They Can't All Be Winners, Part 13: New York Knicks

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You know that linguistic phenomenon where, when you use the word love, you’re implicitly referencing the way the word has been used throughout history? You write a song about your boyfriend, and the love you use is linked inextricably with Shakespeare’s love, and Nora Ephron’s love, and McDonald’s early-aughts We Love To See You Smile ad campaign. You can’t make love your own; you are always borrowing it from history.

The Knicks are the NBA’s love: the sort of love that, to all appearances, is hatred. Due to way too many people living in New York, and one-fourth of those people having a sports column or radio show, the Knicks are encased in verbiage. They are not what you say they are; the team is defined by the innumerable products of an opinion-spouting mechanism—imagine one of those room-sized computers from the 1940s; now imagine it’s named Sal in Elmhurst—that will stop grumbling and declaring and insisting only after the city’s final block is claimed by the rising Atlantic.

There is nothing new to say about the Knicks; it has all been said. Carmelo Anthony is a corny, self-styled thought leader who should have been traded two years ago. Phil Jackson is an out-of-touch zealot, or in possession of unfathomable front office genius. The team’s most recent draft choice—Doorstop Topanga, is it?—resembles a root vegetable on school picture day, and might be the next Dirk Nowitzki. Derek Fisher, who has always seemed like kind of a dick, seems like a kind of incompetent dick. The takes go on. They cascade.

Sal in Elmhurst is built to strip mine for agita over a franchise that is, beneath all the fevered nattering about it, going through a quite boring and eminently precedented rebuild. The Knicks tanked last season, and they figure to be only sort of better heading into this new one. They’re interested in getting younger and incrementally better, over the course of the next handful of years. This puts them in the same boat as the Orlando Magic, who, as far as the NBA discourse is concerned, more or less stopped existing after Dwight Howard sped out of town in a go-kart made of Red Vines.

The Knicks’ status as a great, glittering nothing is by far the most interesting thing about them. The rest of the country’s dismay with New York functioning as the nation’s media capital is well-founded—it certainly grates that the Times occasionally defines a growing trend as something eight people in Manhattan are doing—but, to be fair, there is, by dint of the city’s diverse and abundant population, always lots of stuff going on in New York. It has a bunch of folks chronicling its day-to-day goings on for a reason: it’s a lively and fascinating place

The Knicks of the past few seasons have been an experiment in what happens when a sports media that could credibly take on the population of Albany in a tug-of-war has very little to say about a hibernating franchise but has to go on opining and yakking and reporting anyway. New Yorkers like to make fun of cornfed yokels who travel across the country to eat at the Times Square Olive Garden, but staging dopily fraught and earnest arguments about the merits of Langston Galloway isn’t dissimilar to that. It’s a long way to go for what barely qualifies as sustenance.

Maybe the Knicks need a year off from New York. Let them move out to Iowa City for a season, go 30-and-52 in relative peace. Let the miasma of noise that blots them out disperse. Let them hold some meaning within, rather than having every bit of it wrung out and dissected on drive-time radio. Decouple them from Sal in Elmhurst. In obscurity, they could become something altogether less obscene than they are now: a basketball team, finding its way.

Previously on TCABW: Charlotte Hornets | Philadelphia 76ers | Houston Rockets | Los Angeles Lakers | Dallas Mavericks Indiana Pacers | Oklahoma City Thunder | Memphis Grizzlies | Chicago Bulls | Washington Wizards Cleveland Cavaliers | Brooklyn Nets

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