This is a sponsored post about sports and entrepreneurship. I gotta admit, I had to look the word up to nail down a clear understanding of what it means. One definition describes entrepreneurship as “change, generally entailing risk beyond what is normally encountered in starting a business, which may include other values than simply economic ones.” Risk and reward kept popping up when reading other definitions of the word. I suspect entrepreneurship is stereotypically associated with the private sector and the moneyed caste. Yet I can’t read that definition and not think of Knicks fans as public entrepreneurs. I can’t help seeing that the best part of being a Knicks fan is being a Knicks fan.
“Entailing risk beyond what is normally encountered.” If sports fanbases were yearbook senior pictures, that’d be Knicks fans’ quote. Despite a long and storied history, the Knicks have been contenders for about 20% of their 75-year existence, winning only two championships, the last one 50 years ago. You know how long those spans are? This was the top-grossing film in the U.S. the year the Knicks were born.
This was the top-grossing film the last time they won it all.
Little different, huh? Think about all the differences between The Best Years of our Lives and The Exorcist. Then consider: the amount of time from The Exorcist till now is twice the distance between the two films. The Knicks have been around a really long time, they’ve failed to win titles 73 of 75 seasons, they’re a sub-.500 franchise all-time, they never land top-shelf pantheon free agents, nearly landed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving and Kevin McHale, only to land none, and they never, ever, ever move up in the draft lottery. Ever.
41 franchises across the four major American men’s leagues have won more titles than the Knicks. The Lakers are two of them — the Los Angeles Lakers and the Minneapolis Lakers each won more. Four New York-area teams — the Yankees, the Giants, the Islanders and the Devils — have won more than two since the Knicks won their second and final trophy. Being a Knick fan is by definition risk beyond what is normally encountered in starting a relationship.
The Knicks aren’t easy to watch. Literally. As soon as the team is any good, the diehards who make a preseason matinee at Madison Square Garden sound like a Game 7 get priced out. Despite more and more people cutting cable in favor of streaming platforms, the cost to watch the Knicks on television is ever-climbing. Because more and more people are cutting cable in favor of streaming platforms, some providers are dropping the Knicks from their service altogether:
Last month, Comcast dropped MSG Network from its Xfinity channel lineup, claiming that viewership was “virtually non-existent.” MSG and its sister networks, MSG2 and MSG Plus 2, show live games from the NBA’s New York Knicks and the NHL’s New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils. Comcast serves New Jersey and Connecticut but not New York City.
On top of all that, the Knicks have not been run very well very often. That’s not a shot at James Dolan, specifically, though it’s true if there were a Mount Rushmore for the four worst people ever involved with the Knicks he’d be two of them. The Knicks have been owned by cold hierarchical behemoths forever. This franchise is the most valuable in the NBA and, according to Forbes, the third most-valuable on the planet. They’re a blockbuster movie opening 82 nights a year and there’s a million producers with notes and agendas and pockets to line. They don’t care if the movie’s any good. Just that it makes money. The fans can only sit back and hope the moneylenders don’t desecrate the temple beyond recognition.
And that’s it. That’s where the light seeps in. Everything that separates Knicks fans from the authority invested in Dolan — the rush of the Ws, the acidic Ls, the hopes, the heartbreaks, the messiahs and the messes — that’s where the fandom pays out. The Knicks are not a symbol of success like the Yankees, not exceptional like the Lakers, not a rags-to-riches Cinderella story like Manchester City. The most valuable element of the most valuable team in basketball is the value its fans invest in it. Knick fans across the country imbue all their games, home and away, with the energy of the city they hail from.
That energy doesn’t care who you were or what you did somewhere else; it’s about what you bring here and now. That’s how the same fans who booed Patrick Ewing worship Pablo Prigioni as a god. That energy knows all about finding the flow amidst 24/7 stimulus assaults on your five senses. That energy is built on what can be when people combine to be more than their individual sums. That’s how the same fans who worshipped Jeremy Lin booed Carmelo Anthony.
That energy is about taking a risk, and investing yourself in a basketball team not because it’s likely to win a title, or even likely to win that night’s game, but because the payoff is something better than feeling alive; it’s feeling alive and knowing you’re a part of something beyond yourself. A sense of belonging is the first pillar of what it is to be human. A sense of purpose adds another dimension. The third is transcendence; lastly, there is storytelling, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Being part of a global community that never stops getting up after getting knocked down, that after all the knockdowns still believes their turn is next, and even if it’s not they’ll cheer their team for hustling, for making the extra pass, for sharing in the group love — any risk is worth that reward.