The New York Knicks dropped back down to 10 games under .500 with Saturday's 95-87 home loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. They still don't look like a competent team, even with the return of star center Tyson Chandler. There is virtually no hope on the horizon—New York traded its 2014 first-round draft pick to acquire Carmelo Anthony, who might depart in the offseason.
But don't worry, Knicks fans: The organization has identified the problem. And the problem is...Knicks fans. The MSG brass is once again placing the blame on the fans, a group that has been far too dependable for far too long.
On December 19, embattled head coach Mike Woodson let New York know who the real fans are. Per ESPN's Ian Begley:
Woody: "I think true fans who know what's going on ... they accept what's going on around me & there r some who don't accept it & that's OK'— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) December 19, 2013
Ah, yes: Real fans accept the terrible defense, inexplicable rotations and complete lack of accountability. So what does that say about the fans who don't accept total incompetence from their Knickerbockers?
Following the Memphis loss, Alan Hahn of MSG Network (MSG owns the Knicks) started a bit of a hullabaloo on Twitter by asserting that Knicks fans would be responsible for Melo leaving in the offseason:
This kind of fan arrogance is gonna run this guy out of town. Mark my words.— Alan Hahn (@alanhahn) December 21, 2013
Hahn then went on to clarify his remarks somewhat, but then tried to equate the fans' treatment of Melo to their treatment of Knicks legend Patrick Ewing:
Ewing before Pat Riley wanted to leave NY. Fans/media and issues about direction of team were his issues. Riley had to convince him to stay.— Alan Hahn (@alanhahn) December 22, 2013
Ewing was booed a lot early in his career here. Blamed for everything. So, yes, the situations are similar.— Alan Hahn (@alanhahn) December 22, 2013
So the fans are to blame, eh? Watch a Knicks home game; Melo is still serenaded with chants of "M-V-P" when he's taking free throws. It's an absurd situation—not even Melo himself would suggest he's an MVP candidate this season—but is that really the mark of a fanbase running its star out of town?
Sure, there are immature, unrealistic Knicks fans—that is true of every team. Every city has its share of loyal fans, bandwagon fans and lunatic fans. There are more crazy Knicks fans due to the simple fact that there are more Knicks fans, period.
But the fans of the New York Knicks carry a unique burden. Their team is run by one of the most embarrassing leadership groups in all of professional sports. Their favorite young players are traded for overpaid, underperforming "name" veterans at the drop of a hat. They are constantly ridiculed by other fans who (rightly) resent all the media coverage of a consistently bad team.
And on top of all of that, their own team never misses a chance to turn the fans themselves into scapegoats for its own incompetence.
"New York Won't Tolerate Losing"
Being a fan of the New York Knicks in the year 2013 means cheering for the past as much as the present. The Knicks are Willis Reed limping onto the court. The Knicks are Walt "Clyde" Frazier's suits and Ewing's enormous knee pads. Madison Square Garden is not the "World's Most Famous" because of anything going on this year.
But all that history hasn't produced many championships. The Knicks celebrated the 40th anniversary of their last championship team last season, which means the fans have waited more than four decades for a parade.
Yet these same fans are often chided for their impatience, even by their own organization. "New York fans won't tolerate a rebuild" because of the unspoken mantra of the Isiah Thomas era. Every stupid, shortsighted trade was made with the tacit understanding that something had to be done, that the fans could not wait. And so the team dug itself deeper.
New York Magazine's Will Leitch explored this concept in 2008 when discussing the fortunes of the Yankees and Mets:
The old maxim here was that New Yorkers would never tolerate rebuilding, would refuse to accept anything other than spending whatever money was necessary to consistently win championships. This mindset is exactly what has wrecked the New York Knicks, though one gets the suspicion Isiah Thomas still believes in it.
I suppose it's possible that the fan bases of both the Yankees and Mets will flee their teams, irreversibly disgusted by the end of this season. But it's far more likely that they'll return next year, hope renewed — skeptical perhaps, but as sucked in by the games and baseball legacy as ever. And they'll be a lot happier that the men in charge of the Yankees and the Mets (and the Giants and the Jets and the ... okay, maybe the Knicks) are professional adults who have a plan in place. Maybe the plans will work; maybe they won't. But New York teams don't blow with the tabloid winds anymore, desperate for a scapegoat.
And the Knicks did have a plan...for a while. Owner James Dolan fired Thomas and put the respected Donnie Walsh in charge, and the Knicks actually operated like a functional NBA organization. Even after Walsh left (amid disturbing rumors of meddling from Dolan, per Sporting News), Glen Grunwald took over and continued to do good work assembling a competitive roster.
But the stability in the front office was shattered in September when Grunwald was suddenly fired and replaced with Steve Mills, a move that was panned by one anonymous general manager, according to the New York Post's Marc Berman: "If you’re looking for logic within Dolan's Knicks, you're looking in the wrong place."
Suddenly, the bad old days of the Thomas era have descended on Knicks fans like an avalanche. The Knicks have already lost their first-round pick for this year, traded their 2016 first-rounder for Andrea Bargnani and could possibly trade their 2018 first-rounder before the year is out. All sense of restraint and long-term planning have once again been thrown out the window.
What Do the Fans Owe This Team?
And still, the fans show up at MSG. The Knicks rank third in the league in attendance, according to Basketball-Reference.
This begs the question: When people say "New York fans won't tolerate losing," what do they mean by tolerate? Seriously, that word needs to be defined. Does "won't tolerate" mean the fans will show up and boo their pathetic squad, or does it mean they will stop coming altogether?
If the latter is true, then Knicks fans have been too tolerant of losing, if anything. In his decade-and-a-half of ownership, Dolan has given the fans almost nothing to cheer for. But still they come.
The Knicks have only finished outside the top 10 in attendance once during Dolan's tenure—New York ranked 15th in the 2006-07 season. That was the season after the Larry Brown disaster, the first of Thomas' two seasons as head coach. That season was the very essence of hopelessness. Once Thomas was fired, attendance shot back up, even with the bad teams of Mike D'Antoni's first two years as Knicks coach.
The fans of the New York Knicks have proven their loyalty time and time again. They may seem an especially demanding bunch, but they have stayed with this organization for decades when every sane impulse has told them to flee.
And what has their loyalty bought them? Nothing but bungling basketball and shameful scapegoating. The Knicks faithful deserve better.
*All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.