Once upon a time, the New York Knicks were a religion.
Seriously, they owned the city of New York. Not the Yankees, the Mets, the Giants, Jets or any other thing you can think of. The city was their house, and their Hall was the Garden.
Charles Oakley, John Starks, Anthony, “Mase in yo Face,” Mason and of course, Patrick Ewing, were ugly. They played a mean version of basketball—brutal and ferocious—just like the city they played for. They were nasty. And they were good.
They turned Madison Square Garden into a place no one wanted to play. In the 1992-93 season they went a ridiculous 37-4 at home, sending opponents home batted, bruised and beaten.
It was definitely not the brand of basketball that the NBA wanted—game scores were at an all-time low. Instead of fast breaks and Showtime, it was shoves, glares and 24-second shot violations.
But while the NBA frowned (heck, they invented the flagrant foul rule just to prevent the Knick’s tough style from hurting the Chicago Bulls), New York adored them. And for the very reason the NBA hated them—because they were mean and ugly.
Games against Jordan and Pippen and their high-flying brand of basketball became personal for every Knick fan from Bayonne to Bay Shore.
Eventually, after a few years of close calls and excruciatingly tough losses, these Knicks’ time had passed. Players moved on. And they have been in a mismanaged funk ever since.
Flash forward to now. The Knicks are suddenly relevant again. With someone in the GM position who actually knows what he is doing, the Knicks have made moves to make them resurgent and start to get some respect around the league.
For me, however, these Knicks ring a bit hollow. I don’t know—comparatively these Knicks seem like a team for hire. Stoudemire was a Sun for a long time (the Knicks actually passed on drafting him in 2002, trading their pick for a completely busted Antonio McDyess).
Ray Felton was bought for a serious coin because the Knicks were desperate for a functioning point guard. Danio Gallinari is as soft as a extra-sensitive shaving cream.
Wilson Chandler is a nice home-grown player, but overall, the team lacks a character. A soul. It’s hard to root for “Who Dat?” guys and hired guns. There doesn’t seem to be a personality to the team.
Want personality? John Starks was bagging groceries before he became a Knick. Anthony Mason played ball first at “basketball star factory” Tennessee State and then in Turkey before the Knicks signed him.
During the offseason, Charles Oakley, instead of heading to a mansion in Miami or in a boat in the Caribbean, would head back to his car wash and wash windows. Of the entire roster, only Patrick Ewing could be considered a star. And with his brutal glare and angry demeanor, he wasn’t exactly on the front of the NBA brochures.
I hope this new Knick team does well. I hope it gets New York humming again about the Knicks. But for me, my Knick team is back in 1993 when John Starks dunked over Jordan and Grant.
When the refs robbed the Knicks of a playoff victory by not calling a foul on Pippen in the last seconds of Game 5. When Anthony Mason would shave a message into his hair before important games. When Oakley would rebound every shot that hit the rim even though he couldn’t jump over a paper clip.
That was the team that shook New York—where else would someone get a tattoo of a dunk?—that became a religion. Those were my Knicks. For my money, there will never be a team like that again.