A Fateful Decision

When I was a kid – a primary school kid from Canberra, that is – I loved the Los Angeles Lakers’ “Showtime” era. My idol, Magic Johnson, and all of my other favourites such as Byron Scott, Michael Cooper and James Worthy, along with the bespectacled Kurt Rambis and the begoggled Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played the kind of game which was spectacular, exciting, and beautiful. A style which the world hasn’t seen played at such a consistently high standard since.

However, while Magic and the boys were mine for a while, as they started to taper off and I started to grow up, I decided that their glory wasn’t my glory. I felt it reasonable to think they were the most awesome and amazing team I’d ever seen play any sport, but I didn’t feel I could take personal pride in their success as they were already winning when I first became interested in the NBA. And – an even more pertinent point considering I was rapidly moving towards adolescence – how could I possibly support the one and only team that other kids at school went for? A need to show greater independence was calling me, so I sat down to choose the team I would follow throughout my lifetime.

I can’t remember what my criteria was that afternoon. I’m sure the Celtics and Pistons – both teams who had had recent success and were rivals of the Lakers – would probably have been scrapped first, as would have been my brother’s Hawks and sister’s Jazz. But how the process of elimination continued, I’m unsure.

What I do remember, though, is that my decision came down to four teams: Cleveland, Dallas, Golden State and New York, all of which, I felt, I’d be happy with.

While I should have learnt from my Magic experience and chosen my team on its city, its colours, its history, its nickname, or anything else that was unlikely to change, once I was down to the final four I made a naive choice: I considered the players on each team and chose the team which housed my favourite of those available. Patrick Ewing led me to the Knicks. The fact that he wouldn’t hang around in New York forever didn’t factor into my youthful “need a favourite team and a favourite player” mentality.

Whatever led me to my decision, I knew that the Knicks would remain with me for as long as I would live.

As one grows up, one realises that each of we kids who feel we simply must choose a team in every sport we ever lay eyes on don’t have time to maintain a close interest in all of “our” teams as we grow older. Like many of my mates, I’ve found that most of my teams have fallen by the wayside and I’ve also realised that my passion and devotion to one specific team exceeds all others in no uncertain terms. For me, that team is Hawthorn. However, I’ve certainly maintained space in life for another team I’m still passionate about – and thanks to that fateful decision about 20 years ago, that team is the Knicks.

It’s funny to reflect on so many years supporting one team. Not one player or coach in New York remains from when I started supporting the team, and in another 10-20 years, a whole new bunch of random players will be wearing the uniform. No wonder fans are the ones most shattered when their side loses: 300-game-for-one-club AFL footballers and Magic Johnson-style basketballers aside, very few sportspeople will ever have anything like the same connection to a club that is cultivated by fans over their lifetimes. Indeed, if I meet the averages and reach my life expectancy, one day I’ll be supporting a Knicks team filled with players who aren’t even born yet.

And, of course, I can have absolutely no clue as to what kinds of people the men who will wear the uniform will be.

Since the Ewing era ended in New York, the franchise has consistently signed players who don’t play the game the way I think it should be played. To cut a (very) long story short, I believe in: passing first as it’s the fastest way to move the ball, playing tough man-to-man defense as hard as you play offense, doing your fair share of the game’s equivalent of “one percenters” by blocking out and setting screens and taking charges, and involving all five players on the court in offense to make it most difficult for your opponents to defend. Oh, and showing a little modesty doesn’t go astray either. No wonder I loved Showtime.

The biggest signings of the Knicks since the Ewing era have included the defensive-disasters Allan Houston and Eddy Curry, the coach-strangling Latrell Sprewell, the equally disrespectful Stephon Marbury, and perhaps the pick of the arrogant-shoot-first-and-play-minimal-defense-later crew in the man who referred to himself as “The Franchise”, Steve Francis. Led by these players, the last time the Knicks won more games than they lost was back in 2000-2001, when they went 48-34 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. In the nine seasons since, the Knicks have a combined record of 279-459.

The law of averages has it that each NBA team should win a championship once in every 30 years, so I have about 10 more to go before I feel especially hardly done by as a Knicks fan in terms of their lack of on-court success. However, the disappointment of this Knicks fan stems from the fact that I can’t think of another franchise who has so consistently signed players who have been so anti-EPO in their basketballing style and their off-court persona.

One day, though, hope arrived: the Knicks drafted a brilliant man who would grow to become an All-Star simply by playing the game the way it should be played. But, incredibly, even that tale is one which ends in bitter disappointment…in my utter dismay at having chosen this team, of all teams, two decades ago.

— To be continued —

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