- Courtesy of my good friend Casey:
“The old generation...hates change and comparison[s] [to] their childhood idol...When we grew up Jordan was everything. Why does this generation seemingly unequivocally not love LeBron?”
Here are numbers from two former Knicks.
Player A appeared in 18 playoff games for New York, winning one series, the only one he ever won. Player B appeared in 21 playoff games for New York, winning one series; he’s won three total in his career. Player A is Bernard King, an all-time Knick great, though if there were a Knick pantheon Bernard would sit at the kiddie table. Still, what a nice pantheon! Player B is Carmelo Anthony. Only way Melo’s ever seeing the Knick pantheon is standing in line to buy tickets like you and me. Why is one man a legend and the other a let-down? Because one played way back when and one plays now.
The past is lighter than the present, easier to digest — especially when it all boils down to a few numbers. Jordan never lost in the Finals; if the Cavs lose this year, it’d be James’s sixth Finals defeat. “6-0 > 3-6” is easier to swallow than “LeBron carried the ‘07 Cavs, a team with no business in the Finals, to the Finals, something Jordan couldn’t do with the ‘88 Bulls.”
I’m not telling you LeBron isn’t sometimes a cornball. He’s self-aware and sometimes feels mad pre-rehearsed. He’s pissed off Knick fans for not signing here, for playing flip bottle during a blowout, and for bumping into Frank Ntilikina. He’s powerful and lives beyond both the comforts and challenges most of us are familiar with. You don’t have to like him. But Casey’s question boils down to something I think is true: it didn’t feel 20-25 years ago like disinterested fans were rooting against MJ. It does feel like lots of people today root against LeBron. Why?
Mainstream history, i.e. lazy history, is the story of power and privilege celebrating itself. The oversimplified story of one man subjugating others to his will — and there is 100% a gender bias in the celebration of the same qualities in men that are resented in women — is one of our culture’s favorite daydreams. Jordan is a superhero. He’s Hercules. Power being assumed, then wielded? That’ll get Western civ down on all fours every time.
Yet there is a richer, broader tapestry, re-read and re-lived generation after generation by those who’ve had to punch up. In LeBron’s nine trips to the Finals, his team has been usually been the underdog. Don’t forget that. Put any of his peers on his teams — hell, put MJ on them — and most won’t even reach the Finals. Jordan’s legacy is white rice. LeBron’s is brown rice: more complex, but better for you to process.
To be the greatest means playing point forward as well as ghostbuster. James threatens a truth we’re comfortable with, a friendly ghost. There was no G.O.A.T. for Jordan to chase, because before his time the league was parochial, more random and unfocused than today. Opinions grew wild and free back then; if they also grew more in darkness, without ESPN and basketball-reference.com to streamline opinions, was that necessarily a bad thing? Mushrooms have as much a right to life as a mown lawn.
The Knicks only had about 35 years of history when Bernard King arrived. They’d had one good stretch back in the primordial days of the NBA and the glorious run under Red Holzman in the 1970s. That was it. That was the legacy King walked into. Delivering a scoring title, an epic series win over the Pistons and a toe-to-toe seven-game battle with the world champion Celtics was, by the more relaxed standards of the pre-cable TV, pre-internet Knick fan, literally remarkable.
Carmelo was up against his opponent, his peers (especially LeBron), the disappointing decade at MSG that preceded his Broadway debut and the roaring 90’s before that. There are multiple 24 hour sports radio stations to dissect players today, social media and traditional media on top of that, websites and think pieces and analytics to tell us what to feel, and how, and why, and most importantly to make sure we’re feeling something, anything, ‘cuz feelings = momentum and momentum = traffic and without traffic a lot of people are living less distracted lives, and less distracted = more difficult and more difficult = places you don’t talk about at parties.
This isn’t just a sports thing. TV shows and movies become popular and fans congregate online to hypothesize on where things are headed and how things will end. Being right means more to more and more of us than being delighted, being surprised, being addressed, even. It means more to certain teams, even, who offer up phony sanctimony about trusting some process while they continue profiting from the competitive product most other teams are still putting out there.
Watch an old clip of King against the Celtics in that second-round series in ‘84, or the sweep of the 76ers in 1989. Watch the fans in the arena. They’re just happy with the moment. No one appears to be thinking, “They have no realistic shot at advancing beyond this. They should have lost more games to improve their chances of improving their chances of drafting a franchise player, assuming said player actually exists, that the teams drafting ahead of them don’t draft him, and that he isn’t injury-prone, and that he isn’t a bust.”
Long story short: LeBron is less loved than Jordan because our greater access today to everything ultimately hinders our intimacy with mystery. Filling up on info and stimuli and judgements of both leaves less room in your heart for love.
- This is the true story — true story! — of how six P&T Slackers sometimes make the sausage.
“Am I the only person here,” I wrote in a P&T writers’ chat re: sick pets, “who feels like — and I have no reason to support this, just a hunch — Porzingis is a shitty pet owner/hates animals?”
“Nah,” Chiniqua said. “He hangs out with Toby.”
From that simple exchange, the following flowed:
Drew Steele: “Kyle O’Quinn 100% is the best pet owner. He probably has a giant maze for his cats.”
James Marceda: “Noah has to own a few snakes, right? How could that guy not walk around shirtless with snakes draped all over him? Alligators. Various well-plumaged birds.”
Me: “Noah sleeps with a kimodo dragon in his bed every night.”
DS: “Noah has...a cockatoo, gators, snakes, a antelope...all the exotic animals.”
Stingy: “Courtney Lee sleeps with bats.”
JM: “Emmanuel Mudiay owns a ferret.”
DS: “Frank Ntilikina owns a fish, right? Like a Nemo fish. Enes Kanter takes care of bodega cats. Tim Hardaway Jr. has a German shepherd.”
S: “THJ has a standard poodle. No question in my mind.”
Alex Wolfe: “Tim has whatever he thinks the coolest looking dog is. Maybe a pitbull. Treats him like a king because he knows kids are a long way off -- he’s married to the game, baby. Michael Beasley owns one cat. He tries to teach it telekinesis in his free time. Beasley is a cat lady.”
JM: “On the one hand Frank is too young to own a pet, but on the other hand I can’t imagine him NOT owning a hedgehog. He’s not a gamer, but he liked to watch his friends play Sonic when he was young. And thought it was funny when Sonic got hurt and spilled coins everywhere.”
DS: “I see Frank owning fish. Like he has two clown fish and a blue fish and named them Nemo, Nemo’s Dad, and Dory.”
AW: “Frank’s still on the starter pet because his mom said he can’t have a real pet til he averages 6 APG over a whole season. Then that’ll show he’s mature and willing to take care of others.”
S: “Isaiah Hicks imagines that Eddie from Frazier is his dog.”
Me: “My fiancee thinks Jarrett Jack literally looks like a pit bull. Luke Kornet totally has a bearded dragon.”
DS: “Kornet has a pet rabbit.”
S: “Named Tracy.”
JM: “Trey Burke has a Great Dane and he rides it. Kanter borrows his friend’s cat and pretends it’s his when girls come over so he can act sensitive.”
Me: “If anyone read the short story ‘Cat Person,’ I’m totally getting Kanter now as the dude in that story.”
AW: “You guys are all way off base as far as the best pet owner. It’s so obviously Lance Thomas. I’m surprised Lance’s dogs don’t each have their own individual Insta accounts.
DS: “Lance Thomas doesn’t own pets.”
Me: “Lance Thomas cooks weed-infused meals for his friends, waits for the high to kick in, then starts talking about how no one can ever own an animal, and that’s why no one ever should.”
S: “KOQ always tries to shove Kanter into his goat pen.”
Me: “I think Ron Baker keeps a cool distance from animals, emotionally, but he’s also the first one who would have the balls to shoot a chocolate lab if it meant putting it out of its misery. Baker will surprise you, whether it’s bloodshed or profanity.”
Chiniqua: “I think you’re way off base. Ron grew up with dogs with names like Yodel and Mascot and Tug on his corn farm in Kansas.”
That’s all for now, fam. Less than three weeks until the draft. That’s like our Super Bowl! Or World Cup, really, since the Knicks having their pick is definitely not an annual event. Till then, much love.