#knickstape: Looking Back at New York's Lost Decade and a Half

When all else fails, blame Dolan.

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Complex Original

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On Saturday, Metta World Peace broke the news that, after just seven months and 29 games played with the New York Knicks, his agent was seeking a buyout to release World Peace from the team. Nearly 15 years after he was passed over by New York in the 1999 NBA Draft, World Peace’s decision to leave the Knicks stands as yet another indicator of how far the franchise has fallen in its post-Ewing malaise. More importantly, the moment is further proof that the team no longer belongs to the city. Marred by scandal, bloated contracts, spoiled stars, and poor performance, they’ve become just another one of James Dolan’s blown-out sideshows, a fantasy-turned-nightmare thought up by some rich kid with too much money and not enough sense. For all intents and purposes, the Knicks are dead to New York.

There’s something viciously cyclical about World Peace’s forthcoming departure from New York, namely, in the way that it corresponds to Dolan. Around the same time that the Knicks snubbed World Peace in the draft, Dolan was beginning to take a more hands-on approach with his franchise. Up to that point, Dolan had been known as the CEO of Cablevision, a position granted to him after his father stepped down from the role in 1995. Cablevision owns numerous sports properties, including the New York Knicks, New York Rangers, New York Liberty, and the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack. But, reportedly, it wasn’t until 1999 that Dolan, “started really getting more involved with the Knicks...when George Steinbrenner and other people suggested he should get more involved.” The intersection of Dolan’s increased participation and the Knicks’ eventual decision to pass on World Peace foreshadowed the franchise’s eventual death. Almost 15 years later, we can still trace back the pains of today’s Knicks squad to this exact moment in time. 

The intersection of Dolan’s increased participation and the Knicks’ eventual decision to pass on World Peace foreshadowed the franchise’s eventual death.

The failures of the New York Knicks from the 1999 NBA Draft to today can be recited as litany. Frederic Weis. Isiah. Marbury. Steve Francis. Larry Brown. Isiah. Jerome James. Eddy Curry. Isiah. Antonio Davis. Zach Randolph. And, of course, Isiah. This is not even to mention the Anucha Browne-Sanders scandal—a disgusting sexual harassment fiasco that revealed how internally fractured the franchise had truly become. 

Despite all their headlines and attendant grief, controversial players like Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis weren’t the problem. They were a symptom of diseased management and ownership. Great front offices are unwilling to be defined by media hype and attention, and because the Knicks have never closed themselves off to this pervasive influence, they’ve been beaten by the press time and time again. Marbury and Francis weren’t honest attempts to build a cohesive, winning team. They were quick fixes who could sell tickets. They were half-hearted stabs to continue the legacy started by Bernard King, Walt Frazier, and every other player deified by New York sportswriters and fans. As one of the NBA’s foremost franchises, the Knicks have continually refused to bottom out and rebuild by shedding bloated contracts and hoarding draft picks. Blinded by pride and fear, they’ve instead been forced to rebuild on the fly, often stitching together bands of misfits that never resemble a team. 

But these moves are unsurprising. If you’ve ever read anything about James Dolan, then you know that he’s famously self-conscious about how the media perceives him and, by extension, his team. Dolan’s personality isn’t suited to lead. He wants to be beloved. But instead, he looks desperate and egotistical on an annual basis. The nepotism that bought Dolan a seat at the table of his father’s company couldn’t prepare him to take over a team like the New York Knicks.

When the player formerly known as Ron Artest was signed this past offseason, it reminded everyone of the lengths that the organization will go to to make a quick headline. What was management’s aim here? Sure, Metta had just played his best season in about four years, but he was also taking more shots than he ever had with the Lakers, the exact type of stat inflation that’s more indicative of a Mike D’Antoni offense than player turnaround. On top of that, the Knicks were the oldest team in the league last season (another obvious example, by the way, of the team’s failure to build through the draft) and at 34 years old, Metta wasn’t helping that problem. Once again, it was just another thoughtless grab for attention by the Knicks. Bring the hometown kid in. The story sells itself, right? But, as we’re seeing with Metta World Peace, you can’t just go back on a decision you made 15 years ago. An entire career happens in 15 years.


Now, with Metta World Peace’s buyout on the way, another nail is being hammered into the coffin of the long-deceased Knicks. For a franchise that has been plagued by chaos and incompetence for years now, it’s glaringly symbolic that a man with the last name “World Peace” can’t find a place on this team. The joke is staring at us all in the face. Unfortunately, with the New York Knicks, we’ve heard it too many times before to laugh again.

After all, what’s funny about Mike Woodson, a man who isn’t a coach so much as he is a professional handler for Carmelo Anthony? What was funny about the inclusion of Chris Smith on the 15-man roster at the beginning of the season? What’s funny about a team that has been unable to play defense since Jeff Van Gundy left 13 years ago? In the decade-plus since JVG was fired, the team has had a top-five defense just once. All of this is about as funny as when Dolan forced Donnie Walsh out of the front office because Walsh was (rightfully) getting credited with the Knicks’ turnaround in the post-Isiah era. It’s about as funny as the fact that Dolan wants to be a rock star, literally.

Many of us have seen James Dolan before. He’s the loaded, overbearing type who flashes his money in the hope that it’ll impress everyone. He talks the loudest, but pouts when things don’t go his way. He’s surrounded by yes-men, the type of people who can only be bought. His antics and grand-standing have built him a fake empire inhabited by people who are more worried about keeping their job than doing what’s right for an organization. 

But what’s standing in the way of that progress? An organization with blinders on, sitting atop the heap, crowing like idiots, insisting that nothing ever really changed at all.

As such, the team has lacked an identity for over a decade now. Carmelo Anthony may be a better player than Marbury or Francis but without a coach to keep him in line, he’s just as stubborn about demanding the ball in order to pile up points. Stats are the goal here, wins are a secondary benefit. We cringe every time that Melo pushes the ball up the court, only to stop at the perimeter and bring the offense to a screeching halt along with him. We scratch our heads when—after taking an ill-advised three-pointer—J.R. Smith admits that he didn’t even know what the score was at the end of a game. And Bargnani, well, you know.  

Respect and nostalgia can be troublesome, old-timey concepts, but in this matter they’re crucial. These ideas are supposed to separate the Knicks from their inter-borough rivals, the Nets. When Brooklyn came to town, switching allegiances was supposed to be blasphemy. Now, the Nets are just a convenient (and much-needed) excuse to get the hell away from Manhattan.

Furthermore, a franchise that was once based around the unwavering swagger of players like Charles Oakley or John Starks or Patrick Ewing needs to look to the past in order to figure out its future. We all know that defense still wins championships. It’s unclear whether we can say the same for the Knicks. Since the 2000-2001 season, only one title-winning team has finished outside of the top 10 in defensive rating. It was the Lakers of the same year, who famously coasted through the regular season before losing just one game in the entire playoffs. New York has no such excuse. If a stop needs to be made, who—aside from Tyson Chandler—will make that happen for the Knicks? When New York made the NBA Finals in 1999, it wasn’t because they had guys like Carmelo leading the way, or role players like Bargnani at his side. Patrick Ewing was their leading scorer that year with 17.3 PPG, over 10 points less than the average that Melo is currently putting up. It was New York’s fourth-ranked defense that pulled them to the top of the Eastern Conference in 1999, spurred by a yard dog attitude and a refusal to even bend, much less break.

Now, the Knicks have traded in their old personality for...well, it’s hard to say exactly who they are. But let’s at least see what they’ve gotten in return: six playoff appearances in 15 years, four of which ended in the first round. Nine losing seasons with no. 10 fast approaching. A countless number of misguided jumpers. $1B in renovations to house a team that no one should be paying to watch. Any filled seat in the Garden isn’t a testament to the good will that the organization has engendered with a string of winning seasons over the past four years, it just shows that, at best, the Knicks are a team that can get people talking. After that, it’s just all hot air. As for Metta, he’s done some pretty crazy stuff over the course of his career, but even he knows that staying with this team is ludicrous. A guy like Metta can add a crucial element to a championship-caliber squad. He has been a tenacious defensive presence and in Los Angeles, he had the perfect personality to negate some of Kobe’s (at times) overbearing self-seriousness. But with the Knicks, he’s just another example of the franchise’s inability to rein in their players and exert some type of control over their stars. He’s another voice in a room full of people screaming at the top of their lungs.

Fifteen years in the making, here’s how the story of Metta World Peace and the New York Knicks is coming to an end: when the hometown kid finally found his way back, he was greeted by a broken home, a pile of rubble sitting where his house once stood. It’s been that way for years now but, for some reason, fans and media have stuck around, thinking that something can be made of the ruins. But what’s standing in the way of that progress? An organization with blinders on, sitting atop the heap, crowing like idiots, insisting that nothing ever really changed at all.  

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