Knicks, Nets show how far NY-area hoops has fallen

BY foxsports • November 20, 2009

"The ship be sinking," he said, a quote that has famously followed him through the years.

"How far?"

"Sky's the limit," Richardson said.

Nowhere to go but up now for his former teams - especially since the winless Nets hope they've already hit bottom.

The Hudson River rivals meet Saturday at New Jersey in the NBA's most wretched matchup at this point in a season in 15 years.

The Nets are 0-12, about to head out for a four-game western trip that could put the NBA record of 17 straight losses to open a season very much in play if they don't win this game.

The Knicks (2-9) aren't much better, following the worst 10-game start in franchise history by snapping a six-game losing streak Wednesday. They beat the Nets three times in the preseason, so should feel confident about their chances of putting together a winning streak.

According to STATS LLC, there hasn't been an NBA game matching teams who had each played at least 11 games and combined to win so few of them since Dec. 3, 1994, when Minnesota was 2-13 as it hosted the 0-14 Clippers.

Separated by only about 10 miles and just as close at the bottom of the standings, both teams are being laughed at. But the troubles of New York basketball aren't a joke to everyone.

Because if the locals keep struggling, and kids find they have no players or teams to look up to, what if they lose interest in the sport?

"I always worry about that," Knicks president Donnie Walsh said.

Like many others, Walsh used the game to get out, then back into New York. A Bronx native who earned a scholarship to play at North Carolina, he spent most of his career as an executive in Indiana before returning to his hometown in 2008 to rebuild the Knicks.

And he wants to see winning basketball here.

"Yeah, because it's a basketball city ... that's why I approach the job the way I do," Walsh said. "I really want to see this succeed because New York should have a good basketball team. I'm sure all these coaches and athletic directors of the various entities that are here, they want the same thing."

Truth is, the New York area hasn't seen much good basketball in a while. The Knicks seem headed for a ninth straight losing season, which would set a franchise record, and the Nets have returned to their longtime losing ways after reaching consecutive NBA finals earlier in the decade.

Throw in the struggles of St. John's and Seton Hall, former Big East powers who were passed long ago by Connecticut and Pittsburgh, and there's not much on the hardwood to pass the time between football season and spring training.

But Nets coach Lawrence Frank, who grew up not far from the George Washington Bridge in Teaneck, N.J., disagrees that basketball's popularity could suffer when its local teams do.

"There are times where your curve is going upwards and times where because of whether it's free agency, draft, injuries, salary cap, whatever, where you've got to retool, you've got to rebuild," he said. "But the metropolitan area has always bred great basketball enthusiasts and players, starting from the recreational level to the AAU level to the high school level to the collegiate level to the professional level.

"So right now, present day, maybe we're not the top of the division or the Knicks aren't the top of the division. But things change quickly and basketball, obviously the popularity of the sport, not just in the metropolitan area but around the world, is at an all-time high."

Not at the New York scholastic level, though. There were nearly 200 fewer boy's varsity basketball teams and 2,500 fewer players in the 2008-09 season than two years earlier, according to the participant survey on the New York State Public High School Athletic Association's Web site.

Joe Altieri, the organization's director of marketing and media relations, attributes the drop more to budget decreases than popularity ones. He acknowledges it would be nice if kids had local role models at the collegiate and pro level, but said they can find them right in their own communities.

"Especially if the high school programs are successful, they have something to look forward to," he said.

Around New York, that's their only choice lately.

In a big market with big money to spend, the Knicks and Nets both think they can be players in free agency next summer, but offer little to entice fans now. Plagued by attendance woes while costing costs and awaiting a potential move to Brooklyn, the Nets couldn't even come close to filling its building Tuesday despite a ticket offer that gave away free seats.

The front row courtside at Madison Square Garden was once loaded with celebrities. The only time it's been worth a second look this season was when some Yankees came from their World Series parade to watch LeBron James, or when disgruntled former Knicks guard Stephon Marbury was booted during the home opener because he was in the wrong seat.

"I think the NBA is missing out on the fact that the Knicks haven't been great in a few years now," James said. "So we all know the history of the Knicks, we all know what has happened in this building and what the Knicks franchise has done for this league. So as a fan, I think it would be great someday or one day when this franchise can be particularly good."

Or when any area basketball team is.



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