1973 was the last time the New York Knicks won an NBA championship. There are longer championship droughts in sports — Knicks fans have nothing on Cubs fans, or Sacramento Kings fans, or fans of any team from Cleveland — but nowhere is the disconnect between the city and the drought so pronounced. New York, home to “The World’s Most Famous Arena” and a great tradition of street hoops and locally-born players, should be hoisting NBA trophies at least as often as places like San Antonio. The fan base is passionate, the money spent on players has overflowed many a coffer. So why can’t the Knicks win a title?
Well, besides a few ill-advised Patrick Ewing finger rolls? Bad shooting nights from usually reliable guards, during, say, Game 7 of the 1994 Finals? Freak injuries? Michael Jordan? The answer as of late, as many a Knicks fan can attest, is owner James L. Dolan, billionaire son of a cable television company founder and shitty musician.
Since gaining ownership of the Knicks in 1994, Dolan has combined a fat checkbook with little-to-no knowledge of the game of basketball, with a handful of stubbornness and sadism thrown in for good measure. He has surrounded himself with people who brought only shame to the franchise (Isiah Thomas), gotten rid of the people who finally did some good for the team (Donnie Walsh), and signed mammoth checks for some truly horrifying contracts ($30 million for Jerome James, $100 million for Allan Houston, $60 million for Eddy Curry, and so on, and so forth). He is, by all accounts, a terrible team owner.
And, sadly, it looks like all of those blemishes on his resume will pale in comparison to the Jeremy Lin fiasco this summer. Dolan was utterly embarrassed by Lin’s business dealings (after being told the Knicks would match anything “up to $1 billion,” the kid smartly went out and looked for more money from Houston) and has responded by phasing him out of the team’s plans, bringing in two point guards who are — for all their talent — decidedly older, slower, fatter and with lower ceilings than the phenom who single-handedly reignited New York’s passion for the Knicks. Now Lin, who was assumed to be a lock in next year’s starting line up, appears headed for the Rockets, while the Knicks continue to build around the iso-machine that is Carmelo Anthony (another Dolan decision, by the way).
Meanwhile, after years of red tape and construction delays, the New Jersey Nets have become the Brooklyn Nets, and they’ve brought a decent roster along with them. Their owner has a similarly large wallet, and unlike Dolan has the chutzpah to keep his money where his mouth is, sparing no expense to make the Nets’ inaugural season in the blooming borough of Brooklyn a success. Their logo and color scheme are Jay-Z cool. Their arena will be state-of-the-art. They are, despite their history of being from New Jersey and generally being lame, a team worthy of cheering on.
And so, for the first time, New Yorkers have a viable second option as basketball fans. They no longer have to hope (against all rationale and reason) that their team will rise above its means and capture a championship. They no longer have to put up with a frustrating ownership, an organization so dysfunctional that you’d almost wish they wouldn’t win, because then they might think they were doing it right all along. They can be Nets fans, if they want to be.
And this would be the time to do it. Before the Nets become too good and then you look like a bandwagon fan. Just after the Knicks throw away a perfectly good bargaining chip — not to mention basketball player — after years of spending recklessly.
So what’s a New York basketball fan to do? Keep rooting for a team that seems intent on letting the fans down? Or go in a new direction, spurning the unfeeling monstrosity that is James Dolan and turning over a new sports leaf? With emotions running high over Lin and the introduction of the new team in (my hometown of) Brooklyn, fans all over the city are choosing the latter over the former.
I, for one, will not be able to do it. The reasons to switch are perfectly valid, and I won’t blame anyone who goes through with it, exchanging orange and blue for white and black. But as a young sports fan, I spent too many hours shooting hoops while whispering the epic radio call “And he’s done it! Eric Goldschein has brought the Knicks their first NBA championship in over 40 years!” I shed too many tears, and defended my team against too many adversaries, and bought too many hats and t-shirts and jerseys and posters, and scribbled the Knicks logo into too many school binders, and cursed Reggie Miller and Tim Hardaway too many times to give up now.
The Knicks are a dysfunctional mess, and they have been for many years. But I am used to their crazy. I am accustomed to this heartbreak. I’m too invested to give up now — horrible ownership be damned. I’m only in my 20s, but as a Knicks fan, my mind is old. And I’m too set in my ways at this point to start changing my rooting interest now.
Plus, if the Knicks somehow, despite their awful ownership, ended up winning a title before my “new” team, I’d jump off the Verrazano Bridge. And I don’t want to do that. I’m a Knicks fan, I gotta stay true. And alive.