The Knicks Are Not Sacred, Jeremy Lin Was Never A Savior, And It's All Okay

Mar. 20, 2012; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin (17) drives to the basket as Toronto Raptors point guard Jerryd Bayless (5) gives chase during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Knicks won 106-87. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

Jeremy Lin may be leaving the Knicks this week, and as chaos engulfs Madison Square Garden one more time, it's a good excuse to clarify just who we're talking about here.

To recap: On July 5, Jeremy Lin and the Rockets reportedly agreed to terms on a contract that would pay the restricted free agent $31 million over four years. Because he's restricted, the Knicks could match any contract he signed and still keep him, and reportedly planned to match any deal "up to 1 billion dollars."

Fast forward ten days now. The Rockets re-structured the Lin deal at the last minute, overloading the third year of the deal with $14.8 million in salary--a provision that would put the Knicks payroll at around $90 million if they didn't sign him. Now the Knicks are apparently leaning toward letting him walk, and let me tell you, people are NOT happy about all this.

So the Knicks are in a familiar place, then: Being painted as lazy, incompetent, cheap, and every other horrible adjective you could ever apply to a professional sports franchise. Exhibit A was the string of tweets I saw from Bill Simmons, where he decreed that it's okay for Knicks fans to jump ship and start rooting for the Brooklyn Nets.

Annnnd.... Yep, that is just completely ridiculous.

If you're still a Knicks fan after the past 15 years, there's no excuse for deciding to jump ship NOW. After every stupid, inexplicable decision they've made over the past decade-and-a-half, now you're throwing up your hands? No.

But ... But ... James Dolan.

NO.

If "crappy owner and recent history of mediocrity" were the only criteria you needed to give up, then 80 percent of sports fans should become Brooklyn Nets fans. Think Knicks fans have it bad?

  • Imagine being a Wizards fan the past five years. The first superstar they had in over a decade blew out his knee and went crazy, they basically traded Ricky Rubio to Minnesota for Randy Foye and Mike Miller, then spent THE past two-three years trying to talk themselves into Javale McGee and Andray Blatche as franchise cornerstones.
  • Imagine being a Kings fan--your owners are too cheap/broke to put together a winning team, AND as an added bonus they're perpetually teetering on the brink of moving the team entirely, because they're too cheap/broke to help finance a new arena.
  • Imagine being a Nets fan the past 40 years.

The Warriors, Rockets, Suns, Wolves, Bobcats... You can go right down the line. Do you know how grateful 80 percent of NBA fans would be if they had a front office willing to lose millions and millions of dollars every year? It's why this sudden Knicks sanctimony makes no sense.

Like Will Leitch at New York Magazine:

Knicks fans will always be around. The team will still be good next year, though they'll be worse the year after that, and the year after that may be Isiah-level brutal. But you can't help but wonder, at some fundamental level, if something about the dynamic between franchise and fan base will be forever changed.

Really though? One way or another, every team's a mess when they're losing. Every Knick fan I know treats it the same way I treated the Wizards the past few years--with a mix of humor, dread, and fatalistic indifference. Jeremy Lin is really the last straw here?

Again from Leitch:

The Knicks are about to let their most popular player go, for nothing. They will be losing a budding star and a global icon. Yet even with that ... it feels like they're losing so much more.

I'm an outsider, but from a distance, the biggest reason the Knicks are depressing is that for the past 10 years they've badly overpaid for overrated players and then spent season on top of season trying to talk themselves into fool's gold. Lin is the PERFECT example.

Given all the extra money he generates, even his ridiculous deal might not cost the Knicks all that much, but it won't cost them that much to lose him, either. We're not talking about the linchpin to a dynasty here. Global icon, maybe, but "budding star"? He's not Chris Paul, not Kyrie Irving, not Ricky Rubio. He's fine, but if he leaves, the Knicks will be fine.

If you want to feel sorry for Knicks fans, feel sorry about the Layden era, or the Isiah era. Feel sorry that they got stuck with Amar'e Stoudemire's creaky body for too much money, or that they were pressured into trading all their assets for Melo even though he would have signed as a free agent six months later. That move basically guaranteed that they'll never have a true contender over the length of the Melo/Stoudemire era. On the Richter Scale of Knicks fan grievances, maybe-possibly losing Lin barely registers.

And Knicks fans will get over it. They will complain now, laugh about it soon, and next year they'll be talking themselves into Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd the same way I'm a Wizards fan talking myself into Trevor Ariza. That's what being a fan is.

So anyway, while everyone debates James Dolan's Restricted Free Agency War Crimes, it's July and there's nothing else going on, so this is as good an opportunity as ever to look at the bigger picture with the Knicks and their fans. With a few separate points.

1. New York City basketball. Chicago and D.C. both produce more talent these days, but if you're looking to trace where "basketball as religion" was really born, there's only one acceptable answer.

Anecdote: When I was 16 years old and applying to college, my step-dad sat down with me and told me that with my crappy grades and average test scores, if I wanted to get into an Ivy League school, I'd probably have to write a book. So I thought about it and came up with an idea: Write about New York City and New York City basketball from the perspective of some of the greatest point guards in its history. Each chapter would be stories from a different icon. Bob Cousy, Pearl Washington, Nate Archibald, Larry Brown, Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith, Rod Strickland, Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury... right on down to Sebastian Telfair, who was in high school at the time. My dorky title was "Point Gods", and while that makes me want to vomit ten years later, the book would have been totally awesome. The only reason it didn't happen was because I was A) Lazy and B) Had no idea how to write a book. (I did not go to an Ivy League school.)

The point is this, though: There's no other city in the world whose recent history could be traced through generations of superstars, all of whom play the game in similar ways and learned on the same streets.

The New York basketball mystique is real.

2. The New York basketball mystique was never about the Knicks. Everyone always talks about the Knicks like they should be some grand extension of a timeless basketball legacy. But that's wrong. That New York legacy isn't stained or sustained by what happens at Madison Square Garden. When the Knicks are good, there's no city better positioned to ride the wave, but whether the Knicks win or not, you still have a hundred courts all over New York City where people play 12 hours-a-day, every day during the summer. If anything, underachieving Knicks teams have become part of the tradition. In other words...

3. The Knicks are not sacred. They are just a pro basketball team with a history of above-average finishes, a great stadium, and head-scratching decisions. They are not the Celtics or Lakers, and haven't been close since the 70s. In the past 20 years the Knicks have been Notre Dame football, where everyone talks about them like a decades-long dynasty that's a step away from returning to glory.

4. IT DOESN'T WORK THAT WAY. Or hasn't, for the Knicks. (Or Notre Dame.)

5. Instead... The Knicks are just the most entertaining shitshow in the league.

God, they're so much more fun than Notre Dame. They have beat writers who openly take shots at each other, players like Carmelo Anthony who walk and talk like LeBron and then show up 20 pounds overweight, and a front office that's perpetually in the middle of a Pravda-like PR campaign to silence their critics and gin up interest for a perpetually overpaid, overrated roster.

This is the team that inspires a season's worth of transcendent New York Post covers basically every season -- constantly convinced that this could be the year, then completely losing their shit when it doesn't work out that way. It's the greatest. Remember this Marbury interview?

The Knicks are a living, breathing reality show, and should be treated that way.

Jason_kidd_postx-wide-community_medium

Possibly unhealthy, criminally irrational and more or less irrelevant, but still relentlessly entertaining. They put the fun in dysfunctional. The problem is when we try to make it more than that.

The Knicks are no more the gatekeepers of New York's basketball religion than Stephon Marbury was. They are just a good-but-not-great basketball team that will probably stumble into massive success one day, but definitely not today or tomorrow. In the meantime, they have the best stadium, a decent team with or without Lin, and the fans will all be okay.

Besides, after everything that's happened over the past 25 years, hopping on someone else's bandwagon just wouldn't be as much fun. Not because New York is different, but because that's what happens when you stupidly invest yourself in any team for long enough.

Knicks history may not be full of titles, but it's rich in ways you can't fake. With memories that make this shit real for everyone involved. In some sick twisted way, all of the suffering adds to the experience in ways that surreal, Lakers-like success never could.

So that takes us back to where we started. In case you haven't heard, there's this new team starting from scratch out in Brooklyn this summer, building a legacy around Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, and systematic gentrification. And I guess what I'm saying is... It's fine for people to be excited about the Nets, but any Knicks fan who jumps ship because of Jeremy Lin was probably missing the point all along.

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