I was recently talking with a friend about the NBA. She said, “Doesn’t the NBA feel like it’s falling apart?”
I responded with: “Do you think the Knicks' dysfunction–as she's from the East Coast–makes it feel that way?”
She paused…then said “Absolutely.”
It’s true. The New York Knicks are one of three penultimate powerhouses in the NBA. They have the power to literally shape the league as a whole – creating strong feelings like my friend’s above.
Over their nostalgic history, the Knicks have seen high highs and low lows. The highs – two championships; a run in the 90s with Patrick Ewing, another Finals appearance in ’99, and the lows – seasons like last season, when the team – in shambles – limped to an embarrassing 32-50 finish.
It feels like the greatest city in the world, the “city that never sleeps”, has been in a god-awful basketball drought, one that literally makes no sense, as the Knicks have three integral things when swaying free agents: lore, money and the great metropolis itself.
Let’s be honest, the most important, most memorable facets of any organization, are the players themselves. We love our legendary coaches, honor the one-of-a-kind owners, but in the end, we wear the jerseys and remember the players for near mystical abilities, abilities most of us only dream about.
Being the Knicks, they’ve seen some great players come and go – some experiencing praise, others going down in flames.
Here are the eight players who loved being a Knick, and the seven who didn’t.
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15 Loved: Larry Johnson
This might surprise some of you. Why Grandmama? During his time with the Knicks, he took on more of a limited role offensively, impacting the game less than he did as an All- Star in Charlotte. But I say otherwise.
When Larry Johnson, and his remaining nine years and $63-million were acquired in 1996, nobody knew what to expect. Though Johnson, a star in his own right – 1992 Rookie of the Year, three time All-Star, and Converse poster child – had been nothing short of wonderful in his five years in the league, he was also battling a major back problem, causing the swing forward less explosion around the hoop.
His explosion was what set him apart.
The result, was a steady deteriorating of athleticism. The once quick, agile inside/outside threat, had succumb to his back’s demands, and slowly became a stand still shooter. But what most don’t know, is he was highly respected. When Johnson retired in 2001, coach Jeff Van Gundy said he’d be sorely missed, a player who embodied hard work and affected the game when it really mattered.
Yes, Johnson wasn’t Grandmama in New York. But he was a leader, a stakeholder in the team’s success. His stay resulted in a Finals run in 1999, including an unforgettable four-point play in the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals that put the Pacers away.
It’s fair to say Johnson loved his time with the Knicks.
14 Hated: Amar'e Stoudemire
Stoudemire is a complex character. Gifted with stunning athleticism and rim rattling presence like no other, his move to New York, in 2010 felt right. It was his time. A true stamp in a flowering legacy.
But unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
Stoudemire’s 5-year, $100-million deal is arguably the worst contract in Knicks history. The freakish talent languished into obscurity with innumerable setbacks physically. When back on the court, he didn’t jive well with running mate, Carmelo Anthony.
The result, a lack of Knicks success, and a ‘if only’ feeling when pondering Stoudemire’s career.
The double-double high efficiency machine, had lost his good grace - his time in New York nothing but a failure. I’m sure he longed for his days in Phoenix, when promise was at his fingertips.
Safe bet Stoudemire didn’t enjoy being a Knick.
13 Loved: Latrell Sprewell
Sprewell is fishy in many fans' minds. I get it. This is the guy who physically choked a former coach and once been ticketed for driving the opposite way on a freeway.
“Spree” was no role model, certainly not an angel. But he was a damn feisty competitor and a borderline hall of famer.
The Golden State Warrior wanted nothing with the guard and his career 20.1 point per game average, after the choking incident with P.J Carlisemo.
The result was a 68-game suspension and a trade to the Knicks in January of 1999. Spree automatically turned the Allan Houston/Larry Johnson – led Knicks into an instant title contender.
His trade resulted in a Finals run in 1999. Most memorable: his incredible shoot out with Tim Duncan in the 4th quarter of game five – saving the Knicks from elimination. He’s also, still somewhat close with Knicks owner James Dolan.
Spree loved being a Knick.
12 Hated: Charles Oakley
“Oak” was a staple in the Knicks rough and tumble defense in the mid-90s. It’s fair to say the Knicks – led by Patrick Ewing and John Starks – wouldn’t have made the Finals in 1994, nor become a consistent Easter Conference contender without him. After all, he was the guy who struck fear in the mind of an opposing player. Come inside and act cute, Oak would lay you out. No shame, no sorry.
Up until last week, I’m sure Oakley loved being a Knick. He was adored by fans, by current NBA players, and viewed as a real mentor. He embodied the city’s grit. But that was history before history’s narrative was sadly rewritten.
Last week, Oakley was heard yelling things at owner James Dolan. What he said, nobody knows. But what resulted is hard to swallow. In the stadium, he’d long loved and adored, Oakley was dragged out by numerous security guards and banned from Madison Square Garden for life. The lingering feeling is that this is on Dolan, who acts like a ruthless dictator while the storied franchise crumbles.
And sadly, for Oakley, he’s no longer happy to have been a Knick.
11 Loved: Patrick Ewing
Patrick Ewing is a star center many fans love to hate. I am guilty of this. And I admit it’s literally because of the abuse him and his teammates inflicted on Michael Jordan.
But who can really question Ewing’s consistency? His quiet demeanor? He’s arguably a top 5 Knick of all-time.
In 15 years with the Knicks, Ewing averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds. Without him, you can bet there’d be no Finals runs in 1994 and 1999. The guy was that good. He was the focal point for most his career – time in time again, following through on that order, and excelling.
Ewing without question, loved his time in New York.
10 Hated: Andrea Bargnani
How did things not workout with Bargnani? The guy was a gifted 7-foot swing. A poor man’s Dirk Nowitski with equal upside. And yet, he never was anything more than, maybe, an inefficient 2nd or 3rd option on offense, who played little to no defense.
When acquired from Toronto in 2013, fans had real hopes Bargnani, running alongside Carmelo, would be something to behold. What’d they get? Injuries, inefficiency, and lackluster effort. Bargnani’s time in New York lasted two dismal years.
New York, for Bargnani, is no good. A reminder that he had it all and couldn’t care enough to make it happen.
9 Loved: Earl Monroe
“The Pearl,” otherwise known as “Black Jesus,” for his charismatic shake-and-bake fluidity and style with the basketball, is arguably the greatest Knick of all-time.
He teamed alongside Walt Frazier, leading the Knick`s to one of their two titles in 1973. Due to his influential style and his scoring ability, Monroe was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000 and in 1996 named as one of the fifty greatest players in league history.
Monroe carries that lore fans long for again. That old-school New York, when the city’s heralded sports could do no wrong.
Monroe and the Knicks are two peas in a pod.
8 Hated: Luc Longley
It’s a fair assumption to say Longley didn’t care much for his time in New York. He was coming off a dynasty with Chicago – 3 titles, and was respected by His Airness as a key contributor to those teams. When MJ retired and Scottie Pippen traded, it all fell apart, and Longley was shipped in 2000 to the Knicks – a trade that still sits bitter with most Knick fans.
Not because Longley wasn’t a solid center. But because the trade sent Ewing – a longtime fan favorite – to the Supersonics at the end of his career. Fans wanted to see Ewing retire as a Knick.
Longley didn’t last long in New York. His effort was in question, as was his body’s ability to hold up. The result was one subpar season, in which the Aussie center averaged 2.0 points on 33% shooting.
Yeah, no. Longley doesn’t see anything good about the Knicks.
7 Loved: Allan Houston
Houston is mega important in the grand scheme of things. He came as a quiet second option from Detroit, and quickly became the face of the franchise, signing with the Knicks in 1996. It’s important because he arrived during the twilight of Patrick Ewing’s career – helping carry Ewing and his legacy further along, by keeping the Knicks relevant.
No fan dislikes Houston. He was quiet, calm, efficient, trustworthy and came up big in key moments. In his 10 years with the club, Houston made two all-star teams, and was a member of the 2000 USA Olympic team.
More important than personal accolades, Houston is known for a historic moment not only in Knicks history but the league’s. Inbounding a ball in game 5 of a first round series against the Miami Heat, Houston hit a runner with 0.8 seconds remaining, sinking the #1 seeded Heat, and lifting the #8 seeded Knicks to a stunning upset. They would go on to make it all the way to the Finals.
Houston now manages the Knicks NBDL Team the Wetchester Knicks. Proving how much he loves the organization.
6 Hated: Stephon Marbury
I won’t jump to grand discounts of Marbury’s abilities. The guy was dangerously talented offensively, quick as lightening and liked to compete. I think he was unfairly treated at the end of his career, by a Knicks organization, already crumbling into oblivion.
For Marbury, he ran into two problems. He joined the Knicks during a tumultuous time, and he was a score first point guard, during a time when the point guard position had yet to fully evolve into what it is today. If Marbury played with today’s point guards, I think he’d be a top 3 or 4 guard – scoring at will and celebrated for it.
Wrong time wrong place.
“Starbury” was cocky and brash, so was his coach Isiah Thomas. Thomas benched him in 2007 and Dolan scapegoated him for the Knicks deterioration. It didn’t help Marbury was a max player either. But so is life.
The Coney Island kid unfortunately couldn’t finish his career on a high note with the team he long idolized.
No love from Marbury and the Knicks, as Marbury – 8 years later – recently said he wouldn’t return to the team even at gun point.
5 Loved: Walt Frazier
Seven-time All-star Walt Frazier, spent 10 wonderful years with the New York Knicks. He was, without question, the team captain during that span, and the result – two titles – proves he was one of the finest guards in the league. He, Earl Monroe and Willis Reed created one of the most dynamic trios in league history.
Frazier’s nickname was “Clyde,” from infamous characters Bonnie and Clyde – the result of his quick hands and feet.
Let’s just say Frazier enjoyed more than basketball. He embraced his star penthouse lifestyle during that time – and did both well (wink).
Frazier and the Knicks, for life.
4 Hated: Antonio McDyess
McDyess, the second pick in the 1995 draft, was by all norms and standards, an outstanding talent. This is seen by his first six seasons, in which he averaged 17.8 points and 8.8 rebounds – proof he had tremendous upside. But when the Knicks made a trade for him in 2002, things took a turn for the worse.
Not only did the Knicks stupidly give up Mark Jackson, Marcus Camby and the rights to Nene, but McDyess was coming off Patella surgery and a gamut of knee issues two straight years.
The result: one and a half forgettable season with the Knicks.
During that span, McDyess played in 18 games and averaged 8.4 points and 6.6 rebounds. The deal utterly bankrupt the Knicks of integral talent.
So no…McDyess and the Knicks don’t love each other.
3 Loved: John Starks
John Starks and the Knicks love each other for many reasons.
For one, the guy came out of nowhere and became the team’s starting shooting guard in the weirdest of ways. Trying out for the team in 1990, Starks went up for a dunk on Patrick Ewing. Ewing laid him out and the result was a jilted knee. Because of his knee, the team couldn’t release him until he healed. The added time on the team, allowed Starks to work his way into the hearts of fans and ownership. He was physical and gutsy and never feared taking a big shot.
This of course came with it difficulties too. But don’t all love affairs have highs and lows.
Two plays signify Starks Knick career, one a high and one a low. In the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals against the Bulls, Starks completed “the Dunk.” One that saw him juke left and drive right baseline, slamming a thunderous left handed dunk over foes, Horace Grant and Michael Jordan.
The low came in 1994, when the Knicks battled the Rockets in a rugged seven game Finals series. Starks – known for his shooting – shot 2 for 18 in the decisive game, including 0 for 10 in the 4th quarter, and is pin pointed as the reason the Knicks lost the series.
With that said, Starks and the Knicks enjoyed and fostered a solid, loving relationship.
2 Hated: Eddy Curry
When the Bulls took Curry fourth overall in the 2001 NBA Draft, we all thought we had a burgeoning star big man on our hands. Curry was gifted with a soft touch around the rim and a wide frame able to aptly clear space to rebound and finish high percentage chances.
But Curry never exhibited the drive necessary to develop into that kind of player. And after languishing for four years in mediocrity, the Knicks – in classic Knick fashion – took a chance on Curry –trading for him.
The result wasn’t good. The lone bright spot coming in 2006, when Curry averaged 19.5 points and 7 rebounds. But after that, Curry’s known heart ailment did its predicted damage and the Knicks forked out years of cash to a player who played a total of 69 games from 2007 to 2010.
Grace for Curry and his heart ailment. But no love from him and the Knicks on the basketball side of things.
1 Loved: Carmelo Anthony
Whether the Knicks and GM, Phil Jackson, find a suitor for Anthony and trade the scoring forward, it has nothing to do with how Anthony feels about the Knicks.
Anthony was ecstatic when the Nuggets sent him to the Knicks in 2010. He finally had his large organization, and in that role, flowered financially and became a star on a wider level.
No, the Knicks haven’t had the success they’d hoped for when trading for “Melo.” But one could argue the Knicks have never built a real contender around one of the greatest scorers this league has ever seen. Nonetheless, it’s about basketball. And so, nobody can knock the Knicks for pursuing new avenues, for wanting to blow things up and start over.
But don’t say Carmelo wasn’t into being a Knick. He’s never complained. Taken the role on with grace and tons of criticism while doing it.
Carmelo has all the love necessary for the Knicks.
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