LeBron James is, for one night only, taking his talents to New York, where the reinvigorated customers of Madison Square Garden will get a glimpse at what could have been.
New York Knicks fans spent the offseason dreaming of the so-called King and his court, even if their dreams were deferred, meaning a short wait for Denver’s dour star, Carmelo Anthony, who has made little secret of his affinity for bright lights, big city.
Turns out, these Knicks didn’t need James. And recent results show they don’t need Anthony, whose trade-me-or-lose-me Melodrama should tell New Yorkers that his points aren’t worth his price. Patience is a four-letter word in professional sports, especially around MSG, where ticket prices mistakenly suggest a quality product under the pinwheel ceiling.
Former MSG President Dave Checketts used to say that you can’t rebuild in New York, that the fans wouldn’t tolerate it. Celebrity row demands Showtime, not Slowtime.
Checketts was wrong. Fans understand front-office mistakes are made (remember Isiah Thomas?) and know that Band-Aids prolong the suffering. New York fans want two things: A well- conceived, well-communicated plan and a team that works hard every night.
This Knicks team, as constituted, not only win games but gets the joint jumping. The buzz is back, as are the Knicks, which is exactly what Amar’e Stoudemire said at his introductory press conference.
“It’s not as feverish as it was, but it’s getting there,” said Doc Rivers, coach of the division leading Boston Celtics, who survived their visit to MSG two nights ago, escaping with a 118-116 victory that wasn’t assured until the referees reviewed replay evidence to determine that Stoudemire’s 3-point shot didn’t beat the buzzer. “You can feel it coming in this building, and I love it.”
If anyone qualifies as an authority on MSG and buzz it’s Rivers, who played for Pat Riley’s Knicks, a hardscrabble group built around Patrick Ewing that almost topped Michael Jordan’s Bulls. Of course it was Riley, he of Armani and slick hair, who brought together James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. Ladies and gentlemen, meet The Heatles.
The Knicks gave Stoudemire $100 million over five years, hoping he’d be enough of a sidekick to lure James. But James chose Miami, where Heat owner Micky Arison, the chairman of Carnival Corp., knows he needs sizzle to draw the glitterati from the sun and fun of South Beach.
James and Miami are the perfect marriage. The 6-foot-8 James, sculpted by the gods from granite, belongs in the land of the genetically blessed. A beautiful basketball player for the beautiful people.
It’s nice when a team accurately reflects its town.
These Knicks do just that. Stoudemire is a star, yes, but one whose success was often attributed to the pinpoint passing of his former running mate in Phoenix, Steve Nash, a two-time Most Valuable Player. Hmm. Maybe Nash was the lucky one.
Did you happen to see noted Knicks fan Spike Lee on the sidelines Wednesday night with Boston in town? He was wearing the jersey of Landry Fields, a late-bloomer who fell to the draft’s second round. Now he’s a starter.
What Anthony possesses in hubris, Fields has in hustle and humility.
There is no Big Three in New York, but it’s working just fine.
Starks and Oakley, like Fields, made up for any shortcomings in ability with effort, intensity and, on occasion, pugnacious play. They won the crowd, not to mention their fair share of games.
What, you have to wonder, would the Knicks have to surrender to get Anthony, a career 24.7 points-a-game scorer who might not be thrilled with having to share the Garden’s marquee.
If Anthony wants to play for the Knicks so badly, he can wait until July and sign as a free agent, leaving the rest of the roster intact.
Knicks President of Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh, a New York, native, surely has spent time at Rucker Park and West 4th Street, aka “The Cage,” where playground ball is elevated to art form.
This team represents those players, who play for love, not money.
We’re going to hear a lot about the Brooklyn-born Anthony until the trade deadline in February, which gives this team, as constituted, time to make a case for standing pat.
No one is laughing at these Knicks.
“Boston respects us,” Stoudemire said the other night. “They know how good we can be. We will see them again.”
Stoudemire is the only player on the team who can say that with certainty. He’ll be with the Knicks on March 21, when they next play the Celtics in New York. As for the others, well, they’ll have to wait for the Melodrama to unfold.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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