In the mid-1990s, mainstream hip-hop was dominated by a feud between West and East Coast supergroups. What was more like a competitive dislike between the two factions materialized into a gang rivalry-like war that ended with the unsolved assassinations of rap legends 2Pac and Biggie.
It was during this period Long Beach, California-based group, The Dogg Pound, released a New York diss track titled, "New York, New York." The lyrics in the chorus went:
"New York, New York, big city of dreams/ but everything in New York ain't always what it seems/ You might get fooled if you come from out of town..."
Humorously—I can't believe I'm referencing the Dogg Pound —and interestingly enough, I find this quote to be the single-most accurate and all-encompassing description of a city whose reputation exceeds itself.
At least when it comes to basketball.
New York's self-given moniker of "the Mecca of the basketball" has far more to do with the city's real-life No. 1 rank in the world in both media and marketing. After all, all four major television networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC) are headquartered in the city. Seven of the eight top global advertising agencies call Madison Avenue home.
It should come as no surprise to you there's a massive LeBron James-to-New York campaign, even though James never, not once, publicly said he wanted to play in New York.
The story, I'm sure, originated in New York, where the Knicks have a hand in the local media. The Knicks are owned by Cablevision, who also owns Newsday (11th-highest circulation in the country), Madison Square Garden and its television network, as well as News 12 and Rainbow Media.
Cablevision is owned and operated by the Dolans, a family with strong ties to Cleveland. Charles, who founded and built the company, grew up in Cleveland Heights. His brother, Larry, owns the Indians baseball franchise.
The Knicks and Madison Square Garden have been "it" in New York for a very long time and have gone to enormous lengths in self-promotion to keep "it" the status quo. The millions of dollars spent on advertising the venue as, "the World's Most Famous Arena," is peanuts when you consider the sweetheart deal MSG and the city struck in 1982—no property taxes (this continues today and robs the city of an estimated $300 million per year).
Media hype and marketing... "everything in New York ain't always what it seems."
The reality is NYC's basketball culture has been second-rate for a very long time.
On the pro level, the Knicks have historically been on par with the Indiana Pacers, a team that has won more championships. The Knicks, who haven't won a title since 1973, have a career winning percentage of .497 over 64 years (13 teams have fared better). Since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, the Knicks have won the Atlantic division only four times.
The biggest stars to have ever suited up for the Knicks? Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, and Patrick Ewing. All three were acquired via the draft. The biggest free-agent signing the Knicks ever pulled off? Allan Houston.
On the college level, St. John's University, one of the NCAA's winningest programs, has failed to be relevant the past decade. Former coaching legend Lou Carnesecca routinely fielded a competitive squad during his 24-year reign but only made one Final Four appearance.
Other D-I schools in the city—Fordham, St. Francis, Columbia, Manhattan—have hardly been successful programs. The four schools have combined for a 5-15 tournament record. Meanwhile, programs like Holy Cross (Worcester, MA) have managed to do more (7-12 in tourney history) despite not being located in such a so-called basketball hotbed.
On the high school level, forget it. The last three "great" basketball players to come from New York City were Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair, and Lance Stephenson. If you want to go back 20 years to 1990, the best players to emerge from the city are Marbury, Jamal Mashburn, Kenny Anderson, Ron Artest, and Lamar Odom.
This is what the basketball "Mecca" has produced. Meanwhile, in the just the past five years, Seattle has produced five lottery picks, including Brandon Roy. During that same span, Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Michael Beasley, and Jeff Green have emerged from the Washington, DC area.
According to Scout.com's list of the top 100 basketball recruits for 2010, only two players are from New York City. Kadeem Jack (undecided) is ranked 43 and Jayvaughn Pinkston (Villanova) 51. For the top 100 in 2011, no New Yorkers made the cut.
New York City is living off a reputation it built in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s.
We're talking about Lew Alcindor starring at Power Memorial High in Manhattan. Bob Cousy, the kid from Andrew Jackson High in Queens (where 50 Cent would later attend). Billy Cunningham, Connie Hawkins, Lenny Wilkens, Bernard King—all from Brooklyn. The kings of the Bronx; Dolph Schayes, Richie Guerin and Tiny Archibald.
We're talking about streetball legends like Earl "The Goat" Manigault, Rick "Pee Wee" Kirkland, Joe "The Destroyer" Hammond, and Herman "The Helicopter" Knowings.
We're talking classic playground battles at Rucker Park in Harlem on sticky summer nights.
We're talking about NBA players going toe to toe with local legends... for the love of the game.
We're talking about a late 60s/early 70s Knicks squad whose teamwork could be described as poetry in motion. Seven Knicks players from this championship run—two titles in three Finals appearances in four seasons—are in the Hall of Fame.
This is all where New York's basketball rep was established like a butterfly knife-carved heart in a city park bench.
But what were once wood benches have been replaced by pricier, more durable, weather-resistant and vandalism-proof aluminum.
The thin, silvery white metal looks nice on the surface but doesn't hold the stories of a city that once was.
"Don't be fooled if you come from out of town."
This is no longer THAT New York.