Friday, November 30, 2007
The Boston Massacre
I know nobody who regularly reads this blog (besides maybe Brother Esq, Aunt Beth, and The Clouse) really give one whit about the NBA, but after watching the pasting the Celtics put on the Knicks last night, I just had to post. I just couldn't help it.
I have not felt the way I felt about a NBA game since watching the Pacers/Pistons melee that resulted in Ron Artest and Steven Jackson attacking fans sitting courtside at The Palace. The same sick feeling I had in the bottom of my stomach, mixed with utter amazement at what I was seeing, came over me last night when the Knicks were down in the 3rd quarter by more than 50 points, and they had only scored 43. It was obviously another black eye for a league that seems to perpetually take a beating... despite the fact that the overall quality of the league is slowly rising.
So, here's the question: Why even care?
Well, I like basketball. Always have. And while I used to watch the Big East on ESPN's "Big Mondays" back in the day, my preference has always been to follow the pros. I say this because nobody, anywhere plays the game like they do in college. It's overmanaged by the coaches who put a lot of emphasis on passing and defense... which are really just plain boring. If it weren't for the rabid college students going nuts in the stands, the most exciting sporting even every year (NCAA Basketball Tourney) and the cult of personality that's been created around big-time college coaches (particularly Bob Knight, Roy Williams, and Mike Krzyzewski) college basketball wouldn't be as huge as it is... because the actual basketball played on the whole isn't all that great.
I say this having grown up watching some of the greatest players in any age - Magic, Bird, Dr. J, Moses, and many others - put on a display of basketball in the 1980's that has gone unparalleled. Watching the ball movement, ability to run the fast break, shooting proficiency, and teamwork from that era helped me fall in love with the game. And whenever there are glimpses of this kind of excellence (Karl and John's Jazz teams, MJ's reign of terror, the Sacramento Kings teams that couldn't get past Kobe and Shaq, the most recent edition of the Suns) you realize that the game can be played on entirely different level from what you normally see.
That's why, after a drought where teams became too reliant on isos and defense played in a way that would get you booked for assault in the real world, this year's edition of the NBA has been so welcome by the 14 or 15 of us left that are still watching. LeBron has been a master on both ends of the floor. Phil is teaching the Lakers how to play together. The Suns keep being the Suns. The Spurs are opening up their offense to match the excellence they show on D. The Golden State Warriors are winning playing a Helter Skelter game. A new dominant center is growing up before us in Orlando. Boozer and Williams are the new pick and roll kinds in Utah. Greg Oden will be back next year on a good, young team. And the Celtics.... well, they matter again.
That's why last night was so depressing. What should have been a key match-up for the league, the Celts and Knicks, which are arguably two of the three (with the Philadelphia 76'ers) most important franchises on the east coast, was horrible. And it was horrible because the most important franchise in the league, The Knicks, are in utter chaos.
It would be bad enough if the team was dealing with bad contracts procured during the Scott Layden/Isiah Thomas GM era. Or it would be bad enough if the team was led by guys of questionable character (like Stephon Marbury, the self-proclaimed greatest point guard in the league). But the team is being managed and coached by a guy who was responsible for the team being successfully sued for sexual harassment last summer of one of the Knicks own executives and still he sits on the bench and in the GM's office.
Where else in the western world would this be possible? Yet, it is, and it hangs over the team and the league like a dark, dark cloud.
So when I saw his players, facing a Boston Celtic team out to prove something after LeBron dismantled them a couple of days ago, quit toward the end of the first quarter, I knew this was bad. I mean, earlier yesterday I had been gushing to my SPRC chair about how he needed to watch the Celtics, and how amazing the effort and quality that they, and others in the league, were bringing to the court on a regular basis this year. And if he watched last night, all he ended up seeing was a team poorly managed, administrated, and coached, roll over on a coach who has been rumored for years to be a not-so-admirable person... a tag that one would have to believe was proven in a court of law this past summer.
Bill Simmons, a sportswriter from ESPN.com wrote this:
Isiah failed with Toronto, drove the CBA into the ground and coached an underachieving Pacers team that thrived as soon as he left. When they hired him, I remember thinking (and writing) that he was the worst possible guy for the job, someone who would undoubtedly make a series of grandiose short-term moves that would destroy the long-term future of the franchise. And that's precisely what happened.
And the problem is that he wrote that almost three years ago.
But, why still, Bryan, do you care?
If this team were in Memphis or Atlanta or New Orleans, this wouldn't be nearly the big deal that it is. New York is the center of the basketball universe. The city lives and dies with the Knicks. Virtually every major media outlet is based there. The Knicks and Lakers (and now, thanks to Yao Ming, the Rockets) are the most marketable and watched teams in the league internationally. Millions of kids dream playing in the NBA, many of them specifically for the Knicks, and so they pick up the game, practice, get better and better, and a few have the talent and work ethic to become great players... at the youth league, high school, college, and pro level. A good Knicks franchise raises the whole boat. You just can't let this kind of thing linger.
So, here's what I propose. Back in the seventies the Cavs had an owner, Ted Stepien, who was so horrible, that the league had to pass a rule that now bears his name stating that a team can't trade it's first round picks in successive years. In other words, teams with poor management aren't allowed to trade away the future and run their team into the ground. The Cavs, upon Stepien's leaving, were so horrible that they had to be awarded extra draft picks just so they could become bad, as opposed to unwatchable.
Maybe its time for a Isiah Thomas Rule, which allows salary cap and trade exceptions to a team that's not only been historically mismanaged, but improperly represented outside of the court, in the event that manager is fired. That way Knicks fans could have hope, and maybe the overall renaissance in quality that's finally overtaking the league, can finally find its way to Big Apple. I'm for anything (short of LeBron leaving the Cavs to become a Knick) that will resurrect the profile and pride of a team the leagues needs for marketing, for it's biggest city, and even as a villain for every small market team to despise (leading to greater ticket sales when the Knicks come to town).
Besides, little kids all over the world need to start dreaming about playing in Madison Square Garden.... it's in the best interests of the game. Trust me.
Do you think David Stern reads this blog? Probably not. Let's hope one of his assistants reads this adopts it as his own idea. The time has come.