Even though I don’t eat meat anymore and hadn’t had pork since I was a teenager, I’m kind of a ham.
While that might be the understatement of my Life, truth is, like most of us, attention is a desired commodity. Some of us enjoy it more than others.
From being the lead in every school play kindergarten through high school to whatever the hell it is I’m doing today, earning recognition for my efforts is the culmination of the work. Hell, I was 5 and chose to audition for the role of Oz in The Wizard of Oz because the name “Oz” was in the title and I thought he was the lead character!
I wanted to lead!
Ego is a funny thing.
Life has a great way of dealing with ego in many a case, often in quite the opposite way we have been conditioned to believe it should work. Life tends to give you the test first and the lesson later.
How do we allow our egos to mask the lies, subtle or otherwise, that we tell ourselves to keep believing, deleteriously or not?
It is certain that we join groups and organizations to feel a part of something greater than ourselves; something communal.
Church, marching band, glee club, swim team, over-40 basketball league, we join… And we believe.
We believe that our active participation in whatever role or capacity creates a connection; a belonging or bond with others who share a like-minded desire.
When I was trying to decide at which university I would attend to become a stellar student-ath-O-lete, I weighed every option upon who I would join.
During recruiting trips, I met players and fans who would urge me to attend their schools and be a part of their communities because the long term payoff in Life would be so lucrative.
Though my parents were Michigan State Spartans during my early years in Life and it was practically ordained by birth I’d be a Sparty as well, it must have hurt my Beloveds that I was and forever would be a fan of the University of Michigan. It was the football team helmets, The Big House, the fight song, the tradition and prestige that got me. #BlueKnowIt!
Yet I chose Rice University in Houston, Texas, where there was far less prestige and tradition, unless losing counted. I wanted to lie to myself about joining the Wolverines, knowing full well they had already begun locking in a core of new players who would eventually be dubbed “The Fab Five” and maybe my ego couldn’t take the hit. Perhaps I justified my choice by accepting that the weather was so much better in Houston than in Ann Arbor. H-Town was a major metropolis and eventually, it was at Rice where I would become an Academic All-America while playing basketball.
As much as I was a player, I’ve always been a fan.
I am a fan of the individual players more so than teams, especially in the NBA. I observe fan behaviour as much as I do that of the players. The difference between fandom and fanaticism can be vast at times. How have owners and leagues colluded with their corporate partners and media outlets to control your soul?
What is it about us that makes us buy into the pageantry of March Madness or the allure of NBA basketball? Do the same reasons I love the University of Michigan apply?
Or is it because we know somehow, at least in recent history and despite the notion that free agency offers some modicum if not the façade of parity, there are generally 3-4 maybe 5 teams in a 30 team league that have a legitimate chance of hoisting the Larry O’Brien at some point each June?
If this past year has told us anything about sports, playing until the clock hits triple zero might be the most important tale. Long suffering fans Cavs fans can attest after strangling the 73-9 Warriors by staving off three straight elimination games despite being down 3-1 in the best-of-seven Finals series.
What keeps the fans of teams like the Clippers, Kings, Hawks, Suns and Nuggets coming back night after night, year after year? Only two of those teams have ever won titles in their franchise’s existence: the Rochester Royals in 1951 and the St. Louis Hawks in 1958.
That’s a lot of patience for futility’s sake.
But no team in NBA history has been propagated by the league and her fans as an upper echelon franchise like the New York Knickerbockers.
The Knicks haven’t won a title in almost 44 years and have claimed but two (1970 and 1973) in its entire storied history as one of the original squads of the Association when it began business in the 1946-1947 season.
Drafting Patrick Ewing with the alleged Frozen Envelope at the 1985 NBA Draft held the promise Knicks fans have been selling themselves upon since 1973: Soon, ‘our year’ will come!
And the team got close in ’94 and again in ‘99. Since then, the Knicks haven’t sniffed at an Eastern Conference Finals, much less an NBA Finals. Alas, their fans hold on to hope.
Hope used to be called Carmelo Kyam Anthony, who was traded in the middle of the 2010-2011 season to the city of his birth so as to restore glory in Gotham.
But in 2017, saddled with a clunky roster of overpaid, beyond their prime players in the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah as well as the 2011 MVP Derrick Rose, journeymen, the fairly or unfairly yet oft maligned Anthony and a young star who should more than likely be the cornerstone of a Knickerbocker new beginning in Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks are an absolute mess and no closer to their fans’ dream of Broadway parades.
The “Curse of February 8” struck for the third year in a row as former Knicks fan favourite and “Mr. ‘Bout Dat Life” Charles Oakley was arrested for shouting something at owner James Dolan and then physically assaulting three of the arena’s security staff before being WrassleMania’d out of the Garden and into a squad car.
As a refresher, two years ago to the day, owner Dolan, upset with a letter from a lifelong Knicks fan about their abysmal play, promptly offered the fan advice: Spend your money with the Nets in Brooklyn.
On the very same day in 2016, team president Phil Jackson’s former Laker point guard and then-Knicks head coach Derek Fisher was relieved of his duties after a rather eventful 40-96 tenure in his year and a half-plus at the helm.
As a fan, you may want to summon every rosary bead, rabbit’s foot and box of Lucky Charms you can in anticipation of February 8, 2018 and beyond!
Now, it would be easy bake to heap all of the team’s recent woes on the players, especially Melo, whose name has been bandied about (because there’s nothing quite like bandying) in trade talks and singled out as the core reason for the Knicks poor standing. This animus is not only coming from fans and media, but in particular, very pointed public jabs from Phil Jackson, who seems to be working on a way to get fired instead of quitting because he’s not walking away from that dough easily.
Who is to blame?
What is the truth?
It’s no secret in the Rotten Manzana that James Dolan is the epitome of toxic in his ownership of the Knicks. Adding the acerbic Phil Jackson as a novice front office man, despite all of his success on the bench as a coach, doesn’t really seem to be helping the franchise, either.
Jackson’s constant public sniping at Anthony seemed vaguely reminiscent of barbs he tossed subliminally, publicly or otherwise, at Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant during their La La Land title run.
Carmelo has a no-trade without his consent clause in the absurd contract Jackson signed him to a couple years back. This albatross of a deal allowed little cap flexibility and was eventually a factor in moving Earl Joseph Smith, Jr. and Iman Shumpert in 2015 to a team in Northeast Ohio, where they went on to perform in two straight NBA Finals, winning one.
There is no quick fix or easy solution at MSG.
If Melo stays or goes, the team is still stuck with the poisonous, ego-centric attitude that permeates every aspect of the New York Knicks currently, at least until the end of the season. By then, Rose may well find that New York is no country for men with old bodies and Porzingis may be thrust into a role he may not be quite equipped for handling just yet.
As Valentine’s Day, All Star Weekend and the trade deadline approaches, fans ponder who goes and who stays in Metropolis, as well as the potential goings on with many other NBA rosters.
They will tell themselves and others that the tea will be better without Melo… or better without Phil… or both, and that the cap space they may soon have will attract the right free agents like Chris Paul or Blake Griffin to The City That Never Sleeps in July 2017.
What happens to a Dream Deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
– Langston Hughes
As a fan, you may end up playing Emotional Politics with yourself as well, but…
The advice is simple; the instructions have been given.
I, like other fans, tell myself that there is always a chance, even when one doesn’t make itself readily apparent.
And along the way, I, like other fans, will hopefully spend less time in lamenting what we don’t have to assuage my ego and embrace what we do have: the joy of the game, the spirit of competition and maybe… just maybe the thrill of triumph over years of agony.
Until then, love the game.