing wasn’t as fluid as Hakeem Olajuwon or David Robinson, and not as explosive as Michael Jordan. Carmelo Anthony, as we’re occasionally reminded, is not LeBron James.
But seeing Spree uncork and throw down was like seeing a coil spring to life. When he dunked, it was like he was punishing the rim for some beef only the two of them really understood. He arrived during the heart of the Knick/Heat rivalry, and there wasn’t a player on either roster with his athleticism. He also provided the only Knick highlight from the 1999 Finals.
I’m restricting this list to on-the-court fun, so the fact that he cursed out Dolan in his first game back in NY as a Minnesota Timberwolf doesn’t really apply. No need to link to it or anything. Especially after he played Mitt Romney to Dolan’s Donald Trump Sunday.
- Xavier McDaniel
I could point to his performance in the 1992 playoffs, where McDaniel was arguably (forgive me) the X-factor in the Knicks knocking off the Detroit Pistons in the first round and forcing the Chicago Bulls to seven games in the second. I could point to him torturing Scottie Pippen on the low block, and getting in Michael Jordan’s face.
I could point to the fact that he gave. No. Fucks.
I could even point to his cameo in Singles.
But as a mad skinny 13-year-old who dreamed of being a small forward some day, X-Man was my hero. He was thinner than Ewing and Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason, but just as strong. X is the only human being who ever made Oakley step back.
- Nate Robinson
Nothing screams “Nate Robinson” like the fact that he incessantly infuriated me, I prayed for him to be traded or cut for years before it finally happened, I’ve never missed him even once...yet he’s still on the Fun Team. Remember, fun ain’t about logic or reason. It’s about celebrating the moment. Sometimes — always — Nate was too lost in the moment.
A man who shoots at the wrong net is a man to keep your eye on. Robinson was already impossible to look away from: 5’8”, inch-for-inch/pound-for-pound the most athletic Knick ever. Nate was as likely to win a game for his team as for the opponent. He could score 40 points, dish 10 assists, and commit 10 turnovers. All off the bench.
Peak Nate came in January of 2010, when after being benched for 14 games due to coach’s decision, he returned in Atlanta and put up 41 in an unforgettable performance.
Crawford looked like a child in an adult-sized body. Nate looked like an actual child out there. His temperament complemented his appearance. He was like Like Mike in real life. You just don’t see a guy like this
every day every year every decade ever. I don’t think reality could handle it. Truth can only be so strange.
- Metta World Peace
Metta World Peace played 29 games for the Knicks in 2013-14. His numbers don’t pop and his play didn’t, either. The Knicks should have drafted him in 1999, but the immutable laws of comedy and tragedy led them, and eventually Vince Carter’s crotch, to Frederic Weis.
I loved watching Metta for a host of reasons. He should have been a Knick from the start, and I’m hokey enough to still believe in teams making moves for reasons other than processes and championships and dollars. It’s why I want Jeremy Lin on the Knicks someday before he retires. The Knicks are incapable of giving their fans sustained success, much less a title. So yeah. Gimme some narrative satisfaction.
Metta’s a Queensbridge kid. He played at St. John’s, my favorite college team back when I cared about college ball. He’s raw and he’s real, one of the realest cats in the league. Yet he looked and moved, to me, like an action figure. He played like his life depended on it and didn’t take shit from nobody; in many ways, he was Oakley A.D. Even when Kobe Bryant was at the height of his baddest man alive schtick, Metta née Ron Artest did not suffer him.
Metta’s greatest moment as a Knick was as Metta as it gets. All he does in this highlight is exist. But as the dead will tell you - Tyler Hansbrough, too - existence is sometimes enough.
- Honorary mentions
Anthony Bonner: Came and left pretty quickly; athletic; defended 3s, 4s, and 5s; no offensive game but a cool in-game dunker. Always a mystery to me.
Lee Nailon: No rational reason to even remember him; a lefty who could score. For some reason, I super dug him.
Wilson Chandler: So, so cool. I like emotionlessness in my athletes, guys who act like they’re not surprised by their greatness, so you shouldn’t be, either. A two-way player who was so quiet his athletic explosions stood out even more. I was really looking forward to him spending his career as a Knick.
Amar’e Stoudemire: As gifted an offensive big as I’ve ever seen. Could face-up, post-up, or throw down with the best of them. His facials were the tops.
Pablo Prigioni: There are players you hope your kids grow to play like. Rare is the player you hope your kid grows up to be. Always be sneaking, Pabs.
- J.R. Smith
When you remind people of John Starks, only more volatile, you are truly irresistible.
- Jeremy Lin
The rare Knick who gave us hope and fun, Linsanity was paradise for a while. It ended in nasty, brutish, and short order. But for a brief time of life, it was implausible, pure joy. If you’ve ever dreamed you don’t have to die, Linsanity was that delicious feeling of waking up and not realizing your dream was only a dream.
Keep looking for light, loves. Take it where you can get it.