LeBron James is the greatest player in NBA history.
Put down your phone. Read a book. Play with your dog. Get a dog, if you don’t have one. Call your mother. Have you called your mother recently? She gave you life. Is it too much to call? Stop wasting your life. I just answered one of the great mysteries of modern sports fandom. For free. This is a good day for you.
One caveat: LeBron is the greatest...unless it’s Michael Jordan. Or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Or Larry Bird. Or Oscar Robertson. Or Bill Russell. Or George Mikan. Who’s number one? Who’s number seven? Who cares?
4,489 people have played in the NBA. Let’s say Bird is the seventh greatest. That means LeBron is in the 99.98th percentile, while Bird is allllll the way down in skid row at 99.85. Whoever you got at number two is in the 99.96th percentile. All of which is a lot of numbers to say the numbers don’t say a lot.
Over the past 10 weeks, y’all cast 12,121 votes in the Most Knicks Moment Ever* Tournament. We started with 64 and somehow ended up with three finalists. It seems only fitting to finish with two winners. I think that, maybe more than the winners themselves, is the Knicksiest moment of all.
Linsanity finished with 1129 votes, the most of any nominee. Along the way it took out heavyweights like Larry Johnson’s four-point play and John Starks’ “The Dunk.” In the final four Linsanity finished in a dead heat with Patrick Ewing’s missed finger-roll from Game 7 of the ‘95 Eastern semis against Indiana. They couldn’t pull away from each other even then. Foreshadowing!
Ewing’s finger-roll got 1118 votes. Along its run to the finals it had the decency to knock out perhaps the two most dastardly villains in the tourney, Reggie Miller’s eight points in 8.9 seconds in that same ‘95 series and P.J. Brown’s wartime atrocity against Charlie Ward in the 1997 playoffs. In the final round Linsanity earned 201 votes to Ewing’s 179. But unlike the American voting process, I don’t meekly accept shenanigans.
The finger-roll polled miles ahead of Linsanity in the voting for the first week or so of voting. Light years. Victory was a given. Then something strange happened. Bots? Russians? Hanging chads? Call it fate. Call it luck. Call it karma. Whatever it was, the votes for Linsanity suddenly exploded. Dewey defeats Truman. It made no sense. Maybe that’s fair. Linsanity hadn’t, either. If zealots there will be, let them honor their god’s big trick energy.
So in the end, a little over 9% of the votes went to one and a little over 9% to the other. There is no single winner. Supporters of either have nothing to complain about; after all, the only finalist to actually win all its heats before the last round was Ewing’s Achilles injury in the ‘99 ECF, the John Anderson of the MKME*T. Ultimately, I think all three are avatars for the infinite truth of following the New York Knicks.
Linsanity represents the subatomica of fandom: hope. Without hope, there is no sporting universe. Why root for a team after 20 years of evidence telling you not to, an organization for whom disappointing people is coded in its DNA? Hope. Would you trade Mitchell Robinson in a deal for Joel Embiid? If not, it’s ‘cuz you hope Mitch will keep growing into something spectacular; if yes, it’s ‘cuz you see the promise of Embiid offering more hope than Robinson. If you’re done with Frank Ntilikina and/or Kevin Knox, you’re hoping the team cuts its losses and upgrades its rotation; if you think those two haven’t finished developing, there’s that h-word again. I’ve imagined sooo many times in mind the piece I’d write if the Knicks ever win a championship. I’ll keep it to myself till then, but it touches mostly on absolution. If hope is a jewel, forgiveness is but one facet.
Ewing’s Achilles injury is the universe reminding us that nothing is promised — good or bad. Nowadays the magical ‘99 run is crystallized in memory, bookended by the twin miracles of Allan Houston’s series-winner in Miami and LJ’s four-point play. But remember: when Ewing went down injured, the Knicks had just blown a golden chance to go up 2-0, and now the Big Fella was done. If Jalen Rose gets just a little more hand on Charlie Ward’s inbound at the end of Game 3, the Pacers lead the series 2-1, regain homecourt advantage and enjoy all the momentum. If Antonio Davis doesn’t foul Johnson, or LJ misses the free throw, maybe the Pacers win late in regulation, or overtime. Instead, the magic continued, at least for a little while. Just not enough to climb that mountaintop. RJ Barrett just had a nice rookie season. Some believe it’s the start of something special. Some see his 40/32/61 shooting splits after putting up 45/31/67 at Duke and think he’s a high-volume, low-efficiency scorer — Antoine Walker without the shimmy. Wherever you lean, nothing is promised, ever. Good or bad.
The finger-roll is a reminder of how precarious all our houses of cards really are. If Ewing makes that shot, the Pacers would have blown a Game 7 second-half double-digit lead at MSG for the second straight season. After blowing a 3-2 series lead in 1994, they would have gone from up 3-1 in 1995 to facing overtime in Game 7. The Knicks could have gone on to win the series and advance to an ECF against an Orlando team that had just won the first and only seven-game series in its history, against a Bulls team led by a subpar-by-his-standards Michael Jordan. The Knicks could have gone on to win the series and advance to the Finals against Houston for the second year in a row. Maybe they win. Maybe not. Maybe advancing that far is enough to get Pat Riley to stay. Maybe Riley becomes the godfather in New York rather than South Beach. Maybe Shaq finds his way to the Big Apple the way he did Miami. Maybe LeBron does too.
You never know how today shapes tomorrow. Allan Houston’s shot against the Heat probably kept Phil Jackson from coaching the Knicks. If Phil’s here in 1999, maybe Shaq or Kobe, tired of coming up short under Del Harris in L.A., come to New York. Maybe the 2003 Knicks, led by O’Neal and, oh, Tracy McGrady, begin a dynasty. Maybe Allen Iverson ends up here instead of Denver, because he sees someone he can connect with in Phil. Would you give up Houston’s shot for those lotto tickets? Maybe. Speaking of lotteries: if the Knicks finally win one this year, would you draft LaMelo Ball? If that means winning 10 more games next year and that takes New York out of the Cade Cunningham sweepstakes, you taking that chance? Any road you walk means passing up a thousand others.
No single moment can capture what it is to be a fan of this team. You might as well try naming a color no one has seen, a note no one’s heard. All you can do is reference something unknown to something that is. Rooting for the New York Knickerbockers has something to do with being hopeful, and naked, and weightless. It’s not the same for any two people. It wouldn’t mean all that it does if it did.
Reggie Miller’s 25-point 4th quarter: 16
Antonio Davis going into the stands: 18
The Denver brawl at MSG: 19
KP’s anemia: 28
Andrea Bargnani dunking on Kevin Garnett: 36
Patrick Ewing’s tip dunk to send the Knicks to the Finals: 36
Ron Baker getting his face broken by Anthony Davis: 36
Marcus Camby accidentally knocking out Jeff Van Gundy: 37
Bargnani’s failed dunk vs. Philadelphia: 42
JR Smith’s first game as a Knick: 42
Michael Beasley re: using 11% of our brains: 43
Stephon Marbury’s game-winner vs. Utah: 44
KP’s block/dunk sequence vs. Phoenix: 44
The Derek Harper/JoJo English brawl: 45
Carmelo Anthony closing out Boston: 45
Steve Novak making eight 3s vs. Boston: 45
Chris Childs giving Kobe Bryant a quick two-piece: 47
Carmelo scoring 62: 48
Amar’e Stoudemire posterizing the Clippers: 49
JR’s game-winner at Charlotte: 50
JR trying opponent’s shoelaces together: 50
Ewing’s wrist injury in Milwaukee: 51
Roy Hibbert stuffing Melo: 52
JR elbowing Jason Terry in the face: 56
Jamal Crawford’s 52 vs. MIA: 56
Crawford’s game-winner at Denver: 58
STAT’s back spasms vs. Boston: 59
Antonio McDyess’ knee injury: 60
Tim Hardaway/Langston Galloway costing the Knicks a tie for the worst record: 64
Houston’s game-winner, Game 5 at Miami: 71
David Lee’s game-winner with 0.1 seconds left: 81
Michael Jordan torturing the Knicks in general: 87
The Doc Rivers/Kevin Johnson/Greg Anthony brawl: 90
Nate Robinson’s resurrection in Atlanta: 93
STAT vs. the fire extinguisher: 98
Charles Oakley vs. Charles Barkley: 98
Crawford’s “The Invention”: 107
BOS 104, NY 59: 110
All the KP injuries: 138
Houston’s 53 against the Lakers: 139
Trent Tucker’s game-winner with 0.1 seconds left: 141
MJ’s double-nickel: 147
JR’s game-winner at Phoenix: 170
Mario Hezonja dunks over Giannis Antetokounmpo: 172
JR 10-of-22 on 3s at Miami: 172
Blame Beno: 182
Charles Smith: 188
Latrell Sprewell dunks over Jaren Jackson Sr.: 233
KP’s ACL: 234
Alexey Shved’s casserole of nonsense: 246
JR/Pablo Prigioni alley-oop vs. San Antonio: 268
John Starks headbutts Reggie Miller: 270
Ewing closes out Boston in 1990: 275
JR called out by Rihanna: 303
Reggie Miller’s 8 points in 8.9 seconds: 366
Bargnani’s ill-advised three-pointer at Milwaukee: 415
Larry Johnson’s four-point play: 427
Hubert Davis wins Game 5 vs. Chicago: 435
“You trying to get the pipe?”: 549
PJ Brown/Charlie Ward: 654
Starks’ “The Dunk”: 819
Ewing’s Achilles injury in ‘99: 820
Ewing’s finger-roll in ‘95: 1118