Coincidentally, on the same day James put an end to a seven-day whirlwind of countless rumors and speculation, five-time All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire was introduced as the newest member of the Knickerbockers after agreeing to a five-year, $100 million contract with the organization.
So when New York became among James’ spurned suitors, the Big Apple was left to wonder whether the signing of Stoudemire would be enough to instill some life back into one of the marquee franchises in the league.
But even with the additional signing of Raymond Felton, the Knicks started the season by dropping 8 of their first 11 while losing six consecutive games in the process. Tell tale signs that New York was picking up right where they left off from last season and Mike D’Antoni’s days as head coach were on the verge of being numbered.
In the midst of New York’s early struggles though, the 28-year-old Stoudemire established himself as a leader and reversed the team’s fortunes with a raw and stinging critique of his supporting cast after a fifth straight loss to the injury-depleted Houston Rockets.
“I’m not sure if it’s the fact that maybe a winning mentality has never been here. I’m just not used to it. I’m used to winning. I’m used to talking about winning and having that confidence toward winning. You just can’t have guys complacent and comfortable with losing.”
Stoudemire went on to say, “I don’t understand why we’re not playing with the urgency. I’m not used to that. We’re not playing like we’re on a four-game losing streak, now five. We don’t have that sense of urgency. It’s almost as if it doesn’t matter.”
Since this honest assessment of what has become a losing culture over the past six seasons, the Knicks have gone on to win 12 of their last 14, including a winning streak that was extended to seven with a victory over the Washington Wizards Friday evening.
To put it perspective, the last time New York won seven straight games was ten years ago (December 22, 2000 – January 7, 2001) when Jeff Van Gundy was the head coach, Allan Houston was the team’s leading scorer, Mike D’Antoni was an assistant coach with the Portland Trail Blazers and Amar’e Stoudemire was a junior in high school.
Speaking of Stoudemire, his play has taken the Knicks from Eastern Conference cellar dwellers to viable playoff contenders, inspiring recent chants of “M-V-P!!! M-V-P!!!” from the Madison Square Garden faithful.
During New York’s seven-game winning streak, Stoudemire has averaged 34.4 points and 11.3 rebounds per game while shooting 58.6% from the field. In addition, Stoudemire has tied the Knicks’ record for most consecutive 30-point games, equaling the franchise mark set by Willie Naulls in 1960.
Naysayers may point to the fact that the teams New York has beaten, including the Toronto Raptors twice, have a combined record of 55-105 (.344) and they won’t fare as well against better squads such as the Denver Nuggets, the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat, all of whom the Knicks will be facing over the course of the next several days.
But with a little more than a quarter of the season in the books, those with a ‘glass half full’ perspective can retort by informing their counterparts, New York is the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and more than half way toward eclipsing the number of victories they have averaged over the past six seasons (29).
More importantly though, the “World’s Most Famous Arena” is buzzing again and the city of New York is falling back in love with the Knicks because of the All-Star and MVP-caliber play of Stoudemire, a superstar the likes of which the team hasn’t had since Patrick Ewing.
Thus, amongst the myriad of signs that will be directed at LeBron James when the Miami Heat pay a visit to the Garden next week, this two-word message should encapsulate the feelings of Knicks’ fans perfectly: ‘LEBRON WHO?'.