I don’t want to be misleading — the New York Knicks were never my real team. Not my #1 team — that was always the Yankees. Always the Yankees. But for a good long while, the Knicks were in the running to be the sports franchise that mattered second most to me (a high honor, to be sure), along with the Jets, the Montreal Canadiens and the Georgetown Hoyas.
As a fan of both the Knicks and Hoyas, seeing Patrick Ewing fall into the Knicks’ lap in the 1985 draft seemed like sweet serendipity. As a naive nine-year-old who believed in higher powers, I assumed it was meant to be, and that the Knicks would embark on a couple decades of championship runs.
While it didn’t quite work out that way, I enjoyed the hell out of the Ewing-era Knicks. From Rick Pitino’s cocky, fast-paced teams to Pat Riley’s goon squad, I loved them all. I loved Mark Jackson, Gerald Wilkins and Johnny Newman. I loved Charles Oakley, John Starks (for a while, anyway) and Hubert Davis.
Those teams broke my heart every year without fail. The losses to the Bulls, the choke job in the finals against the Rockets, playing the chumps in Reggie Miller’s one-man play…they all killed me. The ’90s Knicks teams always seemed to be on the verge of winning a title, but the breaks never quite went their way, they were never quite talented enough, and they ran up against the best player of all time in his absolute prime.
But these things happen. Franchises rise and fall. With precious few exceptions, teams put together a string of competitive seasons and then fall out of the pack and regroup. Under normal circumstances, I would have no problem sticking it out with the Knicks through a rough patch. I’m a Jets fan, for God’s sake. But the Knicks’ post-Ewing collapse didn’t represent normal circumstances. And I no longer consider myself a Knicks fan.
So how did it happen?
It wasn’t the losing. Losing, I can handle. I was actually well off the Knicks bandwagon before things got really bad. Rather, a confluence of events led me to completely forsake a team I grew up loving — an event I would have thought inconceivable before it actually happened. I believe in sports loyalty, and I believe in not jumping ship during rough times. So why did I break my own rules and bail?
The biggest reason, by far, was:
1) The asshole owner.
I’ve written about James Dolan before, but I don’t think his particular brand of villainy gets enough attention. He’s too often overshadowed by Donald Sterling or those fucks who stole the Sonics from Seattle. Dolan is an oversensitive, insecure, incompetent, egomaniacal fucktard. An enemy of the free press, Dolan’s also the ultimate example of a corporate stooge owner — he’s an entitled frat boy who uses his Daddy’s money to run companies into the ground. I hate him, I hate the way he conducts business, and I swore long ago that I would not be a Knicks fan again until he sells the team.
I always despised Dolan, but turned against him irrevocably during a late-’90s feud between him and Yankees brass that resulted in Yankees games being kept off Cablevision for months. (The same thing happened again in 2003). The bad blood stemmed from Dolan’s brother, owner of the Cleveland Indians, having bad feelings about the Yankees and an attempted Dolan takeover of the Red Sox that didn’t work out. And sorry Knicks, but if I’m forced to take sides between you and the Yankees, you’re losing every single time.
Over time, I just began to find it impossible to support a team that Dolan owned and profited from. I know that might seem odd considering I never had any issue rooting for the Steinbrenner-led Yanks, but Dolan is legions more contemptible than George Steinbrenner ever was. Beginning in the late ’90s, the Knicks’ regime began to treat players, fans and coaches terribly. Ewing’s exit was ungraceful, as was Jeff Van Gundy’s. Both men had given the franchises enough over the years to merit better final acts.
I had already given up the Knicks by the time Isiah was hired — but he was the final nail in the coffin. If I wavered at all about my decision, if I had any pangs of regret, if I missed the Knicks like an ex-smoker misses their morning cigarette, then Isiah made me feel golden for leaving when I did.
The inexplicable choice to hire Thomas to run the teams’ basketball operations offered indisputable proof that I was correct about Dolan: he couldn’t be trusted to make even the most obvious decisions correctly. It’s been famously noted that Thomas has destroyed everything he’s touched since his playing days ended, and no one with any rationality in them thought the Knicks would be any different. While Isiah was the Knicks’ Angel of Death, Dolan was still the one who loosed him upon the world. So really, reason #2 is just a subset of reason #1.
3) The Personnel
Another subset of The Dolan Factor: after Ewing’s departure, the Knicks didn’t have any likable players. Now in and of itself, that’s not a reason for a fan to quit on a team, but it sure as hell makes it easier to stop caring. The Knicks’ roster over the last decade contained players ranging from hate-worthy assholes to untalented milquetoast: Latrell Spreewell, Eddy Curry, Penny Hardaway, Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, etc.
I survived the Yankees’ mid-Aughts period of rostering the likes of Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens, ARod, Tony Womack and other douchebags, but that’s only because my love for the franchise never wavered. Once Dolan caused me to swear off the Knicks, Curry and Hardaway didn’t exactly tempt me to rethink my position.
4) The Declining State of the NBA
(You may want to skip a few paragraphs ahead, David Simon Cowell)
Dolan’s reign of terror coincided perfectly with the my loss of interest in the league as a whole. The decade-plus immediately following Michael Jordan’s retirement caused me to abandon not just my team, but the NBA itself. The NBA in the Aughts was a frothy mix of hateful superstars, boring teams, dull style of play and dreadful officiating.
The Aughts were a blur of Tim Donaghy blending into a Pistons’ championship blending into yet another isolation play for a disinterested Tracy McGrady blending into a Spurs/Nets Finals blending into ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.
I know that the NBA is supposedly experiencing some magical reincarnation because everyone hates LeBron or whatever, but: a) there’s too much emotional distance between me and the league at this point, and b) I don’t really buy it. [For people who complain about baseball’s pace of play, I think the NBA has a little something to add to the conversation. The final 2:16 of Game 1 of the Knicks/Celtics series took 45 hours and 23 minutes in real time. I know; I timed it with a stopwatch. And the bulk of that was devoted to endless timeouts, official reviews, foul shots and commercial breaks. Playoff basketball — catch the fever!]
But this isn’t intended to be an anti-NBA screed (trust me, that’ll come at some point). This is about how it feels to betray your own principles as a sports fan.
I’m not going to lie — it feels fine.
Sure, I miss being a fan of the Knicks back in the day, but I never feel like I’m missing out on anything by not rooting for them now. The Knicks are respectable again, they have interesting players again, but I don’t feel the pull to get involved. [It helps that I’ve always hated Carmelo Anthony, dating back to his days at Syracuse.]
I thought this Knicks/Celtics series would be a pretty big test of my resolve. It’s the Knicks’ first playoff series in years, and they’re playing the franchise I hate the most. So I watched the first two games of the series to see if it would suck me back in, if any residual passion lingered. It didn’t. I guess I’d rather the Knicks won the series, but that’s only because of my loathing for all things Boston. When the Celtics stunned the Knicks with last-minute comebacks in both games, I didn’t feel a thing. I’m numb to the plight of my former team.
For all those Knicks fans that have hung on through the shitstorms and the pathetic losses, I respect them. I feel bad for them. I hope they end up getting some measure of satisfaction. But I’m not one of them anymore. I know that if the Knicks end up winning three straight titles, I won’t get to share in the feelings of joy and redemption.
I’m an ex-Knicks fan, and I feel good about my decision. My life has been better for not caring about this team, run by such a despicable human being.
If the final season of Lost taught me anything (it didn’t), it’s how to let go. Abandoning your sports team is like falling out of love. You may have brief moments of nostalgia at odd points down the road, but you never feel any true regret. Once the feeling’s gone, it’s gone. And there’s no way to get it back. If the glorious day ever comes when Dolan sells, I’ll start rooting for the Knicks again. But it won’t be the same.