At Knicks media day, before the 2010-11 season, I had the pleasure of meeting Ronny Turiaf. Now, that sounds like a trite figure of speech, but I mean it quite literally. The guy has an infectious personality; you can’t help but like him the second you meet.
At one point, the assembled media asked Turiaf what he believed his role would be with the team. And I’ll never forget his response:
“To bring joy.”
Of course, Turiaf wasn’t long for the Knicks. Because Madison Square Garden exists to remove all joy from basketball.
The latest example is the apparent decision not to match Houston’s “ridiculous” free agent offer to Jeremy Lin.
Granted… it’s a lot of money. And there’s no guarantee that Lin will be worth $15 million-plus-luxury-tax in the third year of the deal. And with Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni in the fold, the Knicks might not need Lin this year. And it’s far from clear if Lin is the right sort of point guard to make sense of an offense built around Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
(Of course, it’s also far from clear if John Stockton, Magic Johnson or Bob freakin’ Cousy would be able to make STAT and Melo place nicely together.)
On the other hand, Lin is a great story. The ultimate underdog, a nerdy Asian kid from an Ivy League school. The underdog who only wound up on the team because the Knicks were short a point guard and in California, who stepped up to save the season when Toney Douglas and Baron Davis couldn’t deliver. There are holes in his game. He doesn’t go to his left well. His jumper needs some work. He got exposed by some of the league’s better guards.
But he’s incredibly easy to root for.
Can’t say the same of the rest of the Knicks. Amar’e Stoudemire poisoned the well with a whole lot of sulking an an assault on a fire extinguisher. Carmelo Anthony comes off as incredibly selfish, on and off the court. Kidd celebrated his new contract by wrapping his car around a telephone while ‘faced. Felton killed the Blazers last season by showing up to work out of shape, getting Nate McMillan fired in the process.
Does that matter? It might. Rooting for the Yankees is like cheering for a corporation, but fans can cling to the home-grown players – from Derek Jeter to Mariano Rivera to Robinson Cano – at the core of the team’s success. Eli Manning’s “aw-shucks” personality and big-game success have completely erased our collective memory of him pouting his way out of San Diego and made him a New York folk hero. Rex Ryan appeals to our brash, loud-mouth “I’m walkin’ here” side, Tim Tebow to our conservative, church-going peers. The Mets are classic underdogs, sticking in the pennant race despite their small payroll. And Deron Williams and the Brooklyn Nets are the new, cool thing.
The Knicks, on the other hand, have loyalty. Loyalty that Madison Square Garden seems determined to test as often as possible.
Will Knick fans get over it? Probably, yes. Eventually. We got over Howard Eisley and Shandon Anderson, and Mo Taylor and Antonio McDyess. And our therapist says we’re even mentioning the names “Stephon,” “Isiah” and “Frederic” a lot less often these days. If the team wins, we’ll (mostly) forget about today’s decision. Just like we’ve (mostly) blocked out Charles Smith’s blown layup and John Starks’ off night and Reggie Miller’s late-game heroics.
Winning makes everything better. But the next-best thing to a win is a great story. And now, it seems, that story belongs to the Houston Rockets.