I am a Knicks fan.
Since the Knicks refused to match Jeremy Lin’s offer sheet I’ve been in a funk. I’ve been light-headed, cranky, and fatigued. Everything has seemed just a little bit off, just a little wrong. Nothing seems to bring me the same joy it did before. I’ll eventually finish mourning and move on, and it’s completely stupid to care this much about a sports team in the first place, but the simple reality is that I do care this much, I’m crushed, and I don’t know if things can ever be the same between me and my team.
Being a fan is a weird experience in the first place .
Fan is short for fanatic which we definitely are. We’re conscripted into fandom at an early age and taught to love our team with all our heart, even as we see our favorite players let go, traded, or fade into old age. We scour the internet looking for stats and analysis and posting our own. We watch people talk about sports on TV and listen to them talk about sports on the radio. And as if that isn’t enough the only people still reading newspapers are those reading the sports section.
All that time, effort, and devotion so grown men can earn millions of dollars playing a ballgame.
Still, fandom has its rewards. We get a community to be a part of and something to talk about when put in awkward situations where we have nothing in common with the other person. We also get the spectacle, we get to see amazing feats and take pride in them. We get the ecstasy of victory (especially when in the crowd). We get to experience the divine.
I’m an atheist, but even I’ve felt the presence of god while high-fiving strangers after a last second three.
Being a Knicks fan is even weirder than all that because on balance it causes way more pain than would be acceptable in a healthy relationship. I’ve been stuck in this abusive relationship for over 20 years and for the first time I see it for what it is, but it’s too late to get out.
As I said, they got me young. My dad took me to my first Knicks game when I was 3 years old. He took me again when I was 5 and I was hooked, completely head over heels in love. Some time shortly after he started getting season tickets. We didn’t go to many games (we split the tickets with someone else and sold off most of them anyway), but we went to enough. We went to a lot of the big matchups: The Bulls, the Pacers, etc. I got to see the lowest lows (Reggie Miller’s eight points in … I can’t even finish the sentence, but you know what happened) and I got to see the highest highs (LJ’s 4-point play).
My love was so great, I truly believed that Patrick Ewing was the greatest player in the league. I didn’t understand why people thought this Michael Jordan fellow was the best. Couldn’t they see he was clearly inferior and to top it all off evil? I had a wall in my room dedicated to sports fandom that I creatively named my “Sports Wall” which really meant that it was a basketball wall which really meant it was a Knicks wall. I learned to words to every version of “Go NY Go NY Go” and kept every towel I ever got at a Knicks game. I carried a stuffed Patrick Ewing with me everywhere I went until the age of 12. My Bar Mitzvah theme was the NBA (with the dais being the Knicks, of course). I actually cried with joy when I first heard we hired Isaiah Thomas because it meant Scott Layden was fired. It’s safe to say I had no idea what the future held.
This has been a long term love affair that’s had a lot more downs than ups. So why is Jeremy Lin the point at which I’m beginning to crack? Well, there’s a few reasons for that.
One is, we’ve spent 20 years looking for our starting PG. We’ve had some decent guys hold down the fort at the one, but we haven’t had anyone truly capable of running an offense since Marc Jackson and we just threw away our best shot at finding someone to fill that hole for nothing. It’s like when the Dolphins passed on Drew Brees only worse because they never had Brees to begin with. Instead of having the point guard of the future, we have Raymond Felton who would probably be quite nice as a backup, but will leave us still looking for a point guard as our starter.
Secondly, we didn’t just look a gift horse in the mouth, we punched that gift horse in the mouth, then water-boarded it and electrified its testicles. It takes a lot of luck for any team to win a championship in any sport. Every championship team in history has had a few breaks go their way. This is one thing that has not been the Knicks strong suit regardless of owner. Other than the 1999 playoffs run (which, ended in failure btw), Jeremy Lin was the only truly lucky thing to happen to the Knicks in my lifetime. A PG just fell into our laps out of nowhere (just what we needed!) and we decide to show him the door.
Third, we’ve somehow gotten rid of all our youth (a common theme of the Knicks over the years) for ancient big name players. Mike Woodson, the Knicks coach, recently stated that veteran teams win championships. This is true! That’s why a certain amount of trading out youth for older players made sense! I loved Jorts, but Marcus Camby gives us a much better quality of depth. I was excited for the team we were becoming. A solid experienced team with a lot of talent, some veteran depth, and some really promising youth. It creates a nice balance and you need young players to take on minutes since 40-year-olds typically can’t handle a full NBA workload. You also need young players because they can start to take over as the older players start to fade.
Hey, everyone! Remember when the Celtics became a veteran team and won a championship, but then there core started getting too old and deteriorating fast? And then remember how they stayed relevant and stayed contenders because their young point guard started to take over and lead the team? Wow, that sure would be nice.
Fourth, Jeremy Lin is young, talented, exciting, and extremely marketable. If you’re going to lose a player like that it’d sure be nice to get something in return. If we had actual adults and professionals running this team they would at the very least have signed him to trade at a later date. I’m not sure of the CBA rules governing when a matched player can be traded, but Jeremy Lin would have been a very attractive trade asset if they were so determined to get rid of him. And since we can’t add any players over the next 3 years anyway because we’re over the cap, it might be nice to at least get a draft pick out of jettisoning our promising 23-year-old starting quality point guard who saved our season last year.
Those are all brutal enough reasons and they’re only a few of the many why I hate that the Knicks didn’t match Lin’s offer sheet, but those are more or less par for the course as a Knicks fan. There are really two reasons that make this hurt a special type of hurt.
1) I was looking forward to watching and rooting for Lin for the rest of his career.
Linsanity was pure magic. It made people love basketball in way they haven’t in a long time, especially Knicks fans. It was incredible. We built a special connection with him as player. The night he dropped 38 on Kobe MSG rocked in a way it hadn’t since the aforementioned 4-point play. And this was a regular season game. I didn’t expect that pace to continue, but even when he regressed he was still magnetic on the court, watching him bounce off larger players like a pinball as he puts up a floater that seems more like a prayer than a shot yet against all reason goes in.
He was the best sports story of the year and he was ours. It was all organic. We gave him 6,000 nicknames, but my favorite came from Mike Breen: The Hero from Harvard. It sounds like one of the 6,000 nicknames people gave another New York sports legend: Babe Ruth. The Hero from Harvard sounds like an old timey newspaper nickname like Sultan of Swat. I remember telling my dad I hoped it would stick and a few years from now they’d start using it when announcing him for the starting lineup at MSG.
I was allowed to dream of long-term success for the Knicks. That Jeremy Lin would be the stalwart, here for his entire career, ushering in new teams and new players. Even if he’d never be as good, that he’d be for us, what Steve Nash has been for Phoenix. According to his interview with Sports Illustrated, it seems Jeremy thought so too:
I love the New York fans to death. That’s the biggest reason why I wanted to return to New York. The way they embraced me, the way they supported us this past season, was better than anything I’ve ever seen or experienced. I’ll go to my grave saying that. What New York did for me was unbelievable. I wanted to play in front of those fans for the rest of my career.
I was guaranteed joy for years into the future. How often does that happen in life? Never. And James Dolan took that for me.
2) James Dolan is a stupid, spoiled, thin-skinned, petty, petulant child and he’s never going away
Look, I’ve known James Dolan is a terrible owner for years. I’ve hated him for as long as I’ve known who he is. But this is the first time it dawned on me how truly hopeless he is and that he’s never going away.
During the Layden and Isaiah eras things were horrific and we were the laughingstock of the league, but a lot of the hate was focused on the GMs. “Hey, at least Dolan is willing to dole out money. And if anything his problem is that he’s just too loyal. Loyalty’s a good thing! He’s just loyal to the wrong people. He’s stupid, but if we got the right people in there he’d be ok,” was a common thought. And there was always the delirious hope he might sell the team.
Then the era of Isaiah was over and things started to move in the right direction. We were patient and things slowly got better. Donnie Walsh was a saint, even if he made some terrible mistakes. Overall things were still bumpy, there was still secrecy and controversy over everything. But none of it seemed as bad.
Finally things were working out for us. Even with the bumpiness and bad luck, things were moving forward and Dolan hadn’t done anything tremendously stupid. We still hated him, but at least there was hope that his stupidity and failure could be mitigated by having smart people in the room.
When the New York Knicks decided not to match Jeremy Lin’s offer sheet we learned that Dolan’s smallness will always reign supreme in this organization.
It wasn’t just that they declined to match, but why they declined and everything surrounding it. Essentially they declined to match because Dolan was butthurt by the fact that Jeremy renegotiated his previously reported offer sheet to get $6 million more dollars in the third year.
That’s right. A professional basketball organization decided to shoot itself in the foot because the owner felt sad that the player that was their future was able to get $6 million more dollars for himself. Mind you, it’s not because of the money itself. As I’ve already said, Dolan can dole out the money. In fact, Dolan is giving up money by not matching Jeremy Lin. He’s already lost more money from MSG’s stock crash following the decision than he would have paid for Lin’s entire contract. And that’s not counting all he stood to make from keeping the bottomless pit of profitability that is Jeremy Lin. If Scrooge McDuck ever met Jeremy Lin, he’d try to dive into him.
James Dolan made a decision that hurts the team in terms of basketball AND finances because he felt betrayed by a player renegotiating his contract after telling said player to go test his market value and knowing that teams were offering players poison pill contracts (See: Fields, Landry) to discourage teams from resigning their players. He is willing to sacrifice his team’s talent and his personal wealth in order to “settle the score” with a player over a re-negotiation.
Never mind that the other half of that re-negotiation was Daryl Morey, Houston’s GM, and matching Lin’s contract would super screw him over since he has no other point guards on the roster and there aren’t any of any worth left on the market (poor Johnny Flynn), just take a moment to reflect how monumentally childish and moronic it is to give up an endless supply of money and the best available option to run the point for your basketball team that can’t afford to add players for the next three years because you’re a little upset.
It is beyond comprehension that a human being can function that way. How has Cablevision’s stockholders not forced him out by now? Is there any sort of law where we can remove him as owner of the Knicks because of malpractice?
This to me, is beyond the pale. This is the single worst example of decision making I’ve seen from Dolan in his stint as owner, maybe even the worst example of decision making I’ve seen from a supposedly rational life-form. I can’t take it. And for the first time it’s 100% clear to me that he’s never going to sell, which means I have the rest of his life to look forward to this type of leadership. Why give up his fiefdom where he can sort out tiny perceived slights with the classlessness and anger he believes the deserve?
What James Dolan has really taken from me with this move is the most precious thing of all, the thing that keeps us going, as fans through heartbreaking losses and deals gone wrong. He’s taken my hope.