Friday, December 24, 2010

WWOD?'s Twas the Night Before Knicksmas 2010

Twas the night before Knickmas, when all through the Garden
Not a big man was stirring, not even a Moz.
The high tops were laced by the lockers with care,
In hopes that STAT Stoudemire soon would be there.

The reserves were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of Jill Martin danced in their heads.
And Walsh in his blue suit, and D'Antoni his 'stache,
Had just settled the game plan: pass, press, slash.

When out on the street there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from Row G to see what was the matter.
Down to the lobby I flew in a hurry,
Threw open glass doors, wide enough for Eddy Curry.

The moon on the hoods of bright-yellow cabs
Gave the lustre of Time Square to Seventh and Eighth Aves.
When, what to my goggled eyes should appear,
But the Knicks Groove Truck, with eight hoopsters fleet-footed as deer.

Led by a power forward, an explosive live-wire,
I knew in a moment he must be STAT Stoudemire.
More rapid than Suns his teammates they rose,
And he whistled, and shouted the names sewn to their clothes!

"Now Felton! now, Chandler! now, Douglas and Fields!
On, Gallo! On, Williams! on Randolph and Ronny!
To the top of the Atlantic! to the top of the East!
Now dash up! Dash up! No longer last, nor least!"

Unlike lottery teams that before the Celtics flee,
and when facing a top foe, genuflect on bended padded knee.
Up the standings these 'bockers they flew,
With the record full of road wins, back on TNT, too.

And then, in seven seconds, I heard trumpeted by Mike Walczewski
The picking and rolling of each orange-hued Reebok and Nike.
As I went to the parquet floor, and was turning around,
Down the chimney STAT Stoudemire came with a bound.

He was dressed in home whites, positioned in the high post,
And his uniform was all dusted with asbestos.
A bundle of blocks and shots he had turned back,
And he looked like Patrick, only the flat top did he lack.

His shades-how they twinkled! jumpers he did bury!
His tattoos were like runes, his grin like a victory!
His wide droll mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as precise as his free throw.

The frames of his glasses he pushed up his brow,
When he steps to the charity stripe, never better than now.
He had an angular face and a circumcised member,
A Jew, he was in Israel before Training Camp began in September!

He was long and muscled, as sturdy and tall as a tree,
And I cheered when I saw him, yelling M - V - P!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave others to know the Mecca was somewhere to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And dropped 30 points, then turned with a jerk.
He posterized a defender and held, for a moment, a pose,
Giving a nod as up to the rim he rose!

He slammed the ball down, to his team gave chest pounds,
And away they fast broke, quick as speeding sounds.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove the lane,
"Happy Knicksmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday Mudita

A Tale of Two Punters

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
When recalling the Jets' season-righting, white knuckle victory at a snow-dusted and frostbitten Heinz Field yesterday, there are few plays that will be talked about many times over by fans and talk radio hosts.

1) The defense on the final play, when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (who had been flushed to his left but not touched by the visitor's mostly absent rush) attempted a pass to tight end Matt Spaeth with zeroes on the game clock. Spaeth did get his hands to the ball, but so did Jets cornerback Marquis Cole, as his momentum carried him toward the sideline. The ball hit the turf out of bounds as did all other players involved in the play. Game over.

2) Mark Sanchez's scamper on a naked bootleg for the Jets' first offensive touchdown since Al Toon was running fly routes. Coincidentally, that scoring play left the Jets' offense celebrating in precisely the same spot where the defense broke up the Steelers' last gasp attempt to win.

3) Jason Taylor's meastly tackle of Steelers running back Melwelde Moore in the endzone for a safety. A play which accomplished three things, at least. First, it reminded me that Taylor was still on the team. Second, it staked the Jets to a lead only surmountable with touchdown. Lastly, it led me to send the following text message to a fellow Jets fan: We just got our balls back. And the ball.

Each of these three plays were pivotal, together they tell the story of the game. Almost. Because one other key play is missing. A play that occurred shortly before Taylor was clapping his hands together over his head in the endzone. After consecutive incomplete passes from the Pittsburgh 32-yard line by Mark Sanchez (to Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes, respectively), Jets punter Steve Weatherford lofted a punt skyward. It dropped just shy of the goal line and was downed by special teams gunner Marquice Cole at the 3-yard line. On the next play, Taylor dropped Moore in the endzone for the safety.

The punt was one of two that Weatherford laid gently inside the Pittsburgh 5-yard line. After the Jets' post-safety possession, he dropped the ball on the Pittsburgh 8, which is the spot where the Steelers embarked on their adventurous last drive of the day. If not for the punt downed by Cole then there is no safety. If there is no safety then there is no need for the Steelers to push for a touchdown as time expires. Therefore, there may have been no bigger play in the game than Weatherford to Cole. And, if this drive-me-to-drink, last-second victory proves pivotal in a deep Jets' run into the postseason then perhaps we'll look back on that punt in Pennsylvania as one of the keystone plays of the season.

A former housemate and lifelong Giants fan used to regale me with the feats and feets of Jeff Feagles. These songs of praise were as regular and relentless as church bells each Sunday. Even when the Giants were flush with talent Super Bowl bound, he would insist that the punter was the best player on the team. Well, except for that one crazy night (I believe it was after a late comeback against the Broncos) when he was screaming "Eli is better than Peyton" for all the world to here. Other than that day, it was Feagles this and Feagles that.

There is no doubt that he missed the retired punter yesterday when the Giants' freshman special teamer Matt Dodge lined a punt directly to Eagles burner DeSean Jackson in the waning moments of regulation play at the Meadowlands. Although the G-Men had broken down on offense and defense during Philly's comeback bid, one good mediocre play on special teams could have sent the game to overtime. Alas, Dodge, who appeared quite nervous as he paced the field before his final punt of the day, seemed to panic after a high snap, outkicking his coverage. Perhaps more concerned with just getting the ball away than with its direction, he put it in the one place that Giants coach Tom Coughlin didn't want it: in the hands of Jackson.

If the Giants aren't able to right their season next week in Green Bay then perhaps this punt will be considered the pivotal moment in the latest season-ending collapse for this group. With so many big name players on both sides of the ball for both local teams, who would have thought that two punts just a few hours apart could really make all the difference?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday Morning Schadenfreude Jets News

As my grandfather bellowed in the rarely dusted off Give Me Back My Son tone, why didn't he just use is goddamn hands?"

To heap further shame on the Jets and further ridicule on Jets fans already getting ridiculed by colleagues, loved ones and the Patriots fan selling newspapers just outside the Lexington exit of Grand Central, Jets coach Sal Alosi tripped a Dolphins special teamer during a kick return yesterday. Alosi, a strength and conditioning coach, is presumably on the sideline just in case any one gets the mid-game urge to talk about really popping their triceps in that next workout.

These low-flying Jets are in an old-fashioned tailspin right here. The offense has stalled, airspeed is dropping and they're started to corkscrew they're way to the draft lottery.

Monday Mudita

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mike Breen Was Taking Your Calls the Night That John Lennon Died.

Sorry for what seems, even to me, to be an overabundance of posts related in one way or another to John Lennon (but seriously go back and read "Lebron James and the Plastic Riley Band"), but I couldn't help but share this moment from last night's Knicks broadcast on MSG.

Mike Breen (that's him on the right) was handling play-by-play duties with Walt "Clyde" Frazier (yup, the left) during the tilt at the Garden when he shared his own story from thirty years ago last night when Lennon was gunned down outside of his home on the Upper West Side.
"I remember that night vividly because I was a student at Fordham University, and working as a DJ that night on their overnight rock show. And was called in by, there was another student who was supposed to do the show ahead of me, and she was so upset by hearing the news of his death that she called my home and said, "You have to come in early and do both shows. I can't go on." She was so distraught. And I went in to do the shows, and started answering the phones for requests for the Beatles' music. We were playing Beatles music all night long, and people were calling in all night, so emotional. Many of them in tears, many of them telling how John Lennon changed their life. It was some incredible stories that the people were telling. And of the impact that his music and the meaning - and as Gallinari is fouled - had on them and it is a night I'll never ever forget, and you really realize how much he touched so many people. I remember one in particular, there was one gentleman called up and said that he was ready to take his own life but John Lennon's music kind of made him see things a little more clearer and he felt it saved his life. Just incredible stuff."
Somewhere in the earnest yet understated way in which Breen was able to deliver this anecdote lies the key to him being the best play-by-play guy in the business. Not only does his background, both proudly being born and raised in the Big Apple and his gig as a late-night rock DJ (could this guy get any more awesome?), give him the capability of delivering the story in the first place, but his tremendous empathy enable him to deliver it without sensationalizing it or playing up the part he played. There's no way that this recollection comes off nearly as poignant if subjected to the ham-fisted delivery used by most local television guys. In case you couldn't tell, I couldn't be a bigger fan of Breen unless he were Clyde.

Following the Leaders

Knicks Co-Captains Lead Team to Victory

Bile. That's what I tasted, bitter with a dash of salt, the last time that I heard "M-V-P ... M-V-P ..." resounding through the Garden in person. It was the night that Kobe dropped 60 for the Lakers without grabbing a rebound. Carpet-bagging Lakers fans and front-running tourists seemed to outnumber old-time 'bockers backers on that night (probably because the Knicks had marketed tickets for several high-profile games around that time with a "Dream Week" slogan that clearly trumpeted the visiting teams). The last time I remember chanting that chant for a player in home whites? Maybe for Patrick Ewing toward the end of the 1994-95 season?

But last night as Amar'e Stoudemire dropped in fourth-quarter bucket after fourth-quarter bucket, Knicks fans were serenading one of their own with those three letters.

"M ... V ... P ... M ... V ... P ..."

Embroiled in a tight game against the visiting Raptors, who the Knicks were looking to beat for the second time in four days and the third time already this season, the team followed its two captains to the winner's circle (and, no, I don't mean that restaurant on top of the possibly shuttered OTB on Seventh Ave. somewhere in the high 30s).

When Amar'e stuttered early, though, it was his co-captain, Raymond Felton, scoring in a flurry to close out the second quarter. The Knicks trailed, 49-36, when our soon-to-be All-Star point guard exploded, muscling and hustling his way to three layups, a made three-point shot and an armful of free throws. He singlemindedly and nearly singlehandedly willed the Knicks on top heading into intermission.

And later when Raptors center Andrea Bargnani actually played like a No. 1 overall draft pick down the stretch, Amar'e stepped up and matched him hoop for hoop. Thanks to a mid-range jump shot that proved as reliable as his slam dunk (he literally alternated one for the other for 10 buckets in the last few minutes), STAT scored an astounding 18 points in the fourth quarter to keep on keeping up that streak of 30+ point games.

The performance was arguably his most emphatic of the season. Or maybe not. He's prolific enough that it's actually hard to tell. At the very least, last night's stellar outing was the one where I began to believe (although I reserve the right stop believing at any point). Despite the nice start to the season, last night may have been the time I got my faith back. Even early in the fourth quarter, I was still saying "No ... Yes!" each time he put up a 15-footer instead of attacking the rim. I thought he was settling for that shot. False. He was taking it because he already believed. Because he works doggedly at the shot and has for years.

And while I was waiting for the sound of the other shoe dropping, when I was wondering which jittery Knickerbocker would miss from what spot on the floor, it was Toronto getting called for a five second violation (precisely the sort of mental lapse that was a Knicks' hallmark in recent years). When I was waiting for that second shoe, the only thing dropping was Felton's game-winning three-pointer with under three seconds remaining.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mike Wilbon's Big WaPo Finish

Raised in northern New Jersey, I didn't grow up reading Mike Wilbon in The Washington Post. I was reading Bob Klapisch on baseball in The Bergen Record, Peter Vescey on the machinations of the NBA in the New York Post and Bill Rhoden on grown-up angles that I hardly would have though up on my own in the Times.

Even at an early age, I must have intuited that Mike Lupica was a blowhard jerk because he wasn't really on my radar. And that's before my uncle crossed paths with him while each was coaching youth basketball in the suburbs of Connecticut. I may be remembering this wrong, but I believe that each of the handful of times that they met in a grade school gym or had to speak on the phone (only once, I believe, to re-schedule a game canceled due to inclement weather), Lupica insisted on introducing himself as "Mike Lupica of the Daily News" as if they had never met previously or as if his profession was somehow relevant to their interaction as the coaches of 8-year-olds. Eight-year-olds, dude. My dad's younger brother is a sweetheart who will make several stops each morning to make sure he can read a print edition of each New York sports section. He loves following the Knicks and loves coaching his children, yet Lupica insisted on big timing him over grade school hoops. But I digress.

Despite not hailing from the WaPo delivery area, we're all very familiar with Wilbon at this point thanks to Pardon the Interuption. That and his co-authorship of Who's Afraid of a Large Black Man with Charles Barkley. Which is why I felt compelled to read the final column that he filed with The Washington Post. As he severs his last remaining ties with the newspaper, a break in the works since PTI first aired on ESPN on Oct. 22, 2001, Wilbon takes a look back at his mentors and subjects. Not surprisingly given his starting date in 1980, he reveals that Michael Jordan is the most dominant athlete that he covered and that Len BIas' death was the one of the most tragic events of his tenure. On the whole, he comes off as much more gracious and inquisitive in his writing than he does on television.

Considering that Wilbon's transition to television, along with his past and future cohort Tony Kornheiser, is but one small piece in the deterioration of the newspaper business it felt somewhat odd reading this final column on computer screen instead of in print. But I guess that's part of the story, too.

WWOD? Re-Runs: A Date Which Will (Also) Live in (Lesser But Still Significant) Infamy

(This story initially ran on 12/8/09)

Aside from being my mom's and Larry Bird's birthday, Dec. 7 is also the anniversary of the surprise attack by the Japanese Navy on the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The following day US President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt delivered speech to a joint session of Congress. During his address he referred to the previous day as "a day which will live in infamy." Less than an hour after completing his remarks a formal declaration of war was made and it was on. The US had entered WWII.

The day, Dec. 8, of the "infamy" address is also itself a date that has a tragic legacy. On Dec. 8 1980, John Lennon was gunned down outside of his apartment building in New York City. He was returning home when he was shot in the back. The assailant was captured and imprisoned. While there was no formal declaration of war or famous piece of American oratory that resulted, there was a collective moment of national shock when the news was relayed by sportscaster Howard Cosell during a Monday Night Football telecast.

Making Cosell's announcement (slightly) more poignant was the fact that Lennon had previously been a guest in the Monday Night Football booth.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 7: A Legend Was Born

For some, Dec. 7 is remembered as "a date that will live in infamy" because it was when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. For many others, most too young to have their lives halted by the war, Dec. 7 is celebrated as the day that a beloved legend was born.

I'm in the latter category. Because today is my mom's birthday.

Oh, it's also Larry Bird's birthday. Some folks think he's pretty legendary, too.

Time Off Ain't On Our Side

The New York Jets have played three of their 12 games during the 2010 season after having more than seven off days. They have been outscored 64-12 in those three games, failing to score a touchdown in any contest and being held scoreless once.

2010 Jets Results and Days Between Games
WeekOpponentDays OffResult
1BaltimoreEntire OffseasonLoss, 9-10
2New England5Win, 28-14
3@ Miami6Win, 31-23
4@ Buffalo6Win, 38-14
5Minnesota7Win, 29-20
6@ Denver5Win, 24-20
8Green Bay13 (Bye Week)Loss, 0-9
9@ Detroit6Win, 23-20 OT
10@ Cleveland6Win, 26-20 OT
11Houston6Win, 30-27
12Cincinnati3Win, 26-10
13@ New England10Loss, 3-45
Both the season-opening loss to the Ravens and the defeat by Green Bay after the bye week left me convinced that Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer had out-thought himself. With too much time to script plays, he got carried away with what was possible on paper instead of focusing on what was going to be effective on the field. In both cases, it appeared that the Jets were tentatively trying things rather efficiently executing things that they already had confidence in.

Against the Ravens, the supposedly "Ground and Pound" Jets attempted passes on 6 of the 8 non-kicking (punt and field goal attempt) plays that comprised the offense's first two drives. They then came out after the half and went three and out on their first possession of the third quarter with three pass plays. In both losses, there were reverses run at inopportune times that suggested that they had been scripted in advance. Like maybe on the ninth day of game-planning.

Against Green Bay, the Jets coaching staff called 41 pass plays to just 28 running plays and saw punter Steve Weatherford freelance on a fake punt attempt in a fourth-and-18 situation from his own 20-yard line. That loss to Green Bay was also marred by a missed field goal and a foolish referee challenge by Rex that came back to haunt his team. Which brings us to last night's thorough debaclization of the Jets up at Foxboro where a mis-used challenge and a missed field goal led to this game unraveling early.


This 45-3 defeat at the well-manicured hands of Tom Brady was so surgical and unequivocal that it hardly hurt, like being cut with a Hattori Hanzo blade so sharp that you don't feel the pain until you feel the wet warmth of the blood pooling at your feet.

Hard to block when the Jets had the ball and harder to tackle when they had it, the Patriots seemed prepared and aggressive on both sides of the ball. They executed ruthlessly and singlemindedly while the Jets seemed tentative and disjointed (and, yes, I'm talking about LT taking another dump off pass to the helmet). While the Jets players spent all those off days telling reporters and themselves that could win it certainly seemed that the Patriots spent the time making sure that they would win.

Yes, the shanked punt, missed field goal and squandered challenge all figured prominently in the game getting away from the Jets so early, but those things almost seem irrelevant when considered alongside the striking difference in comfort and urgency between the two teams.

For me, last night's humiliating loss hammered home the notion that time off isn't on the side of the New York Jets. Rest makes rust and unfamiliar game plans. I don't know if the blame falls entirely on the meaty shoulders of Rex Ryan whose top-flight motivation skills and innovative defensive philosophies may outstrip his in-game efficiency by more than we were all willing to concede. Or, does more of the blame fall on Shotty? His offense, which despite his high profile have never actually amounted to much over the duration of a season, seems stuck in neutral every time he has more than a few days to tinker under the hood. Of course, even if the blame does lay with the offensive coordinator one could transfer that right back to Rexy for not having a heavier hand in the offensive game planning. At this point, he likes to talk about the running game more than he likes to make sure that his coaches are relying on it.

Although Patriots coach Bill Belichick has thrived on tailoring a game plan to counter his opponent's strengths, these Jets seem to be at their best when they impose their own strengths - the running game and an aggressive defense.

Under Ryan, the Jets have been more successful when drawing on an overarching me-first theme rather than a week-by-week scheme based on the other team. This is why we heard "Ground and Pound" so often last season as the Jets rolled to the AFC Championship Game. With the Patriots in the driver's seat for the AFC East crown after last night, the Jets likely wouldn't have any extra off days before a game unless they reached the Super Bowl. So, in that way last night might have been a lose-win. After all, I can't see this team benefitting from a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday Mudita

It's not often that the British sporting press compares a player to Northern Ireland and Manchester United legend George Best. Maybe some of Gareth Bale's mazy goal-scoring glory at the San Siro evoked a few such comments. Maybe. As best I can remember*, though, they don't roll out that sort of praise for a Frenchman, yet that exactly what I found myself reading in The Guardian after Samir Nasri lifted Arsenal past Fulham with two ingenious scores that moved Arsenal atop the table in the Prem.

And, while we're on the subject of the sublime, check out this well-produced, in-depth look at el Thrashico.

*It's possible that the things I "remember"

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Foto

Awkward-Return-to-the-Scene-of-the-Crime Edition

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Unhappy Returns: Pat Riley to the Garden (1995)

Unless you spent the past few days tirelessly (and futilely) crisscrossing the globe for the past week with Sunil Gulati, president of US Soccer, then you are fully aware of the coming of the Lebronagdeon to Cleveland tonight.

Five months from leaving his home-state Cavaliers for the sultry shores of South Beach, LeBron James will tread the boards at the Q in downtown Cleveland. Lots of folks, like SI's Joe Posnanski, have already covered the myriad angles of the return. As a Knicks fan, I can't help but think back to the last time we had a tried and true traitor return to the scene of the crime. It was December 19, 1995, and former Knicks coach Pat Riley returned to Madison Square Garden with his own Miami Heat.

Riles had shocked Knicks fans and players alike when departed for the sultry shores of South Beach during the preceding offseason. Best of all, his resignation came via fax. Which given the tech-standards of the mid-1990s must have been liking breaking up with someone via text message. Is there a lol-type texttype for dumping someone?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Knicks Beat Nets! Edging Ineptitude?

There were some strange things happening as Knicks fans pushed through the curved sloping corridor toward the 7th Avenue exit of Madison Square Garden after the team's 111-100 win over the New Jersey Nets last night. Spontaneous chants of NEW ... YORK ... KNICKS (but not new New York Knicks) spread through the departing crowd faster than a bed bug infestation through a Lower East Side tenement. As these chanting fans pushed through the glass doors out into the entryway there were two female Garden staffers exuberantly dispensing free-of-charge high fives. And, perhaps most surprisingly, there was a crowd surrounding the souvenir stand near the box office. Knicks fans were reaching for their already lightened wallets and clamoring for foam fingers and STAT t-shirts after a Knicks game? In recent years, such purchases were mostly made before the game and certainly no later than halftime. After the game was a time for lamenting how much money one had spent on such a poor product, for vowing not to come back until things were different.

Well, they are. And, apparently, enthusiasm and largess are qualities shared by supporters of successful teams. I almost forgot.

After all, it has been since January 4, 2005, when Brooklyn-born Lenny Wilkens was stoically coaching a team featuring fellow Kings County native Stephon Marbury, that the Knicks went to sleep with a winning record this "late" into the season. That 2004-2005 team lost its game on 1/1/05 to Sacramento Kings, bringing its record to 16-15. A loss to Miami in the next contest, dropped those Knickerbockers to .500 and they've had yet to get back in the black any later than November until last night.

Fittingly, those Wilkens-Marbury Knicks began the franchise's backslide to the Summer of 2010 with a loss to the New Jersey Nets on New Year's Day 2005, just a few days before that dropping under the .500 mark. Heading into that 1/1/05 showdown with the Nets, the Knicks had finished the '04 portion of the schedule with a flourish, taking 8 of their last 12 to go three games over .500 at 16-13. Marbury had yet to acquire any facial tattoos and was still putting up those Oscaresque stats, posting back to back 30+ point games and ranking among the league leaders in assists. Asked about his recent run of success the day before taking on Jason Kidd's Nets, Marbury said:
"Don't get me wrong, I love Jason Kidd, he is a great point guard. [But] how am I comparing myself to him when I think I'm the best point guard to play basketball? That makes no sense. I can't compare myself to somebody when I already think I'm the best. I'm telling you what it is. I know I'm the best point guard in the NBA."
The self-proclaimed "best point guard in NBA" did score 31 points to go along with 8 assists, 4 boards and 3 steals in that game against the Nets, but Kidd orchestrated a win for his team. One of many that would come at the expense of the Knicks in the ensuing years. Aside from James Dolan's subsequent proclamation about "evident progress" under Isiah Thomas, perhaps no remark better exemplified the franchise's lack of self awareness during this post-Ewing slog through the wilderness of ineptitude.

During the team's stay in the hinterlands, few losses rankled Knicks fans more than those beat downs administered by Kidd and the Rutherford Runners Club. Knowing that we kept the Knicks flush with season ticket money and concession sales through all those lackluster efforts and that we grabbed tighter than Sophie to Jan to any glimmer of fire made those losses sting more than most. We Knicks fans cheered DEEE-FENSE at the tops of our lungs during midweek fourth quarters whenever it was vaguely appropriate while the Nets struggled to draw enough folks to justify opening up the second case of beer at a block party. It burned me up how that organization could field a team that just killed our team. We cared so hard and so fruitlessly and few things pointed that out more than losses to the Nets. Which is a (predictably) long way of writing, that last night's win important for everyone in the building. Fans left cheering, Knicks players left with a winning record and the Nets left knowing that visiting the Garden has changed.

Observations, Retro-Predictions and Things Best Left Unsaid
-Amar'e Stoudemire is for real (on offense). He's the truth. He's the answer. He's not the Big Fella, but he's something and we need to do better than STAT in the nickname department. Unless of course that knee eventually fails and then he can just be the McDyess.

-The Felton-STAT pick-and-roll combination is getting tighter as is there overall comfort level. Perhaps the game's most emphatic bucket in the third quarter was scored after Ray sliced to the rim and diced the Nets' interior defense with a pass to Amar'e, who slammed it home.

-Brook Lopez can score the ball. Although the Nets second-year center played mostly unmolested with Ronny Turiaf still nursing a knee injury, the good son

-Jets closer/wide reciever Santanio Holmes was in attendance and got a loud ovation from the crowd.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

El Thrashico

Barcelona Routs Real Madrid, 5-0

Regardless of the language or locale, sports fans speak in hyperbole.

Greatest. Le plus grand. Most. La mayoria. Ever. ├╝berhaupt.

The demands of the 24-hour news cycle and the voracious metabolism of the Interwebs further fortify the belief among sports fans that everything that happened today is more awesome and more significant than whatever happened yesterday. Just ask Bill Simmons. I guess this urge is sort of why every generation thinks that the world is likely to end during their own lifetime. Because, after all, how could anything that world-historic happen on someone else's watch?

Well, when it comes to last night's 5-0 thrashing of Spanish Giant Real Madrid by Catalan powerhouse Barcelona the hyperbole may be justified. This 2010 edition of el Clasico featured two sides with arguably the greatest players ever assembled on one field and may have been the most resounding triumph ever in the storied rivalry between the two dominant sides of La Liga.

Greatest. Le plus grand. Most. La mayoria. Ever. ├╝berhaupt. If someone goes and tells Simmons then maybe we'll get a retro preview.

On the field for Barcelona were 2009 FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, likely 2010 Ballon D'Or winner Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Villa, Carlos Puyol and various members from the Spanish side that won the 2010 World Cup as well as the 2008 Euros. Madrid sent out 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, high-priced starlets Mesut Ozil and Karim Benzema, as well as Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso and Iker Casillas from the Spanish National Team. Virtually every key player from the world's dominant national squad was on the pitch at Barcelona's Camp Nou with Messi and Sexy Ronaldo added to the mix, not to mention international standouts like Ricardo Carvalho (Real/Portugal), Dani Alves (Barca/Brazil) and Eric Abidal (Barca/France).

Heading into the match, Real Madrid sat atop the standings in La Liga and were undefeated through a dozen games, but in the biggest match of their domestic season the Catalans were artful and ruthless, revealing Camp Nou as the true source for recent Spanish dominance. The mesmeric tikka-takka passing game that made Spain's recent ascendance such a pleasure for football purists around the world was largely honed in the Barcelona youth academy that produced so many of these players.

If the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Miami Heat on national television on Christmas day by a score of 128-79 then perhaps it would approximate the resounding nature of this victory. But most likely not. And even though we'd all be certain to call such a Lakers result the greatest ever. It wouldn't be. Because of El Thrashico.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ronny Turiaf is the Baking Soda in the Knicks' Recipe For Success

The kitchen at WWOD? Headquarters is occasionally mangled and messed by my amateur gastronomy. And, not to brag, but I've been known to come up just short of the medal round in various local cooking competitions. In those situations, well-intentioned strangers are almost uniformly complimentary. Although I may not ready to host an episode of Cafeteria Fraiche, I've got a few staples down pretty good, including a delectable Chili con Cornbread (which is my signature chili with a layer of cornbread baked right on top).

With Thanksgiving upon us, food and cooking are frequent topics of conversation. Being non-denominational, gift-free and focused almost exclusively on gluttonous self-indulgence (with a heaping helping of football), Thanksgiving is threatening to pass Halloween as my favorite holiday.

Perhaps the only unsavory aspect of the very well-seasoned and toothsome day, at least in my family, is the annual question controversy of who will prepare what dishes for the big extended family sit-down feast. Who makes the stuffing? Is grandma cooking the turkey? If not, who is breaking the news to her? What about a ham? How many pies can we be expected to eat and compliment? What happens if an aunt shows up with a goat cheese salad that nobody really wants to dig into after it spent better than two hours in the car on the way over? And, most importantly, were any of these items cooked around nuts of any sort? Great Sacagawea's Ghost, let there not be nuts in that pecan pie!

Despite any delusions of Altonesque proficiency simmering in my soul, I've volunteered to not cook anything this year to help keep the peace. Aside from the obvious bonus of not having to spend Thanksgiving morning figuring out how to transport various foodtsuffs across statelines, I also am spared the first-bite fear of screwing up a recipe. It's one thing to cook something mediocre for myself or for a few friends who came over on a Sunday to watch football and drink beer, but it's another to explain to my grandmother why my pie crust isn't flaky or there seems to be too much salt and not enough celery in the stuffing.

When dealing with a recipe that calls for more than a dozen ingredients in various weights and measures it almost always seems like it's the one or two things that are barley used at all can wreak the most havoc if misused or forgotten. Add 5 tablespoons of butter instead of 4? No problem. Run a 1/4 cup short of the 4 cups of flour? Don't sweat it. But if you forget that 1 teaspoon of baking soda then you might as well do everyone a favor and immolate whatever you're cooking in a cleansing house fire. Because somehow that relatively minuscule quantity of that tasteless ingredient somehow means the difference between success and failure regardless of the artisinal quality of every other scrumptious ingredient.

Even though it's almost always used in small quantities, bread won't rise without baking soda and your cake won't be fluffy. Your cookie dough won't expand while it's baking on its cookie sheet and your shortbread may end up tall and un-crumbly. Despite not tasting good and seeming more chemical than culinary, baking soda allows all the other ingredients to shine. As I've watched the Knicks pull themselves out of their early-season hole, I've come to realize that Ronny Turiaf is the baking soda in the Knicks' recipe for success. Whatever athletic alchemy he is performing in the paint allows the other high-priced groceries that Knicks GM Donnie Walsh brought in to shine. In games that Turiaf has played (and not left early due to injury) the Knicks' record is 8-4. In games that Turiaf has started at center, the Knicks are undefeated with five wins. Looking at the box scores from any of these games, one wouldn't think that Turiaf's contribution was critical. Just like one glance at a 15-item recipe for carrot cake wouldn't leave you thinking that the 1 teaspoon of baking soda was make or break. You might think the butter was more important or all that cream cheese and confectionery sugar in the frosting. And, you'd be right in a matter of speaking. Just like you'd be correct to say that all Amar'e Stoudemire's scoring and all of Raymond Felton's assists are more important than Turiaf's 5 points and 3 boards per night. By volume, he's not doing that much. But without him all the tasty things about those other ingredients go to waste and this team won't rise.

Be Thankful

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Foursquare: NYK checking in @ MSG

Knicks Edge Bobcats, Run Streak to Four Wins

The last time the Knicks were at Madison Square Garden they lost to the Houston Rockets to drop their record to 3-7. The game wasn't as close as the 104-96 scoreline indicated, and the new New York Knickerbockers were freefalling like bad boys who didn't even miss her.

The Associated Press account of the game that ran on reported that "The New York Knicks seem headed toward continuing their recent holiday tradition of being hopelessly behind by Thanksgiving."

But for the first time since I can remember they went west to get healthy. After a respectablish loss (and, yes, after years of putrid, soul-clattering defeats I do distinguish respectable losses from the rest) at Denver, Amar'e, Gallo and Raymond led the team to three straight wins in Oakland, Sacramento and lesser Los Angeles.

No longer toeing the edge of the abyss, the Knicks find themselves firmly in the undeveloped playoff picture after holding on for a win over Larry Brown's Charlotte Bobcats. The Knicks were pushing and penetrating early last night, looking like the team that had won those games on the road rather than the one that lost those ones at home last week.

Toney Douglas and Rony Turiaf helped stake the 'bockers to a large lead, but the 'cats clawed back into it thanks to a flurry of Knicks turnovers early in the fourth. The beat reporters on the sidelines re-wrote their ledes several times during the second half. The first story was about Douglas, then it was the collapse then it was the Landry Fields of Dreams as he put a tourniquet on the Knicks' hemorrhaging lead. Then the story was the inability to get stops, and lastly it was about Felton laying in a few key free throws to ice his old squad.

Monday, November 22, 2010

LeBron James and the Plastic Riley Band

In December 1970, songwriter, guitarist, painter, author and aspirant fisherman John Lennon sat down with Rolling Stone mogul Jann Wenner for an interview. With the entire world listening during the past decade, he'd gone from writing about holding hands to screaming about kicking heroin. The Beatles had disbanded just better than a year earlier. Lennon was 30 years old. And Famous. Really, really damn famous. Bigger than Jesus, in fact.

In the aftermath of the Beatles break-up, each of the Fab Four was publicly coming to grips with their accomplishments and the damage that accompanied them. Ringo even put out a country record. Not coincidentally, Lennon released his solo debut, Plastic Ono Band, the same month as the sit-down with Wenner, agreeing to the interview in order to help promote the album. Then undergoing something called "primal scream" therapy, which had been helping him release pent up emotion and deal with the apparently overwhelming paranoia that had built as a result of the scrutiny he'd been under (as well as the copious drug use), Lennon was unflinchingly honest at this point in his life. Gone was the cheeky wordplay and the surrealistic imagery of his youth, replaced with unadorned, and sometimes downright nasty, truth on record and in person. The transcript of the interview was later published under the title Lennon Remembers.

Sonically, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band is at turns spare and rootsy. There are blues, folk and rock sounds. Lyrically there is anger and vulnerability, introspection and aggression. In "God," Lennon tears down civic and religious idols from Jesus to JFK. To the chagrin of twenty-something acolytes, he declares, "I don't believe in Beatles." In the early-Dylanesque "Working Class Hero", he refers to his middle class listeners as "fucking peasants," a turn of phrase that had the album's second single banned in various locales.

Aspects of the record are so caustic and elemental that a case could be made (and probably has by those better equipped to write about music) that this is even proto-punk. The vocal-chord shredding wail in the middle of "Well, Well, Well" sounds a lot like Kurt Cobain's cry of "go away" at the end of the "Scentless Apprentice" on In Utero, an album that I think has a few tunes that would fit right onto Plastic Ono Band. In particular, Lennon's "Look at Me" seems a precursor to Nirvana's elegiac "All Apologies."

"Look at Me" features John singing accompanied by his picking at an acoustic guitar while the lyrics detail his complex relationship with his audience, whom he addresses as "my love." Lennon dutifully admits that he feels compelled to comply with the world's demands on him and his art, even asking his listener/lover, "What am I supposed to do?" Rather than lash out (as he does several times in Lennon Remembers and on the record), here Lennon concedes the symbiosis between the famous and the fan. He admits that part of him hopes to please them. That he loves them and needs them.

Upon its release, the record was a critical success and Rolling Stone ranked it No. 22 on its Top 500 Albums of All Time in 2003. Last Sunday morning, I was alone in the car listening to the record for the first time in a few years, and "Look at Me" reminded me of another commercial meditation on fame that I saw for the first time just a few weeks ago.

LeBron James' "Rise" spot for Nike was created by Wieden & Kennedy of Portland. Directed by Stacy Wall, the spot tackles head-on the fallout of James' decision to take his talents to South Beach. The director was previously behind the NBA puppet commercials as well as several other notable spots. Just as LeBron repeatedly asks "What should I do?" in that recent advertorial, Lennon alternately asks "Who am I supposed to be?" and "What am I supposed to do?" in "Look at Me."

By asking such questions, both men are admitting that the opinion of those strangers matters, regardless of how much it may rankle them. The only thing outstripping the creeping disdain for the audience is the continued need for the attention and the platform. Their nearly unprecedented worldwide fame* is both addictive and alienating.

In answering Wenner's first question of the aforementioned interview - "Would you take it all back?" - Lennon says:
And these fucking bastards there just sucking us to death, that's about all we can do, is do it like circus animals. I resent being an artist, in that respect, I resent performing for fucking idiots who don't know anything. They can't feel; I'm the one that's feeling, because I'm the one expressing. They live vicariously through me and other artists, and we are the ones ... even with the boxers, when Oscar [Bonneventura] comes in the ring, they're booing the shit out of him. He only hit Clay once and they're all cheering him. That's what I resent, you know. I'd sooner be in the audience, really, but I'm not capable of of it."
After watching James's most recent commercial and noting his increasingly defensive and combative statements since signing with the Miami Heat over the summer, I can't help but think that he'd have a knowing nod for Lennon's feelings about fame and the fickle nature of the crowd.

Like Lennon after the break-up of the Beatles, LeBron is now attempting to get out in front of the stories being told about him. He's trying to write his own narrative rather than let jersey burnings commence in Cleveland unabated. LeBron's defiant shots at his critics, such as Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan, echo Lennon's own verbal barbs for former bandmate Paul McCartney and even his younger self. In each case, the anger and resentment comes off as petty. But both Lennon and LeBron are humanized by their melancholy and their pathos. Both Lennon, directly through his lyrics, and LeBron, at the behest of ad mavens and marketing wizards, admitted that they need us not only to look at them, but to support them. And perhaps even guide them. In both cases, fans have mixed reactions to seeing the flaws of their heroes.

I can't help but wonder if Wall and the fine folks at W&K created this commercial with "Look at Me" in mind, or if there are just so few ways to described the rarefied place that LBJ and Lennon have held in popular culture that they pair of searching creations just seem intrinsically linked.

"Look at Me," by John Lennon

OK? (yes sir)
Look at me,
Who am I supposed to be?
Who am I supposed to be?
Look at me,
What am I supposed to be?
What am I supposed to be?
Look at me,
Oh my love, oh my love.
Here I am,
What am I supposed to do?
What am I supposed to do?
Here I am,
What can I do for you?
What can I do for you?
Here I am,
Oh my love, oh my love.
Look at me, oh please look at me, my love,
Here I am - Oh my love.
Who am I?
Nobody knows but me,
Nobody knows but me,
Who am I?
Nobody else can see,
Just you and me,
Who are we?
Oh my love, oh my love.
Oh my love...

*Random Music Footnote (at the end of a random music post on a sports blog): John Lennon received a song-writing credit on David Bowie's "Fame" after singing the word FAME over the Carlos Alomar's guitar riff during a one-day studio session in New York with Bowie in 1975. Bowie was inspired by the theme and the chords and dashed off the rest of the lyrics. On the finished single, Lennon contributes backing vocals.

Monday Mudita

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Foto

Dare to Follow in Our Footsteps

Favre's Consecutive Fantasy Starts Streak in Jeopardy

And in the 11th week of his 20th season, be-denimed sexter and future Hall of Famer Brett Favre has become a less useful fantasy football quarterback than washed-up second string born-again signal caller Jon Kitna. At least, that's what I think. So, I've dropped the Land Baron outright. That just happened.

UPDATE: Unlike some many of my fantasy football moves, dropping Favre for Kitna actually paid off. Favre's Vikings were shellacked by the Packers, 31-3, while Kitna led the suddenly frisky Cowboys to a 35-19 triumph over the Detroit Lions.

Favre: 208 passing yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 1 rush, 0 yards, 0 TD
Kitna: 147 passing yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 4 rush, 40 yards, 1 TD

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Messi Just Happened

Rival football superpowers Brazil and Argentina shipped their national sides all the way to Qatar for what amounted to a not-so-friendly match. Qatar occupies a peninsula in the Persian Gulf and they've got themselves some oil and gas riches out there. Which is probably how they persuaded two South American nations to square off halfway around the world. Ronaldinho even made the trip, his first appearance since being dropped from the Samba squad in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup. I'd assume that reunion had something to do with all of that persuasion changing hands. As the clock ticked past 90 minutes, the match seemed destined for a scoreless draw. But then Argentine wunderkind Lionel Messi gave everyone their monies worth.

Monday, November 15, 2010

NBA History with Matty Guokas

Without the same old new New York Knicks playing tonight, I tuned in to the Magic-Grizzlies game on NBATV (after watching last night's episode of The Walking Dead). I flipped to channel 216 during the studio halftime show featuring a youthful Kendal Gill and spent Dennis Scott, and the studio team soon sent viewers back to the arena as the third quarter got underway in Orlando. A few plays in, Jameer Nelson sent a long outlet pass, after Dwight Howard handed him the defensive rebound, to Rashard Lewis who broke for the other end as soon as he saw that D12 was corralling the carom. Lewis had been boxing out former Knickerbocker Zach Randolph when he took off for the other end. Lewis upshifted as he crossed midcourt to receive the pass in stride, but he had left Z-Bo plodding up court far behind him. At this point, player-turned-coach-cum announcer Matty Guokas provided a Knicks-related lesson in hoops history.

Matt Guokas: I think Zach Randolph is maybe one of the slowest transition players in the NBA. I'm trying to think of somebody who is poorer at getting back in transition defense than Zach right now. Well, Eddy Curry. When they were teammates in New York, very briefly because Eddy Curry didn't play too many games, that was the worst combination in the history of basketball.

David Steele: Wow, that's saying a lot. A bold statement.

As if the weekend hadn't provided enough discouraging Knicks memories, Guokas is dredging ghosts of Knickerbockers past. But, yeah, he might be right. Remember, when that seemed like a good idea? Actually, check that. Remember when Isiah Thomas tried to sell us on that as being a good pairing? Strange days inside the goldmine, indeed.

Monday Mudita

Saturday, November 13, 2010

One Man's Trash ... Is a Cleveland Coach

Cleaning out my car is not a regular activity. This is partially because I don't use the car to commute. I'm swiping Metrocards to get to and fro my workplace. I really don't do much of anything in the car besides weekend trips to the grocery store, liquor store and Target. Some weeks I only start her up in order to move across the street to avoid tickets. And then back. This sporadic use keeps too many coffee cups or food wrappers from accumulating, but if some piece of trash does find a good nook, say anywhere in the back seat then it might be there for a while, like several NFL seasons.

Feeling automotively inclined this morning, I renewed my drivers license, which had expired in August. I then got an overdue oil change (but turned down the recommended engine flush). After that I didn't go all out and replace my stolen spare tire or the blown fuse that disabled the windshield wipers, but I did clean out random stuff in the trunk and empty out the pockets on the backs of the front seats. And, what a blast from the past was in those two stretched leather time capsules. In one pocket there were assorted gas station maps from states this vehicle has never entered and two ticket stubs from a terrible concert that I went to with a girl that I haven't even spoken to in years. In the other there was a half-used, wind-up disposable camera from an age before digital cameras and a dog-eared copy of Grays Sports Alamanc 1950–2000.

There was also a game day program from the Jets-Pats game played on Sept. 17, 2006. The cover featured an artist's rendering of former Jets head coach Eric Mangini. With Rex Ryan's Jets visiting Mangini in Cleveland tomorrow the timing of this find seemed quite fortuitous. Or coincidental. Or, perhaps, just a sign I need to clean out the whip at least as frequently as every presidential election.

That Jets-Pats game was the home opener in Mangini's maiden campaign as HC of NYJ. His Jets were 1-0 when his mentor Bill Belichick brought the Patriots to the swamps of Jersey. The sun was shining for the 1 o'clock start. Probably too much. It was one of those 80 degree autmumn days that makes you think polar bears need to be stronger swimmers. It would be an understatement to say that my girlfriend, who doesn't handle her pooridge temperatures too hot or too cold was not enjoying herself before the game in the parking lot.

The Jets, running a no-huddle offense, fell behind 7-0 early but were holding the Pats close when they let the visitors get their typical hammer score just before the half. For me, their is nothing more emblematic of the Patriots' run of AFC East dominance (which is hopefully coming to a close) than that score with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter (it feels like it was usually 13-yard pass to a tight end of wide receiver running a crossing pattern across the back of the endzone) change the complexion of a previously close game just before the intermission. On this sweltering afternoon, it was Chad Jackson that caught the score.

The Pats led 17-0 at the half and went up 24-0 in the third quarter. But, to his credit, Mangini got the Jets to roar back into the game. Both Jerricho Cotchery and Lavernius Coles made tough scoring grabs on balls from Chad Pennington to help get Gang Green back into the game. Cotchery's catch in particular was breathtaking, probably the first glimpse that we all got his focus and strength. He caught the ball with a defender draped over him, seemed to be tackled after reeling it in. But somehow, he managed to keep his knees or elbows from touching the ground and then wheeled off and broke for the endzone. All told, the play went 71 yards.

Although the Jets' comeback bid would fall short, Mangini would orchestrate a gritty, muddy win at New England late in the season en route to a Wild Card berth. Not bad for a chubby-cheeked rookie coach. At that point, I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that the the 2010 AFC Championship Game was in the cards, but I'd have been shocked to learn it wouldn't be the Mangenius leading the way.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Andy "Rout"-ins

Knicks Trampled by Bucks

All I heard was one name: Andy Rautins. I quicky mashed the PREVIOUS button on my DIRECTV remote control before I could hear any more or, even worse, see the game score. But those four sylables told me everything I needed to know about the in-progress Knicks-Bucks game. It wasn't close.

I had recorded last night's game on the DVR because my best gal and I were embroiled in the heretofore unheard of Date Night (which has been collecting dust on the coffee table in its Netflix envelope for weeks) and 28 Days Later (a choice inspired by the opening scenes of the first episode of The Walking Dead on AMC) movie doubleheader.

As any sports fan who has recorded a game they were going to view late knows, you've got to make sure that your television isn't tuned to the channel in question before you turn your attention to whatever is necessitating the late start. Fail on my part. Because the game popped on midstream when we turned off the second movie. Before I was ready to start viewing the Knicks-Bucks game, I already knew that Rautins was seeing his first game action of the young season.

Of course, I didn't know if this was good news or bad news. And with the Knick visiting Milwaukee it wouldn't have been hard to imagine either team running off with the game. Led by emergent point guard Brandon Jennings (who could have been a Knick had he not turned off Donnie Walsh and the staff by skipping a tryout) and Aussie center Andrew Bogut, the Bucks reached the playoffs last year. The Knicks, meanwhile, are greatly improved from last season. On paper, I'd say these are a pair of evenly matched teams, likely to be vying for one of the last playoff spots come April Fools Day.

Knowing that a blowout was potentially in the offing, Amar'e Stoudemire's dunk to stake the Knicks to an early 2-0 edge seemed monumentous. As did Ray Felton's ensuing four-point play (made jumper plus the harm with an extra technical by Jennings thrown on top).

My brief glimpse of the future of this game had me wondering how quickly the Knicks would be dining on venison. Soon enough, though, Drew Gooden of all people set me straight. He rattled off a few buckets in short order to get the home team out in front. And then came the onslaught. Bogut, Jennings and Gooden were joined by John Salmons and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in running the Knicks off the floor. Bunches of layups were followed by flurries of jumpers. Tips ins begat free throws. And by the time the buzzer buzzed on the end of the first quarter the score was 19-41.

The only surprise was that it took until the fourth quarter for D'Antonit to call on Rautins. This was a Bad News Bears performance from yesteryear's Knicks. I don't meant this next comment as a disservice to Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles or the any of the talented and industrious Bucks players, but the early action reminded me of the Jets-Lions game from this past weekend. The snowbelt home teams came out with ice chips on their shoulders and took it to the higher-wattage players from the Big Apple. I know that the Jets managed to salvage the win but there was no doubt in the first half that the Lions were the aggressors. Same song and dance in Milwaukee. Jennings and Bogut were the aggressors. For his part, Rautins went 1-2 from three-point territory in his NBA debut, finishing with just those 3 points in 8 minutes of action.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday Mudita

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Yeah, it's Still the Mecca

During the great free agent diaspora of 2010, there was much schadenfreude out in the provinces when LeBron James did not decide to sign with the New York Knicks. Whether fueled by envy, disdain, regret or one of the myriad emotions that the words "New York City" elicit in those from the other 49, false prophets decided that the formation of the 2010-2011 Miami Heat was a referendum on the status that NYC held around the league.

If you believe that then I've got a bridge to sell you.

Ever since original Garden impresario Ned Irish began hosting college hoops doubleheaders at the old Garden uptown, basketball players have known that the game's biggest stage was in the Big Apple. LBJ may have taken his talents to South Beach but Madison Square Garden is still the Mecca. That's why the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft John Wall laced up a pair of special edition sneakers last night when he made his Garden debut.

The North Carolinian who arrived in the NBA by way of Kentucky is going to accrue a lot of firsts this season with the Washington Wizards. He's got the speed and power to put up some eye-popping numbers, coming within one steal of his first triple double in just his third game. A week from tonight he'll play against future rival Derrick Rose for the first time, and at the end of the month he'll travel down to Miami to play his first meaningful game against LBJ and Dwyane Wade. Certainly it'll be a season full of first-ever moments that Wall treasures and that his fans do as well. But no one is going to talk about his "American Airlines Arena debut" unless he goes ahead and gets that triple double or breaks some sort of record. And even then, it'd be known as the Great Wall of Triple Double Game or something. I'm also guessing that Reebok ain't going to be rolling out a 13-of-a-kind sneaker to mark the occasion of his maiden trip to Oklahoma City or Milwaukee.

During the long summer of 2010 (when, by the by, one of the game's top talents in Amar'e Stoudemire did emphatically choose the Big Apple) it was explained to me by those kind enough to diagram the irrelevance of my favorite team that MSG had more meaning to old timers than anyone young and spry. But there isn't anyone younger or sprier in the game right now than Wall, and it sure seems that he's gotten the message passed down from his forefathers (and endorsers) like religion. The Garden is still the Mecca. Wall wore the shoes to prove it.

The Defensive Double Double

Nobody Knicks beat the Wiz, 112-91

The outcome was not in doubt when the Washington Wizards brought the ball up the floor for their last possession of the scheduled 48 at the Garden last night. The Knicks were going to win. Done and dusted. But New York's second-string point guard Toney Douglas was still jumping passing lanes near half court, pestering No. 1 overall draft pick John Wall as he tried to initiate one last set. Wall managed to corral the ball and pass it up court, but Knicks co-captain Amar'e Stoudemire was waiting in the paint. STAT stepped up to contest and perhaps deflect Washington's last field goal attempt of the night. It missed.

That the Knicks showed such defensive intensity on a possession only relevant to those teasing the point spread or wagering on individual prop bets (since the Knicks were in decent shape to cover the -5.5 even if they surrendered a bucket) shows how much this team has transformed itself from previous seasons. The 2010-2011 iteration of the Knickerbockers gets an evident thrill from stops in a way that I haven't seen 'round here in a while. Players are pumping their fists after forcing 24-second violations and bouncing around after blocks. And, oh yeah, they're actually blocking shots. So far, this team appears to enjoy playing defense.

In the waning moments of the contest, MSG play-by-play man Mike Crispino remarked to his esteemed broadcast partner: "The Knicks are starting to develop an identity, Clyde."

Resplendent in a wide-lapeled powder blue suit with a shimmery white shirt and lava-lamp patterned orange and gray tie, Walt "Clyde" Frazier responded, "Yeah, because of their defense, man; suffocating D."

As a team, the Knicks recorded a defensive double double with 11 blocks and 11 steals. Douglas was responsible for five of those thefts and outplayed the highly touted Wall in his Garden debut. Douglas finished with 19 points, 10 boards, 3 assists and the aforementioned haul of steals. It was his second impressive effort on the trot. The 2009 ACC Defensive Player of the Year seems to have been challenged by the acquisition of Ray Felton to start at the point rather than chastened. Just as he seemed to be invigorated by the presence of the lightning quick Wall, who marked the occasion of his first game in at the Mecca by wearing a pair of gold high tops designed by Reebok.

Described by Clyde as "stylin' and profilin'" during his pregame remarks, Wall flashed his burst and potential a few times in the second half but the Knicks did a tremendous job of keeping players in front of him on the break and not leaving him openings to knife through in the halfcourt. Amar'e stepped in and took a charge on his first breakaway attempt, really setting the tone for the team's handling of him.

All that being said, wow. Where this kid is going, he doesn't need roads. He's got footspeed and airspeed and probably could move fairly well on the high seas. His length and his musculature are already special, and at his age it would seem that his body is going to get even more impressive. Less boxy than Celtics uber athlete PG Rajon Rondo, Wall seems more serpentine without sacrificing too much strength.

But tonight's game was not about Wall as much as it was about the Knicks guards. Both Ray Felton and Douglas ate Wall up at both ends. Both picked his pocket and both scored against him. Felton skinned him with nifty change-of-pace dribble drive that had to elicit approving nods from every wizened hoops head in the Big Apple.

Aside from the defensive pressure applied, the other aspect of the Knicks' effort that impressed was the physicality with which they attacked the rim. Notably, Bill Walker attacked the rack in the second half and scored on a few dunks. Turiaf, Amar'e and the Moz all contributed slam dunks as well. But nothing could have topped the reverse slam by Chandler after a baseline drive. He posterized McGee in what could turn out to be this team's dunk of the year.

Asserting themselves at both ends of the floor, this Knicks group is further establishing its identity and reputation. They are prideful and motivated. Perhaps the two most important attributes after "talented" and "healthy" for a team to possess during the long haul of an NBA calendar.

Thoughts, Observations and Perhaps Things Better Left Unsaid
-Agent Zero is no more. Gilbert Arenas is wearing No. 9 this season. I wonder if this choice is soccer-related since top goal scorers are usually numbered 9. At this stage in his career (and with Wall lining up at the point), Arenas is no longer the No. 10-type playmaker creating and dominating play. Rather he's a mercenary finisher up top. Either way, he singlehandedly brought the Wiz back into the game in the fourth and showed that he might not be done just yet. I hope he can get back some of what he's lost due to injury and firearm-related suspensions. Not necessarily because I think he deserves it, but because he used to be one of the players in the league that I loved most to watch. Before the emergence of Chris Paul, Gil was probably the No. 1 drawing card for me.

-Andray Blatche must be a confounding player for Wiz fans to support. His first-quarter barrage was impressive, he was a one-man wrecking crew. He fluttered about 12 to 15 from the rim as Amar'e was sloughing off to guard against Wall's penetration, knocking down an impressive array of shots. He managed 16 points in the first quarter, but just 6 more the rest of the way. Clyde noted on several occasions that he was out of shape and I could only assume that his lack of conditioning contributed to his eventual anonymity. He also seemed to lose focus mentally, getting T'd up for an obvious shove of Turiaf after they got tangled under the boards.

-The Moz had a nice night. Still bedeviled by traveling violations and personal fouls, the 7-foot Russian nevertheless mixed it up with McGee and got his hands into passing lanes. He was credited with three steals and a pair of assists. After one steal he ran the break with Landry Fields, finishing on the move. He remains just past the edge of control when he's running at pace but his athleticism is apparent. He's not just a big body. He's an athlete. Perhaps eventually he'll be a ballplayer.

-Anthony Randolph is already a ballplayer, but his mind races when he gets the rock. He was all elbows, rebounds and offensive fouls against the Wiz. A tantalizing work in progress, but seemingly not ready to be a functioning part of a halfcourt offensive set.

-Wizards center Javale McGee wanted to dunk every rebound. He's a tremendous athlete who has progressed light years in terms of body control since the last time I saw him.