By Jason Keidel
The New York Knicks and New York City, in strict sports context, have a marriage of misery. And no fanbase is more jaded and blinded than Knicks fans.
When the Knicks traded for native hero Carmelo Anthony, I asserted it would do nothing to help the club break its wretched streak of ineptitude. I was called all manner of moron. Despite the fact that Melo had never won or even played in the NBA Finals, there was a frothing, unanimous sense that he would somehow morph into something he never had been and lead the Knicks to the land of Clyde and Pearl and Red.
As predicted, the trade has, by any reasonable metric, been a failure.
Fast forward a few years, the Knicks cracked open the vault and shoveled an obscene amount of cash at Phil Jackson to run the club. Jackson had passed on overtures before. Owner James Dolan kept offering more, and Jackson continued to demure. Until the number became laughably large. Thus, Jackson agreed to a five-year, $60 million deal to be team president in March 2014.
Again, yours truly refused to join the premature parade up Canyon of Heroes. As with Carmelo Anthony, there was nothing in Jackson’s history to suggest he could lead a team from the top. The local media and masses kept pointing at Jackson’s 11 championship rings — 13 if you include Jackson’s rings under Red Holzman as a player. Of course, he didn’t win any of those rings while picking the pieces, drafting, signing or trading the players he coached over 20 years. As on the day the team traded for Melo, I promised that the Zen Master would be equally unable to restore the Knicks to their 1973 — or even 1993 — glory.
Again, yours truly was called all manner of moron. Yet if you look at the Knicks wretched record under Jackson, history will speak more truth than any debate. The Knicks lost at least 50 games in each of Jackson’s full three seasons wearing the Big Apple crown, including the worst season (17-65) in club history, which is saying a lot for a team that already suffered through Isiah Thomas.
This was a transparent, shameless money grab by Jackson, whose heart was (and still is) with the Lakers. But once the Buss family didn’t offer Jackson another round roaming the sideline, he simply could not pass up the epic quid the Knicks threw his way.
There were rampant reports of indolence, of Jackson unwilling to travel, to pound the requisite pavement to scout, even of falling asleep during player workouts. By any objective measure, Jackson was hardly a workhorse, and his efforts were not nearly commensurate with his salary or status. Perhaps a biblical failure as president can’t stain his rep as a coach, but this was clearly about cash, not an honest or earnest effort to rebuild the team that molded the basketball man in the 1970s.
One thing everyone outside Madison Square Garden can agree upon is that the Knicks have been rotting for nearly two decades from the head down. And that scalp belongs to James Dolan, the billionaire — well, more accurately, the billionaire’s son — whose ignorance, stubbornness and narcissism has led the Knicks down to the dungeons of NBA history, well below the trains that snake through Penn Station.
Yet fans still flood the Garden, walk up those Penn Station steps into that basketball crucible, where the World’s Most Famous Arena has sadly, but clearly, morphed into the World’s Most Overrated Arena.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.