Rage doesn't always age well. Knicks fans learned that in the Knicks-iest way possible this month.
In late February, fans frustrated with the team's horrid season took to Facebook to organize a protest outside Madison Square Garden. Folks make these kinds of plans all the time, but this one came at an opportune moment. By the time the media caught wind of the plot, the Knicks had lost seven straight games and Raymond Felton had just been arrested on gun charges. Knicksdom was RANCOROUS. The Knicks Fans 4 Life rally was set for March 19, and a desperate but reasonable credo was made clear: Fans were tired of owner James Dolan's tendency to meddle, undercut good GMs, allow the agency CAA to manipulate dealings and enforce media silence from all minority figures.
That was just over two weeks ago.
Now, a whole NBA franchise can't transform in two weeks, especially not in March, between the trade deadline and the offseason. And the Knicks are still likely to miss the playoffs for several of the reasons linked above. But man, winning six (seven now) straight games and hiring Phil Jackson, one of the most respected and successful basketball humans on the planet, to run the team is about as much progress as a bad team can make in two weeks. After years of contemptible silence, Dolan opened up to Knicks fans Tuesday, promising full autonomy to Jackson during a press conference and in subsequent radio interviews -- the first he'd given at any point in my memory. Even the most skeptical Knicks fans had to be impressed. This was exactly what we'd wanted to hear forever.
So, shit. The protest. It is so outstandingly Knicks of the Knicks to wake up just when fans had the momentum to take a stand. It's like mailing a vicious letter to your local government about potholes on your street, only to find the repair truck working outside as the mailman disappears into the distance.
Well, but with a key difference. The Knicks Fans 4 Life could have canceled their rally, but they didn't. They just pivoted a bit:
"Let Phil Jackson do his job" is a perfectly sound message to an owner like Dolan and consistent with the group's initial tenets ... but it's not exactly grounds for a protest. Especially when Dolan just came right out and said he was not a basketball expert and wouldn't interfere with Jackson's job. It won't necessarily come to pass, but that kind of declaration from Dolan was all Knicks fans could ask for at this juncture. So what is there left to demand? "What do we want?" "Everything that just happened!" "When do we want it?" "Still!" It just doesn't have the same punch.
And yet when I arrived in front of Madison Square Garden on gloomy Wednesday evening, there they were: 40 or 50 men and a few women rallying with signs and t-shirts hours before what would become the Knicks' seventh straight win. That, I would say, was the greatest thing the Knicks Fans 4 Life had going for them: their merch game was stupendous. My phone died quickly, but my friend netw3rk was there with me and took some photos:
Like, those are just cool shirts. The shirts and a few signs were pretty much the extent of the expression, though. At the peak of the rally, folks tried to stir up some chants, but got pretty meager results:
The most vociferous chant was "WE WANNA WIN," which isn't even a protest. That's an exhortation. The Knicks would happily host a "We Wanna Win" chant inside the Garden:
The problem became apparent quickly. What seemed like a decent-sized throng proved to be at least one-third assholes like me there just to gawk at the rally not to participate. Much of the crowd faced inward, cameras and notepads in hand.
It's a wonder the skies didn't open up. It had been a drizzly day in New York and I came in rain gear, certain Mother Nature would catch sight of Knicks fans finally arranging a protest for one of the team's most triumphant weeks in recent memory and just give all that irony a nice bath. But the rain on the weather report never really arrived. That can happen in New York. You read too much into the forecast and you end up outside looking overdressed.