Friday, November 20, 2009

New York Knicks: Fading Dreams? [J. Mark English

This week the Knickerbockers had the opportunity to sign Allen Iverson, and add at least a little moxy to an otherwise futile squad. As they flounder in despair, waiting in earnest for next summers free agent jamboree, some writers offer up thoughts about why Knicks dreams of what may be, may not be:

Mike Lupica of the Daily News:

It doesn't matter in the end whether it was James L. Dolan who didn't want Allen Iverson, or Donnie Walsh, or Mike D'Antoni. Knicks fans wanted Iverson. But they don't matter and haven't for a long time.

When it was reported in the last 24 hours that the Knicks were backing away from Iverson, I got a call from my friend Brian Koppelman, who has been a Knicks' season ticketholder for 21 years, who sits a few rows behind where the great Red Holzman used to sit with his wife after he retired from coaching.

Koppeman's son is 14 now and so was too young to really enjoy the last time the Knicks were relevant in New York or in pro basketball, back when they were a hot ticket in the decade before this one. His son was four when the Knicks made the NBA Finals in 1999, coming from the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference to do that. Even the next year, the spring of 2000 they still had enough, even with half the team hurt, to make it all the way to Game 6 against the Pacers in the conference finals before Reggie Miller scored 17 in the fourth quarter and got them again.

So Brian Koppelman's son has really only known, and seen, what everybody has known about the Knicks and seen from them for a decade: The worst team in the league. One now completely unwatchable. And more irrelevant than it has ever been. The New York Expiring Contracts.

"If they sign Iverson," Koppelman said over the phone yesterday, "and he plays against the Celtics (at the Garden on Sunday afternoon), then we stand and cheer when he takes the floor. It would have been a moment for Knicks fans to get up on their feet for the Knicks this season, not for a player like LeBron on the other team."

Koppelman said, "There is no moment like it that I can foresee for us over the rest of the season."

There have been all the lines and jokes about how Iverson has been known as The Answer, and how one 34-year old gunner, past his prime, could not possibly be The Answer for these Knicks, not this season. But you know what? He would have made them a better ticket.

Iverson wouldn't have made it worth the money Knicks fans who still go and watch and care are paying, but he would have made them better than Chris Duhon or Toney Douglas.

Jeff Neuman of Real Clear Sports:

Wake up and smell the powder, New York. LeBron's not coming.

It's hard to blame Knicks fans for clinging to hope. The most sophisticated basketball clientele in America has been saddled with a team that's richly embarrassing. The toxic remnants from the Isiah era remain in the form of mismatched players, empty seats, and the stench that comes with a 2-10 record.

Donnie Walsh has performed a miracle in clearing enough cap space to have room for a big free agent in the coming offseason. Mike D'Antoni coaches a style players love, one that lets them run the floor and make plays without looking to the puppet-master on the sidelines.

Doesn't matter. LeBron's not coming.

Why would he? As much as any superstar we've ever seen, he understands that it's a team game, and he always has. He has nothing to prove individually; it's about winning championships.

Add LeBron to the Knicks, and you're still three years away from being any good. He'd make them respectable, but why would he take such a great leap backwards? From a basketball standpoint, the move makes no sense.

But what about the dollars? He'd be coming to New York! The Big Apple! The World's Most Famous Arena! Think of all the off-court benefits that flow from being a big star in The Big City.

The notion that playing in New York has any significant effect on an athlete's value is an utter myth. It's a holdover from the "Mad Men" era, a relic from the days when you only saw endorsement opportunities if your name was Gifford or Mantle or Namath.

To begin with, how many more commercials does LeBron have time for? It's not as though he's underexposed. If he wants to release his own songs, make a movie, put his name on a fragrance or design a line of nonstick cookware, he can do it tomorrow without setting foot outside Ohio. He's at that level of fame where the world comes to him. (Have you even noticed that his last name hasn't appeared in this column yet?)

Playing in Chicago didn't exactly limit Michael Jordan's income. Indianapolis hasn't prevented Peyton Manning from appearing in more commercials than the ShamWow! guy. Nolan Ryan and Cal Ripken became endorsement juggernauts from their bases in Texas and Baltimore respectively. Tom Brady met Gisele B√ľndchen despite the handicap of being in New England. Brett Favre did okay playing in the smallest market in sports. (His one season in New York only hurt his reputation.)

Who exactly has reaped the rewards of New York exposure? I don't recall Patrick Ewing getting a lot of endorsements. Mariano Rivera is considered the greatest closer ever, featured in loving closeup for dozens of hours of postseason television. What's it given him in off-field opportunities? Jason Giambi, C.C. Sabathia, even Alex Rodriguez - they came to New York, and didn't exactly set business hearts a-flutter.

Labels: , , , , , ,