For decades, MSG has been branded the “World’s Most Famous Arena.” And for decades, that was true. But despite the billion-dollar botox MSG just got, the new skin can’t hide the mangled organs inside the building. It is now the World’s Most Overrated Arena, with the Knicks beaming from the somber marquee.
Despite all the promises and promulgations, the chest-out machismo of native New Yorkers, there’s nothing to smile about from New York’s local basketball club. It’s been 43 years since the Knicks won an NBA title. Yet the natives beam over the team as if it were the Boston Celtics, the New York Yankees or the New England Patriots.
Even with the wretched history, the media and masses still see the Knicks through a warped prism of unlimited success. Indeed, when Carmelo Anthony was traded to New York, only two local writers denounced the deal the day it happened – Peter Vecsey and yours truly. Of course, I was called all manner of moron. (I’m still waiting for the trolls and haters to apologize.)
Carmelo Anthony, a sublime scorer, is surely gifted. But he does nothing to make a team a title contender. For all his skills, he has not been — and will never be — the best player on an NBA championship team. Yet the Anthony apologists still dream of that day when the native New Yorker (who was really raised in Baltimore) leads that parade up the Canyon of Heroes.
So forgive those of us who question the Knicks’ latest epic trade, highlighted by the acquisition of Derrick Rose.
First, let’s say that Rose is everything you’d want in an athlete. He’s hungry yet humble. He’s the hardest worker in any room, making noise with his mouth rather than his limbs. He accepts personal awards with wincing gratitude. He’s always first to deflect the gains and the glory to his teammates. If you’re building a team with character, you couldn’t find a better emblem than Rose.
So there must be a reason the Chicago Bulls traded not only their most decorated player, former NBA MVP and all-around swell guy, but also a Chicago native.
Indeed, there is. Rose is a walking triage, his silhouette fitted flawlessly for the old board game “Operation.” He snaps a tendon just thinking about switching teams. The man hasn’t played 30 minutes in 10 straight games in five years. His medical history reads like an AMA handbook.
The jaded masses assert that this is a brilliant move, that Phil Jackson surely knows what he’s doing. (Because his first two years have been so glittering!)
“Look at all the cap room we clear when his contract expires,” they say. Makes you wonder why the Knicks paid the Zen Master $60 million to clear cap space. Perhaps it was to carve out just enough room to pay his $12 million yearly salary.
Even to the local Pollyanna, Jackson’s tenure has been a disaster. He hired a young, inexperienced coach in Derek Fisher to run a young, inexperienced team, and then wondered why it failed. After firing Fisher, he reached deep into the recycle bin and plucked Kurt Rambis, who has a vulgar winning percentage and did no better than Fisher.
And, as surreal as it sounds, Jackson very much wanted to bring Rambis back. The only reason he didn’t is Jackson knew the public, and perhaps his owner, wouldn’t tolerate it. So he hired another unproven coach, Jeff Hornacek, whose record hovers perilously around .500.
Actually, there was one fine coach Jackson courted. Acutely aware of the dumpster fire the Knicks have been for 15 years, Steve Kerr spurned Broadway for Oakland. Turned out pretty well for Jackson’s former shooting guard.
And, of course, there was the brilliance of giving Melo a no-trade clause; he’s the only active NBA player without a championship ring who has one. For his part, Anthony has been a company man, playing hard and toeing the line. He just doesn’t have the game to tame LeBron James or any other high-orbit star who plays basketball in June.
So the Knicks decide the best way to capitalize on Melo’s golden years is to pair him up with a star whose best years are also behind him, for entirely different reasons. Let’s hope this doesn’t restrict the progress of Kristaps Porzingis, the one fine pick Jackson has made in his two years in New York.
Then there’s all this static about The Triangle, the hardwood equivalent of the Manhattan Project. The problem is that the Knicks just don’t have the right people/players/coaches to run this scheme. Maybe the Triangle, like anything on the court, works best when you have Michael and Scottie, or Shaq and Kobe.
Jackson’s first year was the worst in Knicks history, which is saying a lot. It takes a special brand of ineptitude to go 17-65, which was their mark during Jackson’s maiden season. Then they went 32-50, and people are honestly praising the progress.
You have to feel slightly sorry for Derrick Rose, at least as much as you can for someone who’s banked $100 million before his 30th birthday. The world was once a sprawling hardwood, a giant fast-break toward immortality.
Derrick Rose was the point guard nonpareil before Stephen Curry became the little man du jour. He could dart to the rim with a dizzying first step and a power forward’s finish. He had the hardwood hardihood for the white-hot intensity of the playoffs. He was the native son on native soil who could make Chicago’s patron saint — Michael Jordan — very proud.
Then his brittle limbs failed him.
Derrick Rose in New York so clearly won’t work for so many reasons, including…
1) He can’t play like he once did.
2) The Knicks employ him.
3) Jim Dolan owns the team.
Derrick Rose doesn’t deserve this. And the Knicks sure don’t deserve Derrick Rose.
New York City, the ancestral home of basketball, has become the graveyard for basketball dreams, a player’s purgatory, some rung in Dante’s Divine Comedy. But the locals, pundits and press are gleefully chatting about the Knicks again. And maybe worse than losing is being forgotten.
Of course how can we forget the Knicks when they’ve been so unforgettably bad for 43 years?
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.