Danilo Gallinari: the Most Important Man in New York Sports

Michael AkelsonCorrespondent IAugust 29, 2010

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 20:  Danilo Gallinari #8 of the New York Knicks reacts against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Madison Square Garden on February 20, 2010 in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Derek Jeter, Mark Sanchez, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Eli Manning, CC Sabathia, Amar'e Stoudemire, Robinson Cano, Darrelle Revis, Justin Tuck, John Tavares, David Wright.

When you think New York superstars, those are the first names that come to mind.

And for good reason; these guys are some of the brightest stars in all of sports.

However, the name of the most important athlete in the Empire State doesn't lie anywhere within the aforementioned names.

The most important man in New York sports is Knicks swingman Danilo Gallinari.

You heard me!

I'll get right down to explaining this as the mobs form outside my house.

In New York, we're as passionate about our sports teams as anybody. We love our Yankees, Rangers, Islanders, Mets, Jets, and so on.

However, despite what recent events may suggest, New York is a basketball town.

Ask any New Yorker over the age of 25, the Knicks owned the '90s in New York. The Yankees and Rangers were both arguably more successful, but the Garden was rocking every time Pat Ewing slammed one down or John Starks pocketed a three.

But things have changed since then. The Knicks have become an embarrassment of an organization, and baseball has taken the title of New York's favorite sport.

In baseball, the fans are split between the Yankees and Mets. In football the Giants and Jets garner nearly equal fan-bases, and on the ice rink the Rangers have a slightly bigger fanbase than the Islanders.

If you're a basketball fan in New York, the Knicks were your team. Period. You lived and died with them.

That's why basketball has fallen from the spotlight in the city that never sleeps.

New Yorkers have absolutely no trust in the Knicks' front office.

Never was this more evident than at the 2008 NBA Draft.

With the sixth pick in that season's draft—their first lottery pick since 2005 because of horrible trades—the Knicks selected Italian forward Danilo Gallinari.

Knick fans booed. They wanted Eric Gordon, they wanted Brook Lopez, they wanted anybody but "the Rooster."

They never gave the 6'10" sharpshooting Italian a chance. The Garden erupted with boos from the second he was drafted, even after he insisted in an interview right after being selected that he valued nothing but winning and hard work.

In his first season as a pro in 2008, Gallinari suffered from back injuries and only appeared in 28 games.

It was right then that Knick fans filed him as a bust. Any Knicks fan you asked would have more than a few four-letter words to say when Danilo Gallinari's name came up.

The next season, Gallinari was able to stay healthy as he averaged a very solid 15 points per game while shooting 38 percent from deep.

It was then that Knicks fans realized how talented this guy was.

However, nobody was sure just how good he'd be.

Some believed he would be the perfect Robin to another superstar's Batman, while others believed he would never amount to being anything more than a sharpshooting role player.

He headlined the roster as the historic summer of 2010 approached. Some criticized him, saying there was no way he'd be enough to lure LeBron to town, while others believed he'd be the key chip in making the King take his thrown in New York.

It didn't happen.

The Knicks instead brought in a flurry of solid players to complement the core that was already in place.

They of course brought in their superstar in Amar'e Stoudemire, but they also added Raymond Felton, Roger Mason, Timofey Mozgov, Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike, and Ronny Turiaf.

So that raises the question, what makes Danilo Gallinari the most important man on the Knicks, let alone New York sports?

Allow me to elaborate.

We know Amar'e Stoudemire is going to be good. But we all know that he will never touch the Kobe-LeBron-Durant stratosphere.

We've seen him peak. It's going to take much more than him to lure other superstars to the Big Apple.

Wilson Chandler is another intriguing name, but most people, me included, believe he's reached his ceiling.

Anthony Randolph is a guy who has a ridiculous upside, but he's still very raw and a few years away from reaching his superstar potential.

Raymond Felton is also a very good player, but he's like Chandler; what you see is what you get.

So who does that leave? Gallo.

If Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, or Deron Williams are going to take their talents East, they're going to need to see something better than what the Knicks have right now.

Gallinari's development could be that something better.

If Danilo can turn into a go-to scorer (I'm talking 20 a game, and ability to score at will) and play halfway decent defense, a core of him and Amar'e should not only get the Knicks into the playoffs for the first time in half a decade, but it could also entice more stars to join forces with them on the suddenly cap friendly Knicks, in hopes of beating Miami Thrice.

However, if Gallinari remains where he is now talent-wise, not only will the Knicks struggle to win 35 games, but the city that was once known as the "Mecca of Basketball" will continue to move closer towards being a basketball Siberia.

Yes, Gallinari is that important.

Especially with the Nets move to Brooklyn expected in 2012, a Gallinari failure could officially bury the Knicks.

Most New Yorkers consider Gallo a C-list athlete.

But just remember, this C-list athlete may very well be the most important man in New York sports.


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