It’s funny how a matter of two years ago, many of us had no idea as to what Twitter was, and yet now it can be the bearer of heartbreaking news:
New York Times: “Confirmed: David Lee to Warriors in sign-and-trade. He’ll get $80 mil over 6 years. Knicks get A. Randolph, R.Turiaf and K. Azuibuike.”
For a few years since the Knicks traded away an elderly Patrick Ewing in 2000, I had never really harboured the same love of a traditional “favourite player” from New York. Indeed, over the years when nba.com had asked me for my favourite player, I had never responded with a Knick, but rather with the names of men who I’ve wished were playing for us.
But then, with the last pick of the first round of the 2005 NBA Draft, the Knicks drafted a power forward from Florida who quickly became an important player off the bench and within a few years became a starter. He just as quickly became EPO’s newest favourite.
During his 5 year career with the Knicks, David Lee presented as relatively unassuming for a big-man in the NBA. Never oozing the extreme athleticism of many of his peers, Lee instead used his big body, smarts and determination to ensure that rebounds were snared, that the right passes were thrown, and that good shots were taken and made.
Lee played the kind of unpretentious, hard-working “brand” of basketball that is so often crucial for a team to have success – the kind that brought tens of rebounds and a number of points at a high shooting percentage. He became so damn good at his brand that he was even awarded with a berth on the Eastern Conference’s All-Star team last year, although his appearance in the game was an unsurprisingly minor feature of All-Star Weekend, with his 4 points and 2 rebounds hardly being the most spectacular the exhibition’s ever seen.
Lee was the man who we hoped the Knicks could build a future with. He could be our version (dare we hope: a better version?) of Kendrick Perkins, Robert Horry, or Derrick Fisher: the guy who isn’t the biggest athlete, the biggest star, or even the best player, but who works damn hard, leads the team when it’s needed, and comes out and wins a few games off his own back when the stars aren’t firing.
But then, on the night when LeBron James announced his own Fateful Decision, deciding to take his talents (and his unmentioned playoff flame-outs) to South Beach, it was revealed that Lee was bound for the Bay Area.
I wasn’t like the thousands of Knick fans who spent that evening at Madison Square Garden and at sports bars across the world drowning their sorrows at the fact that LeBron hadn’t chosen us. I had been so conflicted at the concept that this most spectacular and yet most arrogant of men might potentially be a Knick that I had driven myself to the conclusion that it would be best for the soul if the self-proclaimed King wasn’t a member of my team.
So when LeBron made “The Decision”, I was more than willing to deride the public relations disaster that it was, and not to overly concern myself with the fact that the Knicks might still be a year or two away from contention.
But then, in the first domino to fall after The Decision, it happened. As USA Today reported: “Lee has been the Knicks’ most popular and productive player under coach Mike D’Antoni, but the team wouldn’t comit to signing him so it could preserve enough salary cap room to afford two maximum salary players. The Knicks gave one of those contracts to Amare Stoudemire, who signed Thursday and plays the same position as Lee.”
It seemed that the Knicks were waiting for LeBron’s move. If we secured him, we’d go into the season with him, Lee and Stoudemire in the hope of having our own “Big Three” All-Stars in the style of Wade-James-Bosh, or Pierce-Garnett-Allen. But as soon as we didn’t land LeBron, we made the trade that gave away this season in the hope of saving money for the next.
One of the most beautiful things about living in Geelong is that it’s one of the few towns remaining in Australia that is a one-team-town. In the local throw-away papers, each year you see images of kids from yet another local primary school who have drawn pictures of their favourite Cat, and each year there are a good 15 different players represented.
It’s a reflection of that most beautiful of individual loyalties: that of a fan and their favourite player. A fan traverses the ups-and-downs with their team, referring to the team’s success or failure as their own through the use of the royal “we”. And the only time when a fan’s team becomes “they” is when the team reminds us that despite the fact that we trick ourselves into believing otherwise, the business of sport means that our favourite players are never safe in our team’s colours.
“They” – those bastards who run my team, and who I desperately want to succeed – traded away David Lee. They are the reason my favourite player’s now in a Golden State Warriors uniform. And the disappointment within me means that it could be a while before “they” become “we” once again.
But, inevitably, it will happen.
Because about 20 years ago, I sat down to choose a team. And I stood up with the New York Knicks.