In today’s information barrage it feels terribly out of date writing about something that occurred four days prior. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t eulogize the 2012-13 New York Knicks. They were media punching bags, as are most New York teams. History will most likely remember their bloated payroll and playoff shortcomings. But, if you really look at the team’s accomplishments, it’s undeniable that they played well over their heads for the entire season.
First off, let’s remember the depths to which Knicks basketball had sunk. It wasn’t so much bad, as it was an embarrassment. Gone were the halcyon days of Clyde Frazier, Earl the Pearl, Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, and Bill Bradley. The turn-of-the-century Knicks weren’t even near the rugged 1990’s Ewing-led teams.
Between 2000 and 2010 they only made the playoffs twice, winning two measly games. They finished dead last five of the 10 years—two other years, they finished next to last. I’m not even going to get into the Isaiah Thomas regime, Starbury sex scandal, sexual harassment lawsuit, and countless bad contracts. The Garden was out of bloom for an entire decade.
These past few years have seen resurgence. The ’10-’11 and ’11-’12 squads made the playoffs, though they won only one game total. America went through a bout of Linsanity. Management overhauled the roster, signed Amar’e, and traded for Carmelo. Things were in an upswing. Still, though, the team was only .527 for those seasons, hardly an impressive record.
Coming into this season the Knicks faced a new hurdle: they were no longer the only team in metropolitan New York. The Nets had relocated to the Brooklyn borough. After effectively snuffing professional basketball in NYC for the past decade, the Knicks now had some inner-city competition. Fans now had the freedom to rally behind a new team.
With new competition and heightened expectations, the Knicks had a great year. They recorded the most wins since 1996. For the first time since 1999 they made it out of the first round of the playoffs. They also split their season series with crosstown rival Brooklyn. Not too shabby when you consider how the season unfolded.
Amar’e Stoudemire—the $100M man—played only 29 games, averaged the least amount of points since his rookie year, and recorded the worst rebounding, assist, steal, and block percentages of his career. Carmelo Anthony—the NBA’s scoring champion—missed 15 games. Tyson Chandler missed 16 games. Jason Kidd, at 40 years old, played more games than fellow point guard Raymond Felton. They never really had a full-strength roster, yet won 54 games. That’s impressive.
Also impressive were the contributions of perceived also-runs. Felton returned from a dismal year in Portland and rounded his game back into shape—his numbers ran around his career average. Maybe the biggest surprise was the emergence of JR Smith. Smith’s career, as well as his personality, is best described as mercurial. He’s always had great potential, but only showed it in fleeting glimpses. This year, things came together. Smith averaged the most minutes and points of his career. He was instant offense off the bench, the microwave. JR was also the NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
More than their play, though, this team fully embraced what it means to play in New York. They had swagger. Melo and Smith fired shots with reckless abandon. Felton tossed lobs to Chandler and pumped his chest like the baddest dude on the court. Melo waited at the Celtics bus to get a piece of Kevin Garnett after an heated trash-talk session—Google: LaLa+Cheerios and you’ll understand Carmelo’s fury. Smith took full advantage of the New York nightlife. These guys got it.
It takes special players to play in New York. The media is unforgiving. The fans are smart and protective of their franchise. The lights shine brightest at Madison Square Garden. Star players must embrace the New York culture, and these guys did just that. They worked with the same bluster of a New Yorker staking claim to the world’s greatest bagels. The ’12-’13 Knicks made basketball in New York fun again, and held serve against their new rivals.
Sure it’s easy to look at Indiana’s dismantling of the Knicks during the semifinals. Maybe Melo’s shot selection wasn’t the best. Who can forget Kidd going 0-17 and scoreless in 10 games from April 26? Smith slumped and partied right out of the series. Yes, the team had mental breakdowns in their elimination game. They lost; I get it. Know this, though: only nine franchises have won championships since 1980. There have been a lot of crushed dreams and missed opportunities in that span. It’s unfair to qualify the Knicks season as a failure. After playing terrible ball for over a decade, I’d say bringing excitement back to the Garden is a success in itself.