Over the past 8 days, a pro sports team with a near-.500 record won one game, lost one game, won another game, and lost another game. Each one of these events was very big sports news, even though you could have gotten the same basic result by flipping a coin.
The team is the New York Knicks, however, and those four games are what they’ve played since getting
from the Denver Nuggets, so it is all big news. The Knicks
; the Knicks are a joke! The Knicks
; the Knicks are back!
Back to where? The Knicks hold a strange place in sports culture: inescapable, yet irrelevant. The Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees made people hate them by being overexposed, bullying winners. The Knicks have made people hate them through overexposure alone. They are covered as if they were the Pittsburgh Steelers of basketball, when they are really the
: a franchise that hasn’t won a
since the Nixon administration.
But the NBA is headquartered in New York;
is the league’s symbolic center. So the Knicks are treated as a flagship franchise, even when the flagship is a leaky rowboat with a
This makes resenting the Knicks a tricky and often self-defeating thing. If the Knicks are lousy, they won’t sink into quiet obscurity, like the
. The worse they play, the more irritating the gap between how much attention they get and how much attention they deserve.
Carmelo Anthony’s arrival, then, is good news for Knicks fans, but it might be better news for Knicks haters. With his trade-package companion Chauncey Billups and the $100 million free-agent acquisition Amar’e Stoudemire, Anthony gives the team something to put on the marquee: three big-name scorers, none of whom is especially likely to keep the other team’s scorers from also scoring. You don’t have to like the Knicks to find this preferable to the plodding
they used to put out on the floor, back in their last semi-golden age.
The debate about whether the Anthony trade makes the Knicks into Championship Material is mercifully beside the point. If Knicks fans cared about championship basketball, they’d have given up decades ago (yes, they’ve been to the Finals; no, only in Brent Musburger’s brain did they have a chance of winning). Really, all the fans want is to have something to talk about, and to feel that when they go to the Garden, there’s a decent chance that the home team will win, and a plausible chance that the home team’s star player might drop 40 or 50 points.
And all non-fans can really hope for is that the Knicks won’t be boring when they keep showing up on TV. So far, everybody wins. Even the Cavs.