For most people who know me, it would come as a surprise that I’m a sports fan at all. After all, I’ve spent most of my life engaged in the intellectual. My above-the-rim game has mostly been the one that concerns the development of analytical skills, not to mention honing my craft as a writer. In many ways I was a late bloomer, organized sports included. Puberty and my ten-inch gain in height from the middle of seventh grade to the middle of ninth grade and my mother’s genes were what made me naturally interested in sports.
It wasn’t until the end of ’82 that I became fully interested in football, ’83 when I became a baseball fan and ’84 when I started rooting for the lowly New York Rangers. Over the years, I’ve also become an ex-baseball fan (thanks to Al Campanis, Bob Costas, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, not to mention the ’94 lockout), a golf enthusiast (prior to Tiger Woods, mind you), and even watch futbol from time to time.
But my favorite sport has always been basketball. I never really had a choice. My mother played basketball in high school in segregated rural Arkansas in the mid-60s and helped lead her team to the state semifinals in ’65. My uncles on my mother’s side all played basketball in high school, and one made it to the University of Houston (3 years) and to the NBA’s Houston Rockets (1 year, ’82-’83; they went 14 and 68 that year). One of my first vague memories was watching the Knicks of Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, Dick Barnett, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and reserves in the ’73 playoffs on their way to the team’s second championship in four years. By the time I was old enough to know what I was watching, the Knicks were in decline, but my mother still occasionally watched (whenever we had a TV to watch them, that is).
When I turned my attention to sports in ’82, I knew more about the Knicks than I did about any other team, so of course I watched. The Micheal Ray Richardson affair of promise, drugs and bitter disappointment were followed by Bernard King’s rise as a scoring machine and his patented turn-around jump shot before he blew out his right knee in a meaningless game in ’85. Those Knicks sucked pretty bad during my teenage years. Hubie Brown was their coach most of those years, and he created controversies of his own, including calling Darrell Walker a “dog” more than one during a practice.
After all of the losing and dumb newspaper quotes, they won the inaugural NBA Draft lottery in ’85, picking my man Patrick Ewing that year. The Knicks still sucked for the next couple of years. But Ewing and the Knicks gave me a small miracle to hold on to on Xmas Day ’85. Trailing by something like 20 or 25 points, Ewing and Trent Tucker and the rest of the Knicks beat the Celtics of Bird, Parrish and McHale at MSG. I lived on that victory as a Knicks fan for nearly two years, during some of the worst times of my life. That victory reminded me that miracles do happen, and that we, I, can make them happen.
The post-Ewing years have not been kind to me. The Knicks have only been to the playoffs once in the past six years, haven’t been a good product to watch on the court, have had good coaches who’ve turned bad (Larry Brown) or bad coaches throughout. They’ve traded away enough draft picks to make Golden State and the L.A. Clippers better teams. The owner has the basketball management smarts of an amoeba. I’m embarrassed for anyone who’s expected to play for Isiah Thomas under these conditions. Maybe we should have Bloomberg or Trump by the team from Nolan — neither of them can do any worse.
Yet I remember those times like Xmas ’85, when the Knicks did the unexpected, the nearly miraculous, and it reminds me that all things pass in time and that all things are possible for all of us who believe they are. I hold on to those moments because they remind me that emotions and the spirit can soar even when everything seems to be going wrong. My Knicks may be sorry now, but as a fan I know that this won’t last forever.