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The Most-Loved Knick Ever* Tournament

Love, love, love. Love, love, love. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.

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The New York Knicks finished 41-31 last year and are currently 7-4. It’s been eight years since they enjoyed such a smidge of success, so let’s surf the serotonin some more. Welcome to The Most-Loved Knick Ever* Tournament, inspired by Cody Hunt’s bracket of the 64 best-loved Phoenix Suns role players.

I’m defining “ever” as 1984 through the present. This is not ageism, believe me. I turned 43 today and have begun to discover the joy of my age working against me in job interviews. If you’re old enough to remember the Knicks championship teams, check your privilege and let the rest of us claw our way to whatever sparks joy.

We start with 32 Knicks and vote round after round on who advances until we’re left with one winner. The question of love is entirely subjective; there’s no criteria outside of your heart. Maybe you pick the best player available because he made the Knicks matter, and relevance is next to godliness. Maybe you pick a lesser dude who meant something special to you and only you. Maybe some rando just hit you right the first time you saw them and you’ve never been able to quit ‘em. If Iman Shumpert means more to you than Carmelo Anthony, follow your feels. The heart wants what the heart wants.

Voting for the first round will be open through 11:59 p.m. Monday night. Whenever possible I’ve tried to pit popular players from different eras against each other to honor the diversity of our audience and to introduce a little anarchy into the world. The first-round winners will be announced next week, at which point we’ll have our Sweet 16. Here we go.

1) Immanuel Quickley vs. Rod Strickland

IQ has been a fan favorite since his first preseason. Whether he’s nailing 30-footers and implausible floaters or having an off-night from the field, the smile and joie de vivre keep the vibes around him always sunny.

Rod Strickland played fewer games as a Knick than Chris Dudley. And yet few who’ve ever spent so little time with the franchise have held more of a grip on the fans’ adoration. Strickland did most of his work with the San Antonio, Portland and Washington, but the Bronx-born baller has inspired what-ifs among Knicks fans for 30 years, as well as a sweet-ass website.

Poll

Who do you love more?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    Immanuel Quickley
    (443 votes)
  • 25%
    Rod Strickland
    (154 votes)
597 votes total Vote Now

2) Derrick Rose vs. Mark Jackson

Some of you will have beef with both of these players. I get that; you’re certainly not obligated to vote for either. But the truth is Rose has had an army of stans going back to his MVP days in Chicago, and people who become symbols symbolize different things to different people. On the court, Rose is the rare case of a Broadway play failing in its first tour but returning for a wildly successful encore. He’s been a sixth man extraordinaire since returning to New York last season.

Mark Jackson may not be your cup of tea as a broadcaster, and every time his name comes up in a Knicks coaching search many fans fear the worst, i.e. him getting hired. But if you saw Jackson his first few years out of St. John’s, when he was Rookie of the Year with the Knicks and an All-Star under Rick Pitino, you remember the flash; you can still hear the sizzle. In the city of point guards, Jackson lit up the Garden like few ever have.

Poll

Who do you love more?

This poll is closed

  • 63%
    Derrick Rose
    (391 votes)
  • 36%
    Mark Jackson
    (224 votes)
615 votes total Vote Now

3) RJ Barrett vs. Bernard King

It’s the son of a St. John’s alum vs. a Brooklyn-born Hall of Famer in this matchup. RJ Barrett is the Knicks’ highest draft pick since Patrick Ewing and one of only three Knicks chosen that high since the NBA/ABA merger, along with Ewing and Bill Cartwright. He’s been down for the cause since draft night.

As for King, not only did he win a scoring title with the Knicks, but he was best thing to happen to the franchise between the end of their glory day in the 1970s and Ewing’s arrival in 1985. New York acquired King from Golden State for the talented but troubled Micheal Ray Richardson; after eight years with only one playoff series win before Bernard’s arrival, they won first-round series in 1983 and 1984, including an epic series win over Detroit and future-not-the-most-loved-Knick-ever Isiah Thomas.

Poll

Who do you love more?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    RJ Barrett
    (185 votes)
  • 69%
    Bernard King
    (428 votes)
613 votes total Vote Now

4) Mitchell Robinson vs. Xavier McDaniel

First of all, I know some of you are like “Xavier McDaniel? He spent one year here 30 years ago. He’s nobody’s most-loved Knick.” Well, he’s mine, and it’s my article, so ha. Secondly, if styles make the fights this is one helluva fight. X-Man knows where the bodies are buried ‘cuz he’s the one that buried them. He fought Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason despite giving up size to both and went nose-to-nose with Michael Jordan in the playoffs. By comparison, I could see Mitch getting married in sweatpants.

Poll

Who do you love more?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    Mitchell Robinson
    (309 votes)
  • 49%
    Xavier McDaniel
    (302 votes)
611 votes total Vote Now

5) Frank Ntilikina vs. Anthony Mason

The Frankophiles have to tune in to Dallas Maverick games to get their fix, but they figure to be well-represented in this tournament. Ntilikina is one of the more mystifyingly intensely loved Knicks I have ever seen. Maybe it’s not a mystery — every time I see his face, I still root for him. Mason was a routinely volatile paradox in talent and temperament, perhaps the only Knick I’ve ever seen cause the Garden crowd to buzz in anticipation of his defense.

Poll

Who do you love more?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Frank Ntilikina
    (106 votes)
  • 82%
    Anthony Mason
    (514 votes)
620 votes total Vote Now

6) Carmelo Anthony vs. John Starks

Two of the great gunslingers in team history meet up here. Assuming you didn’t literally just spontaneously come into existence, you know the feelings out there regarding Carmelo Kyam Anthony. Four years after he was traded to Oklahoma City, comment sections still burst into flame at the mere mention of his name. Starks is still beloved at MSG, though he could inspire agony as easily as ecstasy in his playing days. These two also share moments of playoff infamy in Indiana.

Poll

Who do you love more?

This poll is closed

  • 68%
    John Starks
    (429 votes)
  • 31%
    Carmelo Anthony
    (195 votes)
624 votes total Vote Now

7) Kyle O’Quinn vs. Charles Oakley

How do you like your daddies? Warm and fuzzy bears?

Detroit Pistons v New York Knicks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Or a more mature vintage?

New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Poll

Who do you love more?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Kyle O’Quinn
    (81 votes)
  • 86%
    Charles Oakley
    (536 votes)
617 votes total Vote Now

8) Pablo Prigioni vs. Herb Williams

Pablo Prigioni played just 187 games for the Knicks, but was a fan favorite from day one. A lot of people will be happy if he comes back to coach the team someday. Pablo always did make people happy.

Some of you are too young to remember Herb Williams as anything more than Wormtail to James Dolan’s Voldemort, but in the ‘90s Herb was Patrick Ewing’s back-up and a cult hero at MSG. Anytime he had the ball in his hands, a “Herb!” chant would burble up in the crowd, and if he scored the place went wild. These are two well-loved Knicks.

Poll

Who do you love more?

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    Pablo Prigioni
    (318 votes)
  • 47%
    Herb Williams
    (287 votes)
605 votes total Vote Now

9) Iman Shumpert vs. Patrick Ewing

Shump had style. Had a lot of fans’ hearts really early. I remember comment sections debating how many two-guards in the East were better than him, and the consensus among more than one person was that Shump was on his way to being kind of a big deal. You can see why people threw themselves at him so quickly and completely. The flashes of defensive brilliance. The flashes on the other end.

And then there’s this guy.

Poll

Who do you love more?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Iman Shumpert
    (11 votes)
  • 98%
    Patrick Ewing
    (615 votes)
626 votes total Vote Now

10) J.R. Smith vs. Larry Johnson

The game-winners. The highlight throwdowns. The shoelaces. Rihanna. The pipe. J.R. Smith was a living, breathing mini-series in part of four seasons as a Knick. Larry Johnson replaced Mason, a beloved ‘90s Knicks. It didn’t take Johnson long to stamp himself as a Knick hero for life.

Ahh. You pro’ly thought I meant this.

That was cool, too.

Poll

Who do you love more?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    J.R. Smith
    (131 votes)
  • 79%
    Larry Johnson
    (497 votes)
628 votes total Vote Now

11) Metta Sandiford-Artest vs. Jeremy Lin

Metta Sandiford-Artest) is a legacy selection. He grew up in the Queensbridge projects, played high school ball at La Salle in Manhattan, starred at St. John’s and carved out an indisputably striking career before joining the 2013-14 Knicks. He only played 29 games for New York and only played 24+ minutes in four of them. But it was always easy to love the hometown kid. And in his brief time as a Knick, he provided us one of the great NBA GIFs.

You remember this guy?

Poll

Who do you love more?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Metta Sandiford-Artest
    (95 votes)
  • 84%
    Jeremy Lin
    (516 votes)
611 votes total Vote Now

12) Latrell Sprewell vs. Dikembe Mutombo

It’s easy to look back at Sprewell now as a beloved Knickerbocker, but remember he was public enemy number one in the eyes of many for assaulting his head coach in Golden State, P.J. Carlesimo. It was a long way down for Sprewell, who a few seasons earlier replaced Michael Jordan as the shooting guard on the All-NBA First Team. And he was acquired for Starks, a folk hero who two seasons earlier was Sixth Man of the Year. When Spree first arrived in New York, he wasn’t a great team defender and struggled to transition from a hellfire individual on D to a more deliberate cog in the Knick machine. He pulled it off and is still greeted warmly when he appears on the MSG jumbotron.

Mutombo played just one year with the Knicks. But the smile, swatted shots and Cookie Monster vocals that defined him throughout his career were evident in his lone season in New York.

Oops. Wrong clip. Oh well. Still a good time.

Poll

Who do you love more?

This poll is closed

  • 94%
    Latrell Sprewell
    (571 votes)
  • 5%
    Dikembe Mutombo
    (31 votes)
602 votes total Vote Now

13) Chris Copeland vs. Jamal Crawford

Chris Copeland arrived in New York after years of basketball wanderings: after college he played for Fort Myers in the then-D League, then spent time overseas in Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. On a Knicks team whose frontcourt included Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Steve Novak, Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby, he didn’t figure to get many opportunities. But Cope became a fan favorite in the preseason with his sweet shooting, and he kept it up once the games counted, shooting 48% from the field and 42% from deep. He hit 55% of his 3s in the 2nd-round series vs. Indiana. Maybe if he’d played more than 19 minutes in any of those six games, things might have turned out differently for New York. We’ll never know.

Jamal Crawford sparked joy and light at a time when the Knicks were mostly dark and depressing. Whether crossing opponents over, going on a hot streak behind the arc or sharing a 1000-watt smile and effervescence in interviews, Crawford is the kind of sports hero who makes your fandom worthwhile even while your team is an unwatchable mess.

Poll

Who do you love more?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Chris Copeland
    (70 votes)
  • 87%
    Jamal Crawford
    (508 votes)
578 votes total Vote Now

14) Steve Novak vs. David Lee

It’s the flash flood versus the slow river. Novak was only a Knick for two years, but his 3-point marksmanship made him an instant and long-lasting cult hero. For some athletes, busting out the discount double-check celebration would be corny to the max. Novak made it a thing, despite it not even being his thing, originally.

Novak was so beloved that even after being absolutely exposed and neutralized in the 2011 playoffs against Miami, he scored a four-year contract afterwards, one that raised no eyebrows or public gripes from some of the same teammates who bitched about the deal Lin got from Houston. Black and white players being overpaid was and still is par for the course. Wasn’t as easy seeing a Taiwanese-American do the same.

David Lee was one of the great success stories in Knick history. The last pick of the 1st round in 2005, Lee went from 17 minutes a game as a rookie to 37 in 2010, his final year with the team. Lee was an All-Star that year, an honor he’d repeat a few years later in Golden State. The numbers tell the story, but to watch Lee evolve added another layer of appreciation. Every year he added something new to his game, whether extending his shooting range or improving as a passer. Lee is the model for what every team hopes every draft pick turns out to be: relentless, self-motivated and team-first.

Poll

Who do you love more?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Steve Novak
    (190 votes)
  • 67%
    David Lee
    (391 votes)
581 votes total Vote Now

15) Kurt Thomas vs. Danilson Chandllinari

Few Knicks cover the range of meaningful history Kurt Thomas did. His first year in New York was 1999, the season of their improbable run to the Finals. He was a mainstay and a two-way contributor until 2005, when the Knicks traded him to acquire Nate Robinson, and quite possibly to appease Stephon Marbury, who had clashed with Thomas multiple times, leading Thomas to publicly state “Everyone in this organization is afraid of you, but I’m not. I’ll beat your ass.” He returned with the 2013 Knicks and authored the famous Kurt Thomas Game in Utah, helping the Knicks to an invigorating win in a magical season.

Danilson Chandllinari is an amalgam of Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, who I cannot separate in my mind. They were both young, lovable players with upside who the Knicks traded away in the Carmelo deal. Gallo went sixth in the 2008 draft, New York’s highest pick since 1987. He could shoot, he could post, he took no gruff. Easy to love a dude like that, especially when you know he enjoyed being a Knick. Chandler was drafted the year before and quickly established himself as a quiet but quality swingman, capable of highlight dunks and top-shelf D. He and Gallo were teammates in New York, Denver and in Los Angeles with the Clippers. Some bonds are unbreakable.

Poll

Who do you love more?

This poll is closed

  • 75%
    Kurt Thomas
    (436 votes)
  • 24%
    Danilson Chandllinari
    (140 votes)
576 votes total Vote Now

16) Rasheed Wallace vs. Renaldo Balkman

Rasheed Wallace played as many games for the Knicks as Isaiah Hicks, only a few more than Anthony Randolph and Alexey Shved. But man was that dude an instant fan favorite, and fools like me will say to this day if he’d been healthier that season the Knicks would have gotten past Indiana and maybe Miami, too. That may not be rational. Love rarely is. But I was hardly alone. Remember: Sheed came out of two years of retirement to play for the Knicks; the Garden crowd was chanting his name before he’d ever played for New York, and went nuts after his first 3.

Renaldo Balkman is just a dude lots of people love, or at least loved. He was a 1st-round pick by New York in 2006, spent two seasons there, then returned at the end of his NBA days to spend parts of his last two years with the Knicks. Why he struck such a chord with so many is a mystery; your guess is as good as mine. But we don’t have to explain our amor. Just love, baby.

Poll

Who do you love more?

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    Rasheed Wallace
    (471 votes)
  • 15%
    Renaldo Balkman
    (89 votes)
560 votes total Vote Now

There’s the first-round matchups. Vote and check back next week to see if your favorites match the rest of the community’s. Mwah, babes.