The first time I saw the Knicks win a playoff game was in 2013, inside a run-down Mexican restaurant, on a small television taken from the kitchen, usually used for the cooking staff to watch telenovelas. I started watching the Knicks in 2002, right after the magic of the 1999 Finals run ran out. From then on, my dad and I watched losing season after season under the James Dolan era.
The first time I watched the Knicks in the post-season was in 2004, when the New Jersey Nets swept the Stephon Marbury Knicks. Back then, Kurt Thomas was my favorite player. Not just for the tough-as-nails style of play but because we were both born and raised in North Texas. He was also one of the only holdovers from that 1999 team, which seemed legendary to us Knicks fans who missed it.
I still remember Penny Hardaway giving the Nets everything he had in the twilight of his career. Also, there was the Kenyon Martin/Tim Thomas feud, which ended in Martin wearing a shirt with a Daily Post News front page featuring Thomas’ crying face with the words, “Whiney Tim.”
My pops and I try to watch every game together. We have little traditions we do, fist bumps, phrases, and mantras that serve as good luck charms. Since I followed in his footsteps as a Knicks fan, we have watched 39 playoff games in the last 21 years, including this post-season. Unfortunately, the Knicks have only made the playoffs six times, a dreadful metric. Most of the good luck my pops and I have tried to muster has been counter-balanced by the historical ineptitude of the Knicks as a team.
During that 2004 playoff series, we couldn't watch any of the games together because my dad worked overtime and on Saturdays to keep the lights on. We grew up poor, but my dad would stay on the phone with me as I relayed what was happening on the floor. Yet, even apart, we were together in our faith in the Knicks. Even though they rarely returned the favor.
In 2012, my dad and I experienced our first “good” Knicks team. That squad was filled with gnarly veterans, including guys from the Knicks' past: Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin, and my favorite, Kurt Thomas. But the centerpiece was Anthony, who was the best Knicks player I had seen up to that point. I loved that he was half-Latino, like me. I defended him to the death against Melo haters in bars, clubs, and internet forums. But the person I defended the most against was my dad, who hated his isolation-centric style of play. I always argued Melo elevated his game when the playoff arrived, dating back to his time with the Denver Nuggets.
My dad argued he couldn't be depended on to lead a team to a championship as the first option. We had multiple arguments on who was better, Melo vs. Amar’e Stoudemire, Melo vs. Jeremy Lin, and Melo vs. J.R. Smith. No matter who won the argument, we both lost as Knicks fans. But in 2012, my love for Melo was cemented forever as he delivered to me what I had failed to witness— a playoff game win. Until then, I had watched my Knicks solidify their laughing-stock status by being swept by the Nets in 2004 and the Boston Celtics in 2011.
With the Knicks down 3-0 to the Miami Heat, my pops and I were in Oak Cliff, a Mexican-American neighborhood of South Dallas, trying to find a TV showing the Knicks. Dallas Mavericks fans don’t watch the NBA. They barely watch their own team, especially when they aren’t good. In 2013, the Mavs sucked and played in a different conference than the Knicks. So not even the sports bars were showing the game.
Moreover, many of the restaurants were hosting quinceañeras. We raced to and from pool halls, cantinas, and breastaurants to try to find anyone showing the game. But it was early on a Sunday, and everyone was either in church, celebrating a birthday, or still asleep. Besides my pops and I, no one cared about the Knicks.
With desperation, we pulled into a run-down Mexican restaurant with an empty parking lot and drooping neon signage. The game was about to start, and we busted through the saloon-style doors begging for a TV. “Are the Mavs on?” the waiter asked us. Not even Mavs “fans” know when their team is playing or not. We told them we were trying to watch the Knicks and needed a TV with cable access. The winter said there were no TVs in the restaurant. Until the busboy, who to me appeared out of the back as a Christ figure, said there was a TV in the kitchen we could use. Most of the cooks were out on a smoke break anyway and weren’t watching it.
Around 10 minutes later, after curses floated out of the kitchen like psalms, the TV was plugged in, the antenna was straightened, revealing the voice of Mike Breen and the orange and blue jerseys of our Knicks setting up for tip-off. The rest of the game was a blur. All I remember was my pops and I holding each other in the corner of the restaurant's bar as confetti flew down from the MSG rafters as the Knicks staved off elimination with an 89-87 win at home. Empty baskets of chips and bottles of Miller Lite lined our table, and the Knicks won because of 41 from Melo and 20 and 10 from Stoudamire. But it was Anthony that had my dad and me jumping for joy after every jab-step, fade-away, and post-up. Of course, the cooks laughed at us the entire time. We must have been quite the spectacle, two men hugging and crying together over a team on the brink of desperation, going nowhere. But what mattered to us, at that moment, was going nowhere together.
I tell this story because, for some Knicks fans today, this will be the moment they look back on as their first cherished Knicks memory. They will remember how their Knicks staved off elimination because their team showed heart and pride. They will feel, just like my pops and I did, that the Knicks won just for me. My joy inspired their effort. As a fan, that's all you can really ask for. As I cried into my pops shoulder, the voice of Breen echoing throughout the smoke-stained walls of the restaurants, he told me in our embrace, “You deserved this win.” I hope someone else hears that tonight. Go Knicks!
This double-digit Knicks win has to happen at some point, right?