According to a new poll by the Siena College Research Institute, Derek Jeter is “the single greatest New York athlete of all time.”
That’s right, in the estimation of 801 state residents, randomly polled between Feb. 22 and March 1, Jeter is bigger and better than Babe Ruth (“a close second,” according to the press release), Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Joe Namath ranks fifth.
Wait. It gets better. No. 7?
It was widely, if unreasonably, predicted that Anthony’s presence would somehow transform the Knicks into one of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams. But after winning Thursday night, the Knicks are all of 7-6 since his arrival. They still don’t play defense, and it’s doubtful their alleged savior ever will. Still, according to the poll, New Yorkers think more highly of ‘Melo than Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, Clyde Frazier, Lawrence Taylor, Reggie Jackson, Mark Messier, Patrick Ewing . . .
OK. You get it. Really, I don’t want to question the efficacy of the poll. But it’s enough to wonder if the question askers aren’t also dispensing hallucinogens. It’s also enough to finally dispatch with the notion of New Yorkers as consummate sports sophisticates.
I don’t know if this kind of ignorance took root during the mayoralty of Rudolph Giuliani, which saw a great surge in front-running Yankees fans. Or maybe it’s a result of years of tyranny by Cablevision, the family business (you know, kind of like Ma Barker ran a family business) that owns Madison Square Garden. Either way, this is not the city I remember.
For the third consecutive year, Rex Ryan has “guaranteed” a Super Bowl victory.
This isn’t a tradition. It’s an embarrassment.
The fans should catch on right about the time they figure out that ‘Melo won’t win Defensive Player of the Year. Seriously, at this point, what can’t you sell New Yorkers? The sophisticates have apparently spawned legions of suckers who will tolerate a 49 percent increase in the average price of a Knicks ticket.
Nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than in basketball. No city or town was more justifiably chauvinistic about a game than New York was about basketball. “The City Game,” as Pete Axthelm christened it in his 1970 classic of the same name, has long been dichotomous.
“The gulf between the worlds is as wide as the one between the beautiful people in the $12.50 loge seats at the playoff games and the kids who grow up thinking the world is bounded by 110th Street to the south and 155th to the north,” wrote Axthelm. “Yet there is a bridge: a mutual appreciation of a game that projects a significance, a sense of magic, to those who have known it, understood it, lived it.”
In other words, it didn’t much matter if New Yorkers were rich or poor, black or white, famous or anonymous, they could be reasonably expected to understand the game. They could even grasp such esoteric concepts as defense and moving without the ball.
It’s worth mentioning here that the last time the Knicks won a championship their small forward was another guy lost to the ages. Anyone remember Bill Bradley? At the pro level, he could do just about anything except dribble, run, jump or create his own shot. Still, somehow, the Knicks got by.
And that brings me back to the current small forward, who scored 28 points in New York’s win over Memphis at the Garden on Thursday night. Carmelo Anthony made it look effortless. His defense looked effortless, too.
Then, again, Anthony has been a pro for eight years. Why would he start playing defense now? He’s already whining that his new team’s defensive schemes are too complicated.
“One game we come in with one scheme, another game we come in with a different scheme,” he said the other day. “I think it’s a bit confusing at times.”
By the way, this is Mike D’Antoni’s defense, right? The same Mike D’Antoni who coached those lockdown stoppers, the Phoenix Suns?
Consider these numbers, calculated by STATS LLC. The Denver Nuggets, who are 9-2 since the trade, were allowing an average of 105.2 points a game with Anthony. Since the deal, they’re allowing 95.3. That’s 10 points a night, just on defense.
But the rest of the Nuggets collective game has improved, too. They’re up five rebounds a night, from 40.9 to 45.8. Someone’s even boxing out, as their opponents are down five rebounds (41.9 to 37). Assists are also up by almost five a night, too, from 21.2 to 25.8. J.R. Smith and Ty Lawson have blossomed in ‘Melo’s absence. Smith’s scoring average has gone from 11.2 to 15.3. Lawson, who was averaging 3.7 assists, is at 8.3 since the trade.
Yes, the Knicks won in a blowout on Thursday. The Grizzlies, without Rudy Gay, played poorly. But the New York victory was an anomaly, owing mostly to a franchise-record 20 3-pointers, nine of them by the inestimable Toney Douglas.
Now maybe, if only for a night, that kind of shooting obscured the Knicks’ real problems. Just the same, if Toney Douglas keeps hitting nine threes a night, it won’t be long before Carmelo Anthony is bigger than Derek Jeter.