March 25 (Bloomberg) -- Passing the Apple Inc. store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, where the parade of wannabe iPad 2 owners stretches around the block, prompted thoughts not of technology but sports. In particular, the New York Knicks.
That line is a metaphor for a society addicted to immediate gratification. We want it, whatever IT is, and we want it now. What’s true for technophiles also applies -- probably more so -- to sports fans, which is why all those consumers sometimes waiting in the rain for hours ought to scare the daylights out of the saps who run the Knicks.
When the Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets last month, the ensuing hoopla would have led most basketball fans to believe that the team was adding Michael Jordan. Or, at least some reasonable facsimile of the five-time Most Valuable Player whose statue sits outside of the United Center in Chicago.
Executives with the team, who know that titles take time, didn’t do or say anything to squelch the outlandish expectations. The Knicks, from owner James Dolan on down, didn’t hesitate to sell Anthony as a megastar, as one of the top, say, six or seven players in the league. He isn’t. Never has been. There’s a difference between a great scorer, which Anthony is, and a great player, the kind of athlete who makes his teammates better.
The basketball fans of New York were downright bonkers at the news of Anthony’s joining Amar’e Stoudemire in a Knicks uniform. They couldn’t manufacture No. 7 jerseys fast enough.
Look out, Miami. Move over, Boston. The expectation in New York wasn’t just vast improvement or even the playoffs. It was parade preparation. Win now.
The savvy professional sports franchise tempers expectations because winning at the game’s highest level isn’t easy. There are so many things that can happen to derail a season. Like a freak injury. Or a referee’s blunder or player transgression. What happens to the Los Angeles Lakers, for instance, if in Game 1 of the National Basketball Association Finals Kobe Bryant goes down with a high ankle sprain?
The Knicks should have given their fans the hard sell on slowing down and breathing deeply. They could have admitted that scrapping almost an entire starting five for one player, no matter how many points he scores, is an exercise in trial and error.
We’re talking about talent, yes, but compatibility, trust and comfort, too. It all takes time, and it’s a lesson that fans of all teams could use.
The Knicks have won seven games and lost 10 with Anthony as a member of the team. The Nuggets, meanwhile, are 11-4 since the trade. It’s too easy, and too soon, to determine which team got the better of it.
Knicks fans need to remember that Anthony is part of a bigger plan, one that isn’t finished yet. That isn’t to say, of course, that the ultimate goal, a ring, will be achieved.
After all, Karl Malone and John Stockton got close but didn’t win it all for the Utah Jazz. And let’s remember the Buffalo Bills of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith. Four straight Super Bowls and, well, you know how those games ended.
Winning is a process, one for which too many fans don’t have the patience.
Knicks fans had a team of energetic, talented upstarts. They could have been nurtured and fiddled with to form a contender someday. But fans aren’t interested in the possibilities of tomorrow. They don’t want to endure the tribulations that accompany growing pains, even though that’s half the fun of rooting for a team, of investing so much emotion.
Work in Progress
There’s already a sense of panic among Knicks fans that Anthony isn’t what they thought he was. Why can’t fans sit back and enjoy the process of finding out, though?
Let the players and team develop.
“It’s a process,” Anthony said the other day. “It’s a long process.”
Uh-oh, folks. Wait is a taboo word for sports fans, especially those pulling for these Knicks, who next season will raise season-ticket prices by an average of 49 percent.
The basketball fans of New York want a championship. Unfortunately for the team, Steve Jobs doesn’t have an app for that.
If he did, Anthony himself would wait in that line, where he and his like-minded pals could commiserate about the mindset of having to have it now.
On a personal note, after almost six years opining on the world of sports, this is my last column. I’m staying with Bloomberg News and will report on the business of sports.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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