Monday, November 5, 2007

The Home Opener: Part 1

Game 2: Knicks (0-1) versus Timberwolves (0-1)

It’s late on a Sunday afternoon or early on Sunday evening and no one is quite sure because Daylight Savings Time just ended (or started) at some point last night. Either way, it is a Sunday in November and most New York sports fans are glued to their coaches watching football. The Colts and the Pats are slugging it out and all eyes are turned towards the Midwest and yet here I am exiting the PATH train in midtown: the Knicks’s home opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves tips off at 6 PM.

A few dozen people are milling about in the concourse area on Seventh Avenue. Ticket scalpers are perfunctorily asking if anyone needs tickets. They’re in trouble as the remaining loyalists glide by with tickets already clutched tightly in hand. This isn’t a game for passers-by or the casual New York sports fan. There isn’t any electricity in the air. It’s a Sunday. Basketball isn’t a sport for Sunday afternoons in November. And these Knicks aren’t set to change that.

The fans shuffling through the security checkpoint are admirably decked out in their blue-and-orange. Marbury jerseys still dominate but 42 (David Lee) is creeping up right behind him. Meanwhile, Curry and Robinson shirts are about as (in)frequent as the Starks or Oakley throwbacks. An older, seemingly dazed gentlemen rushes by with a too-small Antonio McDyess jersey pulled tightly over his winter coat. Nice.

The Knicks make their first appearance on the Garden floor with 16:30 to go before tip-off. A smattering of applause issues from the small crowd already in their seats. Marbury leads the team out, followed closely be Lee and then Nate Robinson. They quickly get into their lay-up lines and the T-Wolves soon take the floor as well.

A quick look at the T-Wolves and the enormity of the Garnett deal really hits. This team was gutted by his loss. Al Jefferson—the key ingredient the Celtics sent back—is a fine young talent but I’ve met Kevin Garrnet and Al Jefferson is no Kevin Garnett. The Timberwolves are one-part college All-Star team (with Ryan Gomes, Craig Smith, Rashad McCants and Randy Foye) and one part rusty spare-parts bin (Theo Ratliff, Antoine Walker, Michael Doleac, Mark Madsen and Greg Buckner). Oh, and they’ve got Sebastian Telfair. That should probably work out well for them.

Now, looking across the court at the Knicks I’m not sure what they are either. Eddy Curry is just standing by himself at mid-court dancing while everyone else shoots or stretches. He’s shimmying his shoulders and occasionally shaking his hips. In any case, the Knicks seem to be three parts underachieving talent (Marbury, Curry, Q, Crawford), two parts un-molded potential (Lee, Nate, Curry, Crawford, Balkman, Collins et. al), one part thankless ingrates all too happy to take their money and play (or sit) out their contracts (Marbury, Jerome James, Malik Rose) and one-part Zach Randolph who I haven’t really figured out yet and who could be the league MVP (at some point in his career) just as easily as he could be any of these other things. Still, when these ingredients are shaken, stirred and combined with ice, the Knicks seem markedly better than the T-Wolves.

As the game was about to get underway the crowd was subjected to a horrendously overproduced video montage during the player introductions. Original footage of a few people literally jumping around Manhattan was interspersed with highlights of players on the current roster. It’s just awful stuff considering that as recently as two seasons ago the Knicks had a video package that would send the crowd into rapturous applause with glimpses of all-time great players and the franchise's most memorable plays. How we went from Willis Reed limping out onto the court and John Starks dunking over the entire Bulls roster to some overwrought YouTube video of a few dancers jumping off ledges and stoops is beyond me. You’d think that now more than ever this team would want to associate itself with its dignified history. After all this isn’t the T-Wolves, this is a charter member of the NBA. We’ve got history and highlights and banners in the rafters. As soon as the Fame outtakes were off the video board and the crowd’s awkward silence passed the Knicks starting lineup was introduced.

The introductions begin with the pubic address announcer comically rushing through “Welcome your 2007-2008 New York Knickerbockers coached by Isiah Thomas and starting at…..” Shying away from the boos that inevitably would have come down the team cleverly tucked away Isiah’s name behind the first reference to the team which was invariably going to garner applause. Sitting in the stands you didn’t realize Isiah had been introduced until they were on to the next player. Even those who had been planning all summer to air their disappoint were robbed of the chance. Well played, Knicks. Well played.

David Lee received the loudest applause followed very closely by Renaldo Balkman and Nate Robinson. The crowd is clearly siding with the second team, the few guys who aren’t overpaid and still are working towards that goal. Jamal Crawford probably gets the next warmest welcome followed by Quentin Richardson and Zach Randolph. Marbury hears a bit more love than Curry but decidedly less than some of his teammates.

Crowd favorite, Nate Robinson takes a microphone and heads out to center court as the coaches give the last instructions to their starting line-ups. He let’s us know that the team is “gonna play harder this season…We’re gonna win more games.”

There’s nothing like an implicit admission that they didn’t play so hard last year as we’re about to get underway this year. Experience Knicks basketball!

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