Counterpoint: Rethinking New York’s impending Summer of LeBron

The guys in the middle don't quite fit I had a summit at an East Village bar last night with two members of the SportsAngle brain trust – Frank Pepe of Trumbull Island and Mr. Han, the self-appointed U.S. ambassador to Iceland – and our conversation of course veered toward the Summer of LeBron.

Mr. Han: I read your LeBron post last night.

SportsAngle: What’d you think of it? I wasn’t really feeling that one.

Mr. Han: It was all right, but the thing is, everyone’s saying that stuff. It’s nothing really new.

SportsAngle: True. And I write about him literally every day, and I’m usually decent at it, but that one just didn’t come out right.

Mr. Han: Him coming here, it just doesn’t feel like it makes sense. Like, if Jordan had come, that wouldn’t have made sense either.

Frank Pepe: *Nodding in agreement* The Knicks are kind of your little secret now. They’re bad, but you’re still on them. If he comes, everyone’ll be on that.

SportsAngle: I know what you’re saying. I’ve always dreamed about him coming here, but now that I think about it, it just seems weird. Too soon to write something else? What do you guys think?

Han, Pepe: *Had already moved on to discussion of Pepe’s short-sleeve sweatshirt*

They’re right, though. I thought I could do the topic justice because I have this lengthy love affair with LeBron James and a far longer one with the Knicks, and a considerable base of knowledge on both, but after all this time, it felt like forcing a square peg into a round hole.

The Dunk. 'Nuff said Even during the Halcyon Days of the mid-to-late 90’s, with all that basketball tradition, the Knicks of relatively recent vintage have been counterculture. For example, despite his Showtime pedigree, Pat Riley transformed the Knicks into blue-collar, defense-first villains.

Starks was the anti-Jordan: He went from working the grocery store to playing the Garden, and he could miss his first 15 and would still keep shooting – for better or worse. Guys like Mase, Oakley, Derek Harper – nobody messed with those guys. They weren’t the best players, but you never doubted their effort or their toughness. I think it’s why Knicks fans liked a flawed but gutsy Nate Robinson so much, he had a bit of Starks in him.

As much as I love watching LeBron, he’s not blue-collar. He’s popping bottles with Jay-Z, hosting awards shows, talking to Letterman, hosting Saturday Night Live.

He’s not washing cars, rocking purple suits or hosting the best cooking show ever like the Oak Man. He’s not catching a flick at the Ridgefield Park Loews Theater like Pat Ewing. (My friend used to work there and saw him all the time) He’s not playing a charity game way up in the Catskills like Mase. (I went to that one)

Those guys all fit the City like a glove. LeBron is the best there is, but I’m not sure he totally fits in here. Don’t get me wrong, I think we’d all do just fine if it came down to it, I’m just saying that it just seems kind of off – his champagne dreams in a Bud Light city.

Montage featuring The Dunk — start at 1:00

When Jordan supposedly had the Knicks waiting downstairs, that wouldn’t have felt right either. The Knicks weren’t supposed to have Jordan. They were supposed to dunk over him. And they were destined to be tragically flawed in terms of their inability to defeat him – and, uh, Hakeem Olajuwon.

Maybe it’s the Knicks’ destiny to have LeBron come to the Garden twice a year, and to have that be the extent of it. Maybe Walsh can build a winning team that can compete against LeBron, because it looks like he’s off to a good start.

Because past that, as lousy as they have been the last few years, it’s still kind of cool to be a Knicks fan. Those of us who have stuck with them, we’ve sure as hell earned the right to complain about Isiah and Eddy Curry and Starbury and Jerome James with whatever level of irony we want to utilize. It’s like a badge of honor. And as they prepare to go way under the cap and add some legitimate talent, those of us who have been here the whole time have earned the right to reap the rewards.

Therein lies another problem with getting LeBron. I’ve wondered for years what it would feel like to hear that he signed, and to immediately run out to the store and cop that No. 23 James jersey in royal blue and orange. But every chump in New York – and beyond – would go and do the exact same thing… just because LeBron’s where it’s at.

Looking good, guys If LeBron comes here, I just know I’ll be at some bar in the City this summer and see a bunch of “The Situation” types desecrating their Knicks jerseys by wearing them over “wife-beaters” while “pumping their fists” and drinking “Jager shots.” That’s not what the Knicks are about. And forget about getting tickets to see the team; the businessmen will rediscover their love for the team in no time, recession be damned.

Make no mistake, I still support what Donnie Walsh has been doing. Getting the Knicks under the cap should be a priority, and I obviously can’t blame him for going all-out for LeBron.

But I don’t think he’s coming here. I think he’s going to stick it out in Cleveland. It’s not like it’s a hopeless franchise – at least not with him there. Plus, he’ll earn even more capital as a good guy for turning down the big bucks of the big city to stay in his hometown.

And I honestly think that’s probably the way it’s meant to be.

Obviously, from my perspective, if I’m wrong, that’d still be fantastic. But even as I would most certainly celebrate the long-coveted merger of my favorite team and my favorite player, there would still be a very considerable part of me that feels as if both the culture around the player and the team alike will be changed to a degree, and not necessarily completely for the better.

Esoteric

6 Comments

  1. Nice read Esoteric. I think if the Knicks get Lebron, none of the sentiments in this article will matter to you anymore. The bottom line is, if your favorite team is winning because of him, then all fans including you will love him and his star status won't and shouldn't hinder that. I think you're thinking only about one particular era when you talk about guys like Starks/Oakley/Ewing(i'm sure they've been on a talk show or two themselves). Remember, there are other historical Knicks players like Walt Frazier who was all about being a star and fancying himself(to this day really). The Knicks don't always have to be the underdogs that try to take down the beast(and fail). The Knicks had no choice but to want to take down MJ, but if somehow the Knicks attained him… could you imagine the love the Knicks fans would have for him? Yes Starks captured the love of the fans for some time, and those that grew up watching him may have a special little place in their hearts for him, but if the Knicks were somehow able to trade Starks/Oakley for Jordan, every Knicks fan would have gone crazy for it(how about you?), just as the Yanks fans all warmed up to the Rocket after Boomer was traded. It was sad to see at first, but everyone knew it was a good trade. Once you join the team, we're all for you. Eddie House is a good example of that. What Knick fan didn't hate this guy? Now they cheer him. Johnny Damon. Who would have thought he'd be a Yankee after what he did to us? And yet here we are cheering our heads off for him(while he's been here). I think that's just how things work in the sports world. You think a certain guy doesn't belong with a certain team, until it actually happens.

  2. Good points here. Knicks fans probably treated Sprewell like Public Enemy No. 1 until he got here and they made the Finals. (I know I did) At the time of the potential Jordan deal, I couldn't stand the guy, something that obviously has been muted over time. If they had signed him, I think I would have warmed to him in about 30 seconds. Note: Clyde did cross my mind as someone who took advantage of the social aspects of the city, though I didn't include him. Unfortunately, I think Duhon may be doing the same thing, to his detriment.

    I mean, I'd take LeBron in a heartbeat. I have three separate LeBron wall hangings up in here. I'm just saying it doesn't feel quite right when I try to process it. Maybe it's a defense mechanism because I don't really expect to get him. But make no mistake — I agree that I'd get over it real fast if he showed up and brought 30 points per game with him.

    • funny story about duhon. my friend went to duke and he was at a party that jay williams was supposed to come to. in comes a duke player to the party and everyone thought it was jay williams at first but when they saw that it was duhon, everyone just ignored him. so then duhon got upset and yelled at everybody, “do you know who i am? do you know who i am?? i am CHRIS DUHON!!” lol it was a great story to hear. i have always liked d'antoni, but 2 things he did i really dislike: sticking with Duhon all this time, and banning marbury without ever giving him a chance, for duhon.

  3. If there ever was a “Bud Light City” it's Cleveland. Actually, we're more like a straight up Budweiser city (with a beer gut). Lebron grew up in Akron, a city that is almost the definition of a rust belt blue collar town. Even the way the Cavs play is representative of the region and the city written on their jerseys. This team plays with grittiness and determination that consistently pushes more “talented” players to the brink. And they're led by the best player in the league….A person deeply interwoven into the fabric of this community. There are 3 degrees of separation (or less) from Lebron and everyone in NE Ohio…I'm not exaggerating. He's well known and protected here and this community embraced him long ago….before the fame and hype. We respect the way he plays the game….hardnosed and intelligent….always team oriented. We're also the most tortured sports city (and some say most miserable) in the nation. Winning a championship in Cleveland means absolutely more than it should to us lifelong fans….and having the local hero lead in that quest is really a mindblowing experience. I'm savoring every moment this season, and enjoying the ride. It could be a historic season for many reasons, and I wanna soak it all in. I can't really agree with your analysis that Cleveland is less enthusiastic than they should be. This city has just been wounded many many times. And you better believe we will collectively blow our top if the Cavs win it all. Not in a riot way either. No…I'm talking rival gangs will hug each other and declare truces, cops will be poppin bottles and making it rain off the roof of their cruisers, Arabs and Jews will be participate in friendly falafel cook offs, and crackheads will quit the habit cold turkey. Hope it happens……Keep up the good blog.

    • Excellent comment, Abdullah. I'm considering highlighting it as a separate post on this blog. Keep in touch, you're who I'm trying to reach here.

  4. Excellent comment, Abdullah. I'm considering highlighting it as a separate post on this blog. Keep in touch, you're who I'm trying to reach here.

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