Does the name Terry Cummings mean anything to you?
The 1997-98 season was the ‘90s Knicks version of a down year. Patrick Ewing broke his wrist in December, leaving a team that had been a title contender four of the past five years marooned among the East’s also-rans. But being the ‘90s, even a “bad” Knicks team finished above .500 and avenged the P.J. Brown Atrocity by eliminating Miami on their home floor in the decisive Game 5.
Rewind to February that season. The Knicks traded fan-favorite Herb Williams in a deal to the 76ers for Cummings. “Preacher” was near the end of an accomplished career, one that’d seen him win Rookie of the Year and be named to two All-Star and two All-NBA teams. Those days were long behind him by 1998, but quality endures the test of time better than most. Cummings was a veteran, a leader and a low-post Baryshnikov. He gave the Knicks good minutes at the center in Ewing’s absence, and that postseason against the Heat he played in four games, with New York winning three, including a Game 2 when TC grabbed 14 rebounds off the bench.
I bet even the majority of Knick fans who followed the team closely back then don’t remember Cummings or haven’t thought of him since then. But history, thankfully, is much richer than the bits we remember. Which brings us to the rich man’s Cummings, Alec Burks. I offer this statement with full understanding that it may sound absurd at first, but if you breathe and think about it, you’ll see it’s true: Burks was one of the best free agents the Knicks have signed in 20 years.
First, let’s acknowledge that’s not exactly the same as being “one of” the richest Rockefellers. But it’s not nothing, either — not like being the second most-successful Baldwin brother. Burks was a Knick for two years. In 2021, the once upon a time when Julius Randle was All-NBA Second Team, AB was the team’s best fourth-quarter player. Last year, with Derrick Rose broken, Kemba Walker breaking down and Immanuel Quickley the victim of Tom Thibodeau’s gray kink, Burks played out of position much of the season as point guard.
Just as Cummings was a terrific part-time center, Burks is best orchestrating the offense in spurts. Asking him to assume the position is like blowing a tire and asking the donut to take you 1000 miles. You can close your eyes and hope for the best, but if you find yourself stranded on the shoulder again don’t blame the equipment. Burks struggled, as did the offense. But not for lack of effort.
Desus or Mero, can’t remember which, likened Burks to a 72% superstar. His shot selection from deep was basically button-up, but when he put the ball on the floor and took it to the rim he became Alec Audacious.
No one owes you their true self when they’re on the clock, so it’s always a fool’s errand reading too much into an athlete’s personality based on their body language while competing. Growing up playing baseball, I was fairly quiet off the field but a chatterbox between the lines; my best friend had to go to anger counseling in real life but during games he hardly made a peep. I don’t know who Burks is or what he’s like. But I did enjoy his apparent energy while a Knick. Something about him was immediately and very much likable.
Now he’s gone, off to Detroit to play a supporting role in their renaissance. I’m pretty sure he’ll hit a backbreaking 3 late in a game next season to beat the Knicks. If he does, I’ll hurt, but I won’t hate. Alec Burks was a pro’s pro, a good Knick and an occasional if still-buffering highlight reel. For me, he’ll always enjoy a spot among my favorite Knicks whose memory far exceeds their performance, alongside Cummings, Rasheed Wallace and Pablo Prigioni. You may never be missed, AB. But you will be appreciated. And you have been loved.