This list pretty neatly encapsulates the way I’ve been thinking about the Knicks since Isiah was powerstripped and D’ontonnie took over last spring. It’s also why I can’t get really behind “LeBron or bust” (though God, it’s hard not to daydream after what he and Kobe have done on the Garden floor this week) or doing too much in the way of handicapping what five players will start in orange and blue on Opening Night 2010.
Things had to be different to have a chance at being better, and they are now (both better and different, though the Knicks are still a sub-.500 team headed toward the lottery). Stylistically, intellectually, spiritually, physically, emotionally, mercifully, the game in the Garden has changed. Knicks fans don’t have to be ashamed anymore; the last seven years are over, done, kaput, and I can’t think of any better illustration than the tenor of the national reactions that followed Kobe’s 61 and LeBron’s 52-10-11.
For Christ’s sake, the Knicks have been on the business end of titanic, historic, remarkable individual accomplishments on their home court in losses IN CONSECUTIVE GAMES — and the dominant topic of discussion isn’t, “Man, how awful is this woebegone franchise that’s getting served while their fans root for the bad guys?” It is, as it should be, the two very different (yet equally jaw-dropping) forms of sharp-fanged athletic alchemy so ruthlessly unveiled by Messrs. Bryant and James against Dominant Team Pringles.
To the extent the Knicks have even been part of the national/league-wide conversation that has followed these two insane performances, the inclusion has mostly come in one of two forms:
- a minor acknowledgment of the role that their lack of defense played in the two stars getting off so sick-like (a totally fair point, since the Knicks typically don’t play great team defense and don’t have any top-quality individual on-ball defenders, let alone someone who could hope to reasonably check Kobe or God forbid LeBron for more than a tenth of a second), or
- a note of tacit amazement that New York didn’t get beat by 50, that they didn’t melt into a puddle of tears at the showcase of sheer masculinity they were witnessing … that they were, for large stretches at least, very much in both of these games against far superior individual and collective talents.
It would be absurd to qualify either loss as a net positive for D’Antoni, Walsh, et. al., but there’s something to be said for a coach being able to sell his team on the idea that the two best players in the world not only had to go supernova to beat them, but also that the outcome of each game wasn’t a foregone conclusion every step of the way. Similarly, fans can find the honor in a team that doesn’t just roll over when they recognize the sword of God wearing a road uni.
But more important than anything else, not a single word of the preceding paragraphs could have been typed with a straight face (or even with a screw-face, really) at any point during the previous seven seasons, and certainly not during Isiah’s run. The poison’s been purged, the demons exorcised.
Now, does that mean the Knicks’ next seven seasons will be better? Maybe, maybe not. But at least it’s not insane to believe that there’s a chance they can be. Change has to start somewhere, and whatever starting five we end up with is the only one we could have. Let Jesus take the wheel, Knicks fans, and for the first time this decade, try to enjoy your team as a choose-your-own-adventure story that actually doesn’t have to end with the secret agent you thought was your friend putting two in the base of your skull. Things could be different; they already are.
Photo via FFFFOUND!