When I was a child, some things seemed inevitable. Michael Jackson was cooler than anybody. Bill Cosby was funnier. The Mets were better than the Yankees (I was young a long time ago). The roadrunner always beat the coyote. And in wrestling, the big-name always beat the nobody.
Pay-per-view was not a thing in our home, so the only chance of seeing Wrestlemania was if a friend’s family ordered it or else waiting till you could rent the VHS from the supermarket (I was young a looong time ago). But as most entertainment industries outside the NHL grasp, ideally you want your customers to have some way of keeping up with your product. So every week, there was a show I remember as airing on Saturdays where you could see Ravishing Rick Rude kiss a lady from the crowd, or Jake the Snake enter the ring with a giant snake around his neck, or Hacksaw Jim Duggan earning that moniker despite never wielding a hacksaw.
Before the big name entered the ring, their opponent was introduced. It was almost always some everyday schmo with no costume, no flair, no hype person in his corner. Somehow it made them seem ever more hopeless that they didn’t have nicknames. It’d always be Big Boss Man against some no one from nowhere. More often than not, these fights followed the same script: Everyday Schmo improbably comes out firing, gets off to a good start, pro’ly even has Big Boss Man pinned at some point for 2.99999 seconds. Then reality kicks in, Schmo gets his whupping, and Big Boss Man subjects them to police brutality.
Last night the Knicks were the Schmo to the 76ers’ marquee, the heel to their hero, the coyote to the roadrunner. New York led by 16 in the second quarter and there was never a doubt in my mind they’d lose. In part that was a negative stereotype, one rooted in their post-All Star performances to date: against the Heat and now twice vs. the Sixers, the Knicks have been pummeled in the second halves. Philadelphia won last night’s third quarter 38-19.
If the details interest you, you’re either a better fan than me or a masochist. Three Philly starters scored 25+ and the other two combined for 24. James Harden was an assist and a rebound shy of a triple double in his 36-minute home debut; if he were a stat hound like Russell Westbrook, he’d’ve stayed in long enough to pull it off. Joel Embiid had 27, 14, 4 and two blocks; he and Harden had nearly as many free-throw attempts (23) as the Knick starters (26). The Sixers were better on 2s, way better on 3s and far better at the line. They out-rebounded the Knicks. Out-assisted them. After the game the Sixers called their mothers to thank them for giving them life. They worked overnight at a homeless shelter. They’re willing to write you a letter of recommendation. You dig? Philadelphia = great.
We never saw what happened to the schmos after they lost. I don’t know what they were paid, but I know for most people through most of human history, every little bit helps. I know some of the no-names went on to become known names, though I can’t remember who at the moment (after all, they were “no-names”). Those forgotten schmos, however anonymous, however forgotten, helped in their own way to build WWE into the mega-machine it is today.
The name Howard Komives may mean nothing to you. Same with John Gianelli, Connie Simmons, Rory Sparrow, Johnny Newman — they’ll never have their number retired. Most Knick fans may not even know who they were, what they did while wearing the blue and orange. But the schmos are the sinews that grant memory the strength to endure. The 2022 Knicks are a forgettable group, pro’ly the sooner the better. That doesn’t mean nothing is happening.
RJ Barrett scored 30 to go along with six rebounds and a season-high seven assists; that’s 26.2 points a game over his last five. Immanuel Quickley scored in double-figures for the second straight game, something he hadn’t done in seven weeks; he also made more than half his shots for just the fourth time in 22 games. Cam Reddish played 23 minutes. Jericho Sims nearly got as much run as Taj Gibson. Deuce McBride played, a minor miracle in and of itself. Is it desperate to cling to such small victories?
Not to me. My metric for evaluating this year’s Knicks wasn’t games won or playoff seeding. It was whether there was growth from the young players and in particular whether RJ and/or Julius Randle established their 2021 selves as non-flukes. The jury is still out on Randle, but Barrett’s growth is arguably a more important indicator of this team’s short-term future than them losing to the Heat or Bucks in four or five games.
The 1987 Knicks stunk, but the foundation was being laid for better years ahead. Komives was a fine player, yet was eventually succeeded at the off-guard by Dick Barnett and the point by Walt Frazier, both better than fine. Obi Toppin may not be a part of our long-dreamt return to glory. But he’s here now, taking his lumps while the team takes theirs. No one remembers the schmos. But they’re the dark matter of our entertainment: easy to overlook despite making up most of the matrix. The Knicks lost another game. View that as an ends rather than a means and you’ll slowly see the face of some nobody coming into focus.
P.S. If you’re interested in the ‘90s Knicks, Stacy Patton and I recently had Chris Herring on our pod to talk about his latest book, “Blood in the Garden: The Flagrant History of the 1990s Knicks.” I’ve followed those teams closely my whole life, read books about them, done tons of research and still learned an immensity of information I’d never known. Worth your time, if you’re into that sort of thing.
P.P.S. Over at The Strickland I’m leading a reveal of the top-75 Knicks of all-time. First group of 10 dropped yesterday. Give it a look, if you’re into that sort of thing.
P.P.P.S. The loss last night was game one of a seven-game road trip for the Knicks. Next top is tomorrow in Phoenix. Will New York rise from the ashes of its recent self-immolation? Tune in, turn on, drop out.