New York State of Mind
“Time to start a revolution, catch a body, head for Houston…” - Nas
It looks like a weight has been lifted from their shoulders. This excitement and hope doesn’t feel right, history has taught us to expect that a crushing dose of reality lurks right around the corner.
It’s hard not to err on the side of caution as whenever a glimmer of light emerges where the New York Knicks are concerned, you can traditionally bank on that being short lived. Darkness has reigned for some time now in Gotham yet this time it feels different.
Playing in the Mecca with the eyes of the most notoriously volatile press in the sporting world watching their every move on a daily basis brings pressure in itself yet a carefree exuberance emits from the players in the way they carry themselves right now. This isn’t backwoods Kentucky, this is New York City and it doesn’t matter if you’re a #1 Draft Pick or a veteran from Croatia picked up on a 10 day contract, you better lace up and give it your all. Expectations may waiver but standards will not.
Watching that 28-0 run a couple of nights back against a Toronto team that handed us our worst loss of the season to date and are expected to be in contention for the Eastern Conference Championships seemed unimaginable two months ago.
The likes of Tim Hardaway Jr are stepping up big time; the burden of his contract secured in the summer seemed to be looming over him in early season as he endured shooting struggles but as with any good shooter you have to let them shoot their shot and play their way out of that slump. His form right now has seen him out perform expectations as he embraces his role as a key part in this fledgling group.
There’s an evident togetherness transcending from the locker room, a Band of Brothers mentality brought about by bringing in guys like Enes Kanter, as far as perfect fits for New York go, he’s up there, I mean he’s wanted by the Turkish Government for his outspoken views on the ruling party of his home nation. He’s embraced the City and they in turn have embraced him. First on scene when LeBron James tried to intimidate rookie Frank Ntilikina in MSG last week Kanter made his feelings clear to the press after the game: "He's a rookie. You call yourself 'King' or whatever. But you can't just mess with a rookie like that. If you're going to mess with [someone], go mess with the grown men. I'll die for my teammates. Whatever happens, I got my teammates' back because I see this team, this organization, like my family. Nobody is going to mess with it.".
That is music to a Knicks fan’s ears. New Yorkers want their teams to play with an edge, with a middle finger raised, never back down attitude that has been missing from the Garden since the turn of the century when Ewing, Sprewell and Oakley manned the court, a squad that gave us Chris Childs throwing hands at a then 21 year old NBA starlet Kobe Bryant in April 2000. Nothing gets the Garden going more than when the squad care as much as the fans.
2016/17 was more Shakespearean ‘Melo-drama’ than professional sports and whilst it feels an eternity ago the bitter memories linger in the hopes and expectations of the fan base – gone is Phil Jackson, the aging King and antagonist of the franchise, he who enjoyed the absolute power bestowed upon him and did not respond well to being challenged. An authority who wished to maintain the power of a King while unburdening himself of any responsibility. Departed also is his adversary – franchise player Carmelo Anthony, the handsome and intelligent sensitive soul trapped in a feud he wanted no part of, ushered away in a late September trade to Oklahoma City and with it the tug of war that had too long cast shadow over Midtown Manhattan had reached its conclusion.
Opinions on the feud between the pair were passionately varied; allegiances laid out and showcased throughout the year including comments made to the press from Anthony’s core group of friends, LeBron James in particular taking umbrage to a comment made by Jackson regarding James’ close knit circle deeming there were racial undertones to it. Of all the scenes on show there were none more intriguing than the future of the Knicks franchise, Kristaps Porzingis, defiantly skipping his exit interview with Jackson at season’s end. Fed up with the childish, ego driven nonsense and the treatment towards his friend and mentor, the Latvian prodigy at 21 years of age having the conviction to stand up to a man decorated in the game like few others only served to endear him furthermore to the New York masses.
We must thank Jackson for Porzingis and Ntilikina when everyone else questioned the judgement of those picks but the unnecessary drama that he brought in addition to a glaring number of other questionable decisions won’t be missed.
Concerns were raised when Jackson’s replacement Steve Mills made some early moves in terms of timing of the Melo trade, about the quality of the pieces gained in return for forcing a prized asset out the door but credit where it’s due – he stood by his convictions firmly in the belief these moves were for the greater good. Time will tell how right he is but ultimately everything will be judged by the quality of the product on the floor on game nights and right now this ramshackle supporting cast assembled to support the franchise’s new star – “The Unicorn” Kristaps Porzingis looks pretty damn good as The Knicks sit 5th in the Eastern Conference ranking fifth in the league in Offensive Efficiency.
On November 5 the man known as ‘PorzinGOD’ summed up his feelings after a 40 point display against Indiana "I just think we're playing with a New York mentality".
Expectations may need to be tempered as the season progresses but to look back to how we felt after a pre-season in which the team went 0-5 including 2 losses to a Brooklyn squad that were expected to be the Knick’s sparring partner’s duking it out near the bottom of the Eastern Conference come April, it’s astonishing really.
Right now though… I’m excited. This is the best I’ve felt about a group of players heading in the right direction for many, many years. And keep that attitude coming; make the Garden a fortress again. When the league’s best player has to elevate his game to a career noteworthy performance to scrape a win and then feels the need to boast about it on social media afterwards proclaiming himself as “The King of New York” then we know we’re doing something right.