When Amar’e Stoudemire unleashed a left jab at a glass-enclosed fire extinguisher Monday night after the New York Knicks’ playoff loss to the Miami Heat, he might have shattered more than just one inanimate object.
He might also have shattered the last lingering strands of an illusion most of us have held for years: That the New York Knicks are a glorious organization with a wondrous history just waiting to be restored — the notion the Knickerbockers are some special jewel in our proud sports culture.
In fact, Stoudemire’s gaffe is just the latest episode in a long, indistinguished Knicks history that forces us to wonder if this storied franchise actually might be one of the most inept in sports.
Consider: If the Knicks lose Thursday — and given Stoudemire’s self-inflicted hand injury and reports he’s done for the playoffs, that’s very likely — they will have dropped 13 straight postseason games. That will be a record for NBA playoff futility held in the most important basketball city on earth.
By comparison, the woe-begotten Los Angeles Clippers entered this postseason 7-5 in their past 12 playoff games. They promptly won their first-round opener against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Seriously, since the 1970s, which team has more shamed themselves and disappointed their fans than the Knicks? Stoudemire’s punch, last year’s sweep at the hands of the Celtics, Stephon Marbury’s shenanigans, most of the 1990s, Patrick Ewing failing to win a title . . . on and on it goes.
Let’s start with the country’s other consistently god-awful teams, whose resumes compare (dis)favorably with the Knicks.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are awful, sure, having posted a losing record in 19 straight seasons. But they’re in a small market in a sport that punishes small-market teams. And they, at least, most recently won a World Series in 1979. The Knicks haven’t been champions since 1973. The Kansas City Royals have been similarly bad for similar reasons to the Pirates, but they previously won a championship in 1985.
To consider well-bred, lofty organizations, let’s turn to the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have won one playoff game since 1996. But they dominated the 1990s, meaning their glorious place in sporting lore, unlike the Knicks’, is buttressed by recent history. And they have that one playoff win.
The Knicks, who haven’t won a playoff game since 2001, get four chances to acquire it every time they get into the postseason.
The Kansas City Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game since the early 1990s, but they’re in, well, Kansas City. And it’s safe to say the ownership led by the Hunt family, though beloved, hasn’t made the same kind of financial commitment to winning that Knicks ownership has.
No, the best comparison for all-time professional-sports awfulness is the Chicago Cubs. The Cubbies haven’t won a World Series since 1908, and they, too, have lost in embarrassing and mind-boggling ways (Bartman . . . the 1984 collapse), and they, too, have squandered great talent, effort and, recently, investments.
The difference is this: The Lovable Losers are at least lovable. The Knicks are the Cubs minus the lovability: They’re just the losers.
There’s also the very real fact the Knicks have tried as hard as anyone in professional sports to be big-time winners, and they have been aided by advantages few others have: the allure of New York City, a thick wallet that New York City and its billionaire owners provide, the buzz and support of the world’s media center and maybe even some help here and there from David Stern, whose office, as NBA commissioner, is in the Knicks’ backyard.
I mean, let’s be honest: Legend has it that Stern handed the Knicks Patrick Ewing way back in 1985.
The Garden itself, the cathedral of the game, should also have helped. It is a holy place for basketball, and that holiness should serve to attract talent in ways that Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Charlotte — even Chicago — cannot.
Yes, the financial support, the help and the effort have been there. The Knicks hired Pat Riley, the second-best coach of the past 30 years, and he could not make it work.
They landed Stoudemire and, not as high-prized but still important, Tyson Chandler in free agency. Carmelo Anthony, a top-5 player and prodigious scorer, so wanted to go to the Big Apple he forced his way out of Denver. During Isiah Thomas’ troubled reign, it wasn’t as if he was strapped for cash. After Thomas, the Knicks went out and signed Mike D’Antoni, at the time a hot name who turned down the Chicago Bulls so he could have the resources, glory and allure of the New York City Knicks at his disposal.
And still the Knicks keep losing.
And now the Knicks have Stoudemire, one of their two-highest paid players, a guy who injures himself in an emotional tirade during the playoffs and a guy who statistically is said to make his team worse. I mean, seriously, the Knicks paid $18 million to a guy who arguably doesn’t add much value to his team and then attempts to prove the point by hurting himself.
This stuff is stunning.
The Knicks might be the hardest-charging, highest-spending, best-placed and most-committed organization to ever lose so surely and so often. The Cubs are a mockery everywhere, but those losers are celebrated to the point that there’s a perverse joy their fans get in allowing themselves to believe year after year and then, when history repeats itself, just shrug and wait for “next year.” There is a kind of victory in bringing your fans joy, even if you do that through a pattern of defeat.
The Knicks? They’ve got players in cars with interns, Hall of Famers turned coaches being run out of town, billionaire owners who can’t spend their way to a single playoff win, Ewing ringless, ‘Melo and Stoudemire ill-matched and futile —a line of struggle worthy of some backwater city, not the city in American culture.
Yes, the Pirates and Royals are awful, awful, awful. Yes, 14 NFL teams have failed to win a Super Bowl, and four have failed to play in one. Yes, the Charlotte Bobcats were historically bad this season. Yes, the Chicago Cubs are so bad people think they’re actually cursed by a goat.
But none has the Knicks’ advantages. None has New York City and the holiest place in their sport to bolster their ambitions. None has tried so hard and still failed time after time so miserably. Most have given their fans more to root for in their lifetimes than the Knicks.
In the end, we’re left with one question, and I cannot say that I know the answer. I only know that it’s time it was asked.
Are the New York Knicks the worst team in the history of American sports?