For reasons I didn’t understand, as time has moved closer to the Draft Lottery on May 14th, I’ve found myself caring deeply about the Knicks, regularly hoping they land Zion Williamson, and thinking about how I want them to approach the offseason. This invisible gravitational pull to the Knicks is unfamiliar, because, after spending many years of my life as a passionate Knicks fan, I’ve been disinterested for just about 20 years, with a brief interruption when Carmelo Anthony made them relevant for a short while. I’ve been too busy for too long to find time to watch a team that brings me no joy. And the Knicks, for a long time, have brought me no joy. Yet, as the Draft Lottery has gotten closer, I’ve found myself caring. And May 12th helped me understand why.
The appropriate place to start this story is in 1984. I was seven. And the Knicks were terrible. I mean terr-a-bull. But, I loved them.
One of the quirky features of the house I grew up in was that my closet connected to my parents’ closet. So, if you opened my closet door, you could take two steps and be in their closet, and then take two steps more and be in their room. This quirk allowed me to get from my room to theirs without walking across the top of the staircase. This meant that if they put me to bed and went downstairs, I could walk into their room and turn on the TV.
I had some kind of strange inclination to inflict pain upon myself, so I would take advantage of this opportunity to sneak into their room and watch the Knicks, during a time when the Knicks were terrible.
And, in case I wasn’t clear the first time, I mean they were terr-a-bull. Have you heard of Pat Cummings? Rory Sparrow? Ken “The Animal” Bannister? You haven’t? That’s my point.
This intentional infliction of pain upon myself was destined to end badly, and end badly it did. One night when I was watching, the Knicks got beaten so convincingly that I couldn’t help but cry hysterically. It’s my earliest memory. Literally. The first clear memory that I have of my childhood is of a night when I snuck into my parents’ room to watch the Knicks, and the Knicks lost so badly that I couldn’t help but blow my own cover crying so loudly that my parents heard me and learned what I had done. I remember watching. And I remember crying. And I remember thinking “If I keep crying, they’re gonna hear me. And if they hear me, they’re gonna know I’ve been sneaking in to watch TV. But I don’t care. The Knicks are just so terrible, and it isn’t fair. They need to know that it just isn’t fair.”
The next thing I remember was a few months later. I was in my living room, watching TV in the daylight, not getting myself into any trouble. It was May 12, 1985, and I was nervously watching the NBA Draft Lottery. I remember when the Knicks were revealed to be the winner, landing the rights to Patrick Ewing. I remember tossing the couch pillows up to the ceiling. Remember jumping up and down. Remember screaming and throwing my arms up in the air. Remember slapping my father five in celebration.
Twelve years later, on May 12, 1997, my father passed away.
Given that I have so few vivid memories from before May 12, 1985 – literally, just that night of watching the Knicks after bedtime and getting myself into trouble, and maybe one or two others – those two days are the bookends of my memories with my dad. May 12, 1985 and May 12, 1997.
Lots of those memories – I mean lots – involve basketball. Playing basketball. Talking about basketball. Arguing about basketball. Watching basketball. Specifically, watching Patrick Ewing and the Knicks.
I remember watching on Christmas Day at my aunt and uncle’s house, when the Knicks were down by 25 points to the Celtics. I remember my uncle saying “if the Knicks win this game, I’ll eat my hat.” And I remember Patrick Ewing leading them to a victory. Physically unable to eat his hat, but wanting to be a man of his word, I remember that my uncle said he’d take us to a fun Knicks game. I remember going with him and my dad (and maybe my brother? He was 6 at the time, and I’m not sure whether he joined us) the night they retired Earl Monroe’s jersey. I remember watching with my dad during the crazy night of the OJ car chase. (My dad was the only person I knew who, as the OJ trial was happening, was regularly talking about the holes in the prosecution’s case. But I digress.)
For the rest of my life, I’ll have exactly twelve years of memories with my dad: May 12, 1985 – May 12, 1997 (putting aside that one memory of my night spent crying about the Knicks). Patrick Ewing is right in the middle of many of those memories. I’d like to think I’d have great memories with my dad even if that draft lottery had gone a different way. But, thankfully, we’ll never know. What we know is that one moment on May 12, 1985 changed my beloved Knicks from terrible to competitive, and gifted me twelve years of good times watching with my dad.
Now, as we move on from May 12, 2019, the Knicks are as terrible as they’ve ever been. My kids are aware of their existence, but they’ve shown almost no interest in watching with me. Starting to develop a skill for manipulation, they’ve very recently figured out that they can avoid going to bed at bedtime by saying “but Daddy, I want to watch basketball with you! Can I stay up for just a few more minutes watching basketball?” (I don’t know whether to be proud, or angry.) But, in terms of real interest in watching basketball, there have been hardly any genuine signs. And any interest in the Knicks specifically has been almost non-existent. Until a few days ago, that is… when there were highlights of Zion Williamson on TV… and I asked them to come watch… and I told them that he might be a Knick one day soon.
And they said “That would be cool! He looks like he’s good, and it would be cool for him to be on the Knicks!”
Yeah. That would be cool.
So, I’ll put on my Patrick Ewing shirt for good luck. And I’ll cheer for the Knicks to get Zion. And I’ll actually be disappointed if they don’t. But, either way, I’ll eagerly wait for July 1st, caring about what the Knicks do with their cap space in a way that I haven’t cared about what the Knicks do for a very long time. And I’ll be disappointed if they don’t land two quality players who are capable of making them competitive.
I’m quite sure that I’ll find plenty of things to enjoy doing with my kids over the years, regardless of whether the Knicks win the Draft Lottery, or sign a superstar. I don’t want to be overdramatic about it. The future of my relationship with my kids does not depend on the Knicks catching a break at the Draft Lottery, or being able to use their cap space on two stud players.
But, a competitive Knicks team to watch with my kids as they grow up? Yeah. That would be cool.
So beautifully written…funny, poignant, sentimental, hopeful… shall I go on?