When the Boston Celtics shredded the New York Knicks last night, I smiled. This was the most one-sided game I'd seen since the Harlem Wizards (the poor man's Globetrotters) came to Indian Head camp and destroyed a team of patsies.
I smiled at the notion that this horrible Knicks team was suffering an awful humiliation. I wanted Boston to put that pedal to the gas, like the New England Patriots do, and run up the score. I wanted to see the Knicks weep, run from the court, and head straight into the witness relocation program.
I rooted for them to suffer because I love them.
It was not always this way. I used to root for them with all of my heart.
In the '90's, the Knicks went through a glorious period. No, they never won a title. But to be a fan of their rock 'em, sock 'em style - well, actually it was more sock 'em and little rock 'em - was to have an emotional bond with a team of overachievers. John Starks was a grocery bagger. Anthony Mason was considered a CBA lifer. Charles Oakley was such a menacing force that he went on to become Michael Jordan's bodyguard of sorts. Pat Riley, later The Rat, was the coach trying to prove he could win without Magic Johnson on his team. Patrick Ewing was the team leader, burdened by being the top pick in the NBA Draft, with the heart of a great player but an offensive game that was not enough to carry a team.
And then there was Charles Smith, and I really can't talk about Charles Smith.
Each playoff series with the Knicks was an exercise in suffering. Because the Knicks had little offense to speak of, their games were wars of attrition. There were few easy wins, virtually no blowouts; nearly each game went down to an ultimately bitter end.
These Knicks played in an era when even Rat Riley acknowledged they were unlucky enough to have to face Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Jordan always won. And after Jordan, the Knicks went to war after war against Miami with the traitor Riley as the Miami coach, and Indiana with Reggie Miller.
When I lived in an apartment here in Los Angeles, my neighbors in the building always knew when it was Knick playoff time, because they would hear shouts from my apartment, guttural screams, as I writhed in agony during each tight game. They left me alone. They thought I was insane.
When I was back in New York, I would watch the games with my Dad, my brothers and my cousins. The history of New York basketball, the proud history of the City Game, did not need to be explained.
The 1970's Knicks were the model for how to play the game. They featured legends: Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, Walt "Clyde" Frazier, Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Dave DeBusschere - people who went on to enormous success in various fields and truly influenced society. And I'm not just talking about Senator Bradley; go see American Gangster and watch when Denzel goes to the Ali-Frazier fight in his fur coat. Who made that the style for men in the '70's? Walt "Clyde" Frazier. Just recently, on a Knicks telecast, there was this exhange between the play by play announcer Mike Breen and Frazier:
Breen said: "Clyde, purple shoes?"
Walt Frazier replied: "Hey, I'm Clyde."
And he's right - he is. He is Clyde, so if he wears it, it's cool. He's a legend. He's a character. The good kind.
Our family - many families - bonded over watching the Knicks. We sat down, or paced, in front of the TV and argued: could Marcus Camby play without getting hurt? Who was enemy number one: the traitor Riley or Reggie Miller? Was Hubert Davis fouled? Well, there was not much of argument on that one; of course he was, just like Larry Johnson was on the four-point play.
When your team is good, you take it for granted. I believed that come every April, May and possibly June, I would be glued to my TV.
Each transaction was monumental. When the Knicks made a trade, it was as if your family added a new cousin. When the playoffs came, all else was cast aside.
But suddenly, it all changed. The Knicks went south in a hurry. Ewing got old. Management changed. James Dolan, the son of the businessman Charles Dolan, took over the ownership role of the team. Isiah Thomas, a character of great charisma but little character, was brought in as General Manager, and now coach. The last few years have been dismal. No, they've been worse than that. The Knicks went from model franchise to the worst in professional sports.
Sexual harassment suits, the highest payroll in the NBA, losing games by nearly 50 points, an assortment of players that no sane person would root for - this is what the Knicks are today.
And then, this: the franchise player, Stephon Marbury, literally left the team because the coach thought he would be more effective coming off the bench, and his ego could not take it. The coach, Isiah, took a vote of the team: when Stephon returns, should I play him? The players overwhelmingly voted no, he should not play. When Stephon returned, he told a reporter that he had information on Isiah that would embarrass Isiah, and that Isiah should not mess with him. Rather than bench Stephon, Isiah played him, even though his teammates had voted against it.
Ah, those are the Knicks now, my New York Knicks. The Knicks have been awful the last few years, yet Dolan just rewarded Isiah with a contract extension. Yes, an extension.
There appears to be no rhyme or reason to the moves that the team is making. Their record stands at a miserable 4-10. There is no reason to suggest that the team will get better.
My Dad does not talk much about the Knicks now. He mostly stopped watching. My cousin Josh blames me for the bad transactions the Knicks have made. My wife recently said to me, "You watch a lot of sports," And I informed her that she has not even known me when the Knicks are a contender. It's been that long - seven years, since the Knicks were worth watching. Dark years of Luc Longley, Allan Houston, Shandon Andersen, Glen Rice, and so many more.
I watch the games on occasion, but only to root against my team.
Because as Michael Ray Richardson, the '80's Knicks point guard, once said, "The ship be sinkin' so fast, the sky's the limit." We have to head deeper in the abyss (or, in Michael Ray's mind, the stratosphere) for the Knicks to turn this around, for the league, run by David Stern, and the incomparably incompetent owner James Dolan to finally stand up and say, "Enough is enough."
I believe I speak for all good Knicks fans when I say, I root for the Knicks. I root for them to lose.
I root for Marbury and Isiah to join Henry Hill and live under pseudonyms in Arizona. I don't want to see Marbury. I don't want to hear Isiah's name. I want them both to go away.
But this situation is not going to have a Bobby Ewing in the shower ending; regreattably, the last few miserable years cannot be written off as a bad dream.
The Knicks used to have a theme song. "Go, New York, Go!"
So now, I root for them to go. Away.