I had the very fortunate opportunity to travel to the south side of Chicago, Illinois, this year. I stayed for a week, and as usual, I was all Knick’d out in my paraphernalia. On day 1, it was evident that I wasn’t from Chicago. But by day 4, family and friends were getting tired of my orange and blue. And I loved it!!
On day 5 at a cookout, I spoke to my cousin-in-law about basketball. Needless to say, he's a die-hard Bulls fan. He asked me, "Who's your favorite Knick player"? I responded THE NEW YORK KNICKS. Confused, he asked me again. No, not team, bro..... PLAYER?!
Knicks fans have learned to avoid making anyone one player their favorite due to the heartbreak of a mismanaged trade from the front office. I'm sure if your reading this, you're aware of the consensus.
He asked me, "In your opinion, who was the greatest Knick, Patrick Ewing?" Of course, it's Ewing.! I said. But an old-timer may tell you Bernard King . I asked, "who is the greatest BULLS player? You think it's Jordan don't you?" Boy, was I wrong about that assertion. He replied Derek Rose. I gasped. Get the hell out of here. He said, in my opinion the greatest players are ones that have an organic connection to the city. It should always be a hometown kid. While Jordan was drafted and gave us 6 for 6 in championships, his connection to the city was passion for the game. Now he's running a horrible franchise in North Carolina. Rose‘s connection to the city was of pride. A hometown kid would play for the city, become the Rookie of The Year in 2008 and League MVP in 2011. The youngest to accomplish that at 22 years old. The next two youngest was Lebron James and “you guessed it”, Michael Jordan; both at age 24. Jordan’s passion for winning is what makes him the greatest player ever, but Rose’s pride for his city is what makes him the greatest Chicago Bull. Now that's clearly up for debate. But I'm always open to a good conversation. And this was quite intriguing to me.
Initially hearing this, I wanted to call "BULL CRAP" ( no pun intended). But the cognizant Knick fan in me sat back and analyzed what he said. The amount of inspiration that Derek Rose gave to the children in Chicago's African American community was astounding. Kids from the south side of the city truly believed that they could become the an NBA League MVP. Rose wasn't a god of basketball like only to be seen on the court three days a week on TV. He was a guy you could see walking to the corner store. A living testimony of a player from the south side of Chicago making a name for himself at home. While Rose‘s motivation may stem from Jordan's legacy, Derek Rose is its first true manifestation in the NBA. You can't name an NBA player other than Derek Rose, born, raised, and won a league MVP playing for their home team. While an argument can be made for Lebron James in Cleveland (2003 Rookie of the Year and 2009 league MVP), James is from Akron, Ohio. A 45 min drive south on I-77. Yes, Akronian people are Cavaliers fans, but Akron is not Cleveland. In my book, Lebron doesn't qualify. (I don't know if people from Akron call themselves Akronians)
I reflected on this until the end of the cookout. Who did the Knicks ever have that embodied that pride completely? An Argument can be made for Anthony Mason, but he wasn't drafted by the Knicks.(RIP MASON)....Mark Jackson might be suitable. I'm sure the buzz about the St. Johns Player was exciting. He did win Rookie of the Year in 1988. But he was nowhere near getting a league MVP. Ewing was the Knick's go-to guy during those days.
Our Knicks players are passionate and fueled by fan pride. PATRICK EWING was stopped by Jordan at every angle. as fans, we took pride in calling LATRELL SPREWELL one of our own, which fueled his passion for the game. But he wasn't enough to get us beyond the twin towers of ROBINSON and DUNCAN in 1999. We had AMARE STOUDAMIRE, but a passionate punch to a fire extinguisher would rip open his hand and kill our chances of contention against the Miami Heat in 2012. We had Carmelo Anthony, but a block from a Bum (Roy Hibbert) would derail our chances at advancement to the next round of the playoffs. (Some note That moment as the downhill spiral of our organization to date.) But there's much to be hopeful for regarding our Knick players now.
On the plane ride home I began to think about what this organization has done with clearing up cap space and maintaining contractual flexibility. And while I'm happy that STEVE MILLS is gone, I'm impressed by what he did in getting rid of the Unicorn. ( I will not say his name EVER AGAIN) Great moves require a huge risk. And while we haven't reaped the benefits of the flexibility just yet, I would have argued then that we are only 2 free agents signing away from having a playoff-contending team. But do free agents have the pride that it takes to play in Madison Square Garden?
I saw some RJ Barrett highlights from last season and got excited again. After each play, there was a sense of pride in his body language, from the sprinting back on defense down to the grin. Then I ran across his first press conference. His comment on draft day, "I'm a Knick," almost brought tears to my eyes. All I could think about was my conversation with my cousin in Chicago. RJ was drafted to the organization where he wanted to be. His parents are Both St. John's Alumni, and his late grandfather was a die-hard Knicks fan. That doesn't quite fit my cousin's "greatest player" criteria, but I think an exception to the rule can be made here. But what about our other Players?
While the connection isn't the same for KEVIN KNOX, a level of pride can be established since Kenny Payne is now an assistant coach with the Knicks. Payne was an assistant coach at Kentucky when Knox played. The 2020 draft completely changed my perspective on the aspects of continuity regarding our organization. IMMANUEL QUICKLEY can ride that same train with KNOX's token. He played for Kentucky under Payne's coaching as well.
FRANK NTLIKINA is still here. And he’s the longest-tenured player on the team. That’s not much to hang your hat on. Especially since the guy who drafted him (Phil Jackson) was fired just days after the signing. However, Frank’s most impressive skill is what our current head coach has preached his entire career. Frank’s pride in playing for this team may be ignited because he knows nothing else but defense, and our head coach loves defense. Not to mention that he seemed to be coming to his own offensively before the abrupt Covid-19 break.
If your an NBK content veteran, you know my admitted biased towards DENNIS SMITH JR (DSJ) and MITCHELL ROBINSON. While uncanny comparisons of DSJ to DEREK ROSE should be avoided at all costs. Our head coach took a liking to DSJ when he was drafted by the Dallas mavericks. ROBINSON feat of highest field goal percentage in NBA history is up for debate as a notable and relevant accomplishment. But his defensive prowess by harassing shooters from 4 feet and beyond is certainly something to marvel about. Our current head coach loves defensive players. Might I add that he was a second-round draft pick STEAL!!!!
Which leads us to our coach. It's no secret that Head Coach TOM THIBODEAU (THIBS) just so happens to be the Head Coach of the Chicago Bulls during DEREK ROSE'S MVP Season. Also, to note that THIBS won NBA Coach Of The Year that same season. Let us not forget that he's already been a Knick assistant coach under Van Gundy from 1996 to 2001. Needless to say, he knows New York.
The vacation conversation with my cousin came full circle about 5 months later on draft day. Many Knick fans were disappointed because we received the number 8 pick in the lottery. I was an optimist due to my six-year-old son's good luck charm with his number 8 customize Knick jersey (we will get into that story another time). We all sat on the NBK live stream and watched it go down. Everyone in the chat had the player they wished were drafted, but by pick number 5, the writing's were on the Garden walls.
The next morning I immediately called my cousin screaming. "WE GOT THE HOMETOWN KID"!!! He's an NYC kid from Brooklyn. His story fits the underdog grind of NYC. Going from MT. Zion Prep in Baltimore MD, to redshirting at Dayton college in Ohio his freshman year, to having Dayton's entire offense built around him; subsequently winning the National College Basketball Player of the year award. Oh yea, and he's from NYC.!!!!!
What's not to like about our current situation. Before anyone gets anything confused, I am NOT insinuating that any of our players will win League MVP. Nor am I'm implying we will win six straight championships. But, is the Rookie of The Year Award out of the realm for Obi Toppin? Is Most Improved Player impossible for KNOX, DSJ, or NTLIKINA? Could RJ BARRET be in Allstar consideration?
Could RANDLE be an Allstar this season? Could AUSTIN RIVERS be the culture nucleus that the young players need.? I’m sure Austin could get Knicks advice from his father, Doc Rivers. (who is also a former Knick from 1992 to 1994.) Might I add that Doc Won a championship as a head coach with the Boston Celtics in 2008? And who was his assistant coach? You guessed it, Coach THIBS.
Keep your head up, Knicks fans. There’s light at the end of that subway tunnel on 34th street. You just have to open your eyes and walk up the stairs!!
Follow me on IG and Twitter @evergreen_g6