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Friday, 13 December 2013 13:59

New York Knicks: The Blame Game

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The New York Knicks come to Boston tonight in last place.  And sporting a 40-year title drought.  

What’s wrong with the Knicks? They’re a disgrace.  They’re an embarrassment.  Something must be done.  The NBA needs the New York Knicks! Who’s to blame?!?!

How often has that above phrase been uttered over the last forty, yes four-zero, years by anyone whose voice seemingly matters? A hundred thousand? Half-a-million? A million?

It is amazing that this feeling still seems to resonate.  Much of the general population of those who have even the smallest interest in NBA basketball feel there’s this imperative necessity for the relevance of New York Knicks basketball.

Here’s a reality check: The NBA has never ‘needed’ a good professional basketball team in New York.  During the 1960s, the NBA morphed from a fringe professional sports league that was lucky to even garner an overnight boxscore on the back page of the local sports section to establishing itself as one of the ‘majors,’ albeit a distant one, with a national television contract, steady attendance, and local and national news coverage.  The Knickerbockers were no part of this, as they were a perennial cellar dweller for nearly the entire decade.

The 1980s, considered by many (including this writer), to be the NBA’s “Golden Age” produced just one Knick highlight.  And that was Dave DeBusschere going along with the script and exhaling as the Knicks ‘won’ the 1985 NBA Draft Lottery.

And as the calendar turned to the new millennium, the NBA has exploded into an international cash cow.  The Knicks haven’t done much of their part during this time, winning a grand total of one playoff series since Bill Clinton stepped out of office.

But most ignore this.  They continue to ask what’s wrong; they’ve done so for 40 years, and begin the sexy blame game.  Be it the media, the fans, Knicks ownership – they all want to find someone or someones to point the finger at.

Guess what? They are the ones to blame.  New York, Knicks fans, the New York media, the national media, James Dolan, this whole mantra of immediate satisfaction of New York basketball relevancy – any of these entities all play some sort of role that contribute to the never-ending laughingstock that is New York Knicks basketball.

Each of them shares good chunks of the blame pie.  But how much is the real question.


Local New York Media

The local print media in New York is dominated by the tabloids (most noticeably, the New York Post.)  So naturally, the ‘tabloid mindset’ of reactionary analysis, rumor mongering, and other forms of sensationalism becomes the predominant mindset throughout the rest of the media in New York.

Thus the entire media, be it broadcast or print, mainstream or alternative gets into the act of flagrant arson.  The big picture becomes eradicated, and every Knick loss and every slight form of New York basketball misconduct is treated as it’s some form of historical travesty.  The masses become riled up over this artificial hysteria which is arguably the single reason for the creation of the monster that is the rabidly impatient New York sports fan.

Also, because of tabloids like the New York Post’s influence, and more importantly circulation and outreach, getting on the back page whether it be for good, bad, or no reason at all is just as important as winning basketball games.  Publicity creates intrigue, and directly or indirectly or not, intrigue can create revenue.  Thus, throughout Knicks history, and most certainly in recent years, long-term plans for the franchise have always been compromised due to the need to stay relevant on the holy sacred back pages.

It is hard to overlook this aspect, even though most do.

Final count: 25%


National Media

The national media pretty much piggybacks on the local New York media.  They join in on the grandstanding because yellow journalism sells.  More importantly, it is easy, and quite frankly, lazy, and takes little to no effort or mental strain.  Just let it fly.  Rather than critically think and provide objective and meaningful analysis, they just pound away with the sensationalism.  Seemingly every loss is a ‘disgrace’ and an ‘embarrassment to the city of New York’ (funny how when the Charlotte Bobcats get blown out to some subpar team, their play doesn’t become some affront to the city of Charlotte like it is with the Knicks and New York.)

Quick caveat: By the way, doesn’t the national media’s constant attention to the Knicks even when they are a run-of-the-mill NBA team prove that the world doesn’t ‘need’ the Knicks to be successful? They get coverage anyways.  In fact, many seem to revel in it more when they lose than when they are winning.


Final count: 4.9%


New York

One would think New York being the capital of the world would be of great benefit to the New York Knicks franchise.  In recent years however, that has proven not to be the case.

New York always seems to be on every pending free agent/disgruntled-star-under-contract’s wish list.  According to ‘sources’ of course.

Because of this, over the last few big class free agency cycles, the Knicks have began banking on bringing in an elite free agent to elevate their franchise back to a championship contender – even if it means sacrificing seasons (yes, plural) to do so.  They did this in the lead-up to 2010 (when all they came away with was Amare Stoudemire), and now it looks as if they’re already googly-eyed for Kevin Love all the way down the line in 2015.

Generally, the great players never reach free agency.  Only two game-changers have ever changed teams in the free agency era (LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal, and three if you count Steve Nash.)  The Knicks never came close to either of them.  In the entire history of the Knicks franchise, their greatest summer splurge occurred back in the mid-1990s, when the Knicks brought in Allan Houston, Chris Childs, and Larry Johnson.  And the best the Knicks have done when it has come to acquiring a disgruntled star through trade has been Latrell Sprewell and then later, Carmelo Anthony, with a whole big mess that includes Stephon Marbury, Penny Hardaway, Steve Francis, Zach Randolph, and others in between.

Building your team through securing so-called star players should be an option if the opportunity presents itself.  Repeat: if the opportunity presents itself.  It shouldn’t be the be-all-end-all.  Because ‘hoping’ something happens is not a plan.  As has been proven, once the Knicks whiff (and they’ve done so at seemingly a 100% clip), they panic to appease their fans after spending previous years filling their minds with fairy tales and other fantasies. They then turn to the dreaded Plan B – which has proven to be deadly over the last 15 years.

More of the blame should go to ownership and management on this (and it will, more on that later) – but this has actually been a trend for quite a few of the New York teams.  It isn’t just the Knicks (ok, fair enough, it’s Dolan’s Rangers too.)  So, yes, New York, you’re a bit at fault for that sham of a professional basketball organization.

Final count: 10%


Sponsors/Corporate Interests

Every organization in sports has sponsors that they’d like to keep happy to generate more revenue for the franchise.  The better and more visible the team is, the more sponsors are willing to pay.  I’m not sure how much influence the Knicks’ sponsors have on certain personnel decisions that affect their team on the court.  I just used this space to put even the slightest blame on Corporate America – which I always like doing.

Final count: 0.1%


James Dolan

James Dolan is regarded as the face of the Knicks failure.  And for good reason: he’s the triggerman.  It is his team, therefore it is his mess.

Dolan is the one who gets caught up in the New York hype machine and artificial hysteria as much as anyone, and falls for it hook, line, and sinker.  Thus the organization almost never puts together a feasible blueprint for constructing a team that can sustain winning for an extended course of time.

Perhaps Dolan (with both his Knicks and Rangers) and certain other owners of professional sports franchises in New York should look at how Gene Michael built the last great Yankee dynasty during the early 1990s when George Steinbrenner was banned from baseball at the time.  Without a meddling owner, Michael turned a deaf ear to all the racket and calmly put together a team that would become the greatest dynasty professional sports has seen in post-Cold War America.

We forget the other surrounding abstract and concrete factors that contribute to the culture that is in and around the Knicks organization.  However, James Dolan is certainly hard to ignore.  But could there be another major entity?

Final count: 30%


The Fans

What about these freakin’ guys, huh?

Why do they get credit for being such good fans? Because they continue to keep feeding the beast with their wallets?

Newsflash: Spending money on tickets and merchandise of your favorite team, particularly when they stink, doesn’t make you a ‘good fan.’  It makes you…well…just another American because as we know, people love spending money on worthless steaming crappola in this country.  Besides, what the hell does being a ‘good fan’ get you in life anyways? A continually crummy product that turns a profit every year at your expense?

At the end of the day, the people control their own destiny.  But they keep buying the tickets.  They keep buying merchandise.  They keep having their gears spun by talking heads and knights of the keyboard.  They continue to get bamboozled by dream scenarios of the Knicks one-day fielding a super team.

Thus, the never-ending cycle for the New York Knicks continues.

And it won’t change…until they change.

Final count: 30%

Larry H. Russell

Larry H. Russell is the Executive Producer of CLNS Radio.  Most noted as the Voice of Celtics Beat and Celtics Pre-Game, LHR has served many roles within CLNS since joining the network in 2011. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed Fall of the Boston Celtics: How Bad Luck, Bad Decisions Brought the Mighty Celtics Empire to Its Knees and Ushered in the Dark Ages which was released in 2014 as well as the director of the film Paul Pierce: The Best Pure Scorer in Celtics History.

LHR is a graduate of Emerson College and currently resides in Brookline.  He can be reached by e-mail at LHRussell@clnsradio.com or on Twitter @CLNS_LHR