Welcome to the refreshed Posting and Toasting! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come fan with us!
My first sports love was the New York Rangers, because language is my first love, and so a sport that had names like Kelly Kisio and Mikko Makela and Ulf Samuelsson was impossible to ignore. My first intense sports love was the New York Mets, because baseball was the first game I was serious about playing, and I started paying attention to the Mets during the 1986 regular season, and so I am the rare breed of Met fans who are inherently optimistic, because I was raised on a team that made miracles seem inevitable.
During those years the Knicks were a team I followed in the newspaper box scores and standings. They used to be led by a dude named King; that was pretty cool. Then there was this Ewing guy, and he was clearly legit. My first favorite Knick (briefly) was Johnny Newman, who set a Knick record with 19 consecutive field goals made (I got off the Johnny train long before his arrest for assaulting his wife, the girl from A Different World and Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper). Bill Cartwright once knocked Charles Barkley out while dunking on him. But they hadn’t captured my heart yet. The Mets were good. The Rangers had that whole “1940” storyline to captivate (and disappoint) me every spring.
Then my family left Long Island and moved upstate, to Rochester. Everything in my life turned upside down. We left a community made up of a lot of immigrants and first-generation POCs and moved to one made up of white people who’d been around awhile and weren’t thrilled by our presence in their paradise. My family struggled with discrimination. Additionally, the Mets began to decline and entered the Bobby Bonilla era. The Yankees were no alternative; they sucked too. We couldn’t follow the Rangers anymore because the NHL, which was as backward-thinking then as it is now, blacked out the Ranger games because Rochester is a Buffalo Sabres market, and clearly the best way to expand your sport is to limit your fans’ exposure to it.
Whereas Long Island actually had four seasons, western New York has three: short summers, endless winters, and construction. Winters were long, dark and cold. During the school year weeknights, my sports viewing options were limited. Basketball-wise, there was amateur hour (Syracuse), the New Jersey Nets (who were God-awful), or the Chicago Bulls (whose TV crew was God-awful). There was/is a LOT of upstate bias against New York City. I was tired of being made fun of for my accent, my culture, my ethnicity, tired of the prejudice my family suffered - especially my mother and sisters. I embraced my identity. I embraced Public Enemy. I embraced the Knicks.
I fell in love with the Knicks because I was young enough to only care about whatever game I was watching that night. I had less information then, and no history to compare to or complain about. My early days with the Knicks was all about small moments, almost always shared with my father. In April of 1991 they hosted Chicago late in the regular season, somehow leading the Bulls 62-44 at the half. My father noticed one of the rims seemed funny, and the Bulls were complaining a lot to the refs. I was simply stoked the Knicks were crushing Michael Jordan, a mythic character, and assumed this was proof the sub-.500 Knicks were as good, if not better, than the 60-wins-pace Bulls. My dad pointed out the teams would switch rims in the second half. Chicago outscored New York 57-29 in the second half, winning by double-digits.
The playoffs came and the Knicks faced Chicago in a best-of-five. I invited friends over. We were all pumped. The Knicks were down 10 after one, 29 at the half, and lost by 41. They led game 2 entering the fourth but couldn’t hold on. In game 3 at home they got off to like a 6-2 lead, with Maurice Cheeks hitting a couple early jumpers. I remember thinking “All they have to do is keep getting Cheeks shots and they’re gold.” I was a hopeful kid. The Mets had betrayed me by sucking. The Rangers were a lock to break hearts every spring. I hitched my wagon to the Knickerbocker star.
It wasn’t just the team that pulled me in; it was the broadcast crew. The Knicks’ golden age as a team came in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, but I grew up during the announcer golden age. Marv Albert and John Andariese were the TV voices. They seemed to know the entire history of basketball going back before James Naismith; they were hilarious; they weren’t homers; they cared about the purity and essence of the sport. Mike Green and Walt Frazier were the radio team - a different energy, but a fun one; Clyde’s Clydeisms work better when painted over the canvas of your imagination. I wanted to be an announcer even more than I did a player. Sometimes I’d tape the games and sneak down after everyone was asleep to record myself doing play-by-play.
In the summer of ‘91, Pat Riley came to MSG. This fit right in with my burgeoning identity politics of the time. Here was the biggest name maybe in sports, as far as coaches went, coming to New York City. Why? Because NYC was where the best in all fields came to test themselves, to see if they really were the best. The Knicks were strong. They were tough. They went into other arenas and acted like they owned the place. The losers who made fun of me for having a mustache in 7th grade were the same losers who were content to follow minor league baseball and hockey. My eyes were on a bigger prize. Go NY go NY go.
One winter Rochester was crippled by a massive ice storm. No one had power for weeks. My family drove down to Long Island to stay with family. One of those nights, my father took me to Madison Square Garden for the first time. I saw the Knicks beat the very good Utah Jazz. That night they were giving away cheap MetLife Knick baseball caps. As a 12-year-old whose greatest fear in life was hat hair, I still wore that crappy hat with such pride you’d think Matthew Miranda was Carmen Miranda.
The Knicks were good! Really good! I started recording game results, game-by-game MVPs, and over-arching commentaries. I never missed a game, except for the handful of outrageous nights a year when Rochester TV played a Sabres game on MSG instead of the Knick game (this usually seemed to happen when the Knicks played in Minnesota). They became integral to the tapestry of life. One night my father had to rush me to the emergency room in the middle of the night; on the drive there we listened to them win a game in Portland. We raced home from Little League practice the night they opened the 1992 playoffs with a win in Chicago, a game no one thought they could win (they’d lost like 14 in a row to the Bulls at that point; their upset win was less improbable than Ewing busting out a baseline crossover and dunk over Bill Cartwright that night). In 1993 I wasn’t allowed to stay up for the end of game 5 vs. Chicago, so I woke up at like 5:30 in the morning to pop in the VHS and watch Charles Smith come up short again and again and again and again. In 1995 we rushed home from my shift at K-Mart and literally ran into the living room with five seconds left in game 7.
The Friday night I visited a college offering me a full music scholarship, one I blew off because it wasn’t close enough to the girlfriend I’d move on from before freshman year ended, an ugly assistant coach took over as coach for the deposed Don Nelson (the Celtic my father had hated the most back in the day). Two days later, the ugly assistant led the Knicks to a 104-72 win over the 72-10 Bulls.
My entire freshman year floor was ready to go to war when P.J. Brown tossed Charlie Ward. I transferred schools, met more Knick fans, and me and my roommates — we were not the tightest bunch — nearly got thrown out of a restaurant celebrating the Alonzo Mourning/Larry Johnson fight that helped the Knicks get revenge a year later (the ugly ex-assistant rode Zo’s leg!). My butthole has never fully recovered from the leap for joy I took when Allan Houston’s shot rolled in at the end of the 1999 Knick/Heat series.
Then the 2000’s came. Life took a downturn, for me and the Knicks. We both still cared, maybe too much. Because as much as we cared about shit, it felt like any control we had over life was slipping away.
I finished school and moved to a farm town to be with my family as they disintegrated and my parents divorced. Everything pretty much ground to a halt. I couldn’t find work. My degree was useless where I lived. My friends all lived 60 miles east or west of me. Life sucked. So did the Knicks. But at least I still had them.
Even though the 2000’s were the worst time of my life as a Knick fan, they really did help carry me through the toughest years of my life. When everything else seemed to be changing for the worse, I could escape for a few hours. The stakes had lessened — forget a championship; these were teams that weren’t even threats to make the playoffs — but not the lessons they taught. I learned joy was not something I discovered, but a light I carried inside me, one no darkness could extinguish so long as I kept my eyes open to look for the light.
25 years later, I watch the Knicks with my new family. The fiancee loves Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis as much as I do. The daughter thought Cole Aldrich was handsome (she’s 4; leave her alone). They went crazy watching the Knicks/Hawks quadruple-overtime extravaganza this past January. That meant more to me than they’ll ever know. Life is change and change is constant, but knowing that doesn’t prepare you for how jarring constancy can be.
I’m back on Long Island now, but may move upstate soon. My father left the U.S. to return to Puerto Rico, just in time to watch the new conquistadors rape and pillage the island of his birth. I can’t remember the last time we watched a game together; we may never see one together again. I don’t struggle with questions of identity like I used to, but being engaged and raising a child sometimes feels like I’m a teenager again, unsure of how or if who I was before relates to who or what I think I’m becoming. Being a Knick fan is one of the long-standings anchors I rely on to orient myself in life. Change is constant: they used to be great; now they suck. One constant that doesn’t change: being a Knick fan has never sucked. It never will.
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