The New York Knicks might have the best fans in the NBA. I've been to Madison Square Garden exactly 47 times in my life, and I'm blown away by those fans every time. They have packed that place nearly every game for almost 20 years despite having some of the worst teams in the NBA. Those fans sold out the Garden watching the final year of the Isiah Thomas era, 2007-08, which might have been the most profoundly depressing professional basketball team of my lifetime. New Yorkers are thought to be cynical about everything, but there's nothing cynical about the average Knicks fan. Those guys want to believe in the Knicks more than anyone wants to believe in anything.
This is so far out of measure with the quality of that team -- and, specifically, that organization -- that it would be humorous if it weren't so tragic. The Knicks have been given the gift of a massive, intensely loyal fan base that would consider them gods if they ever won a championship … and they have rewarded those fans by having the most dysfunctional, consistently self-destructive franchise in sports. And worse than that: They think they're the crown jewel of the NBA! The Knicks -- and the media who covers them -- believe their rightful place on the NBA throne is a prize that has been taken from them, by some sort of curse, perhaps sorcery, rather than something they've actively been pushing away for four decades. The Knicks think the world revolves around them, when the world's mostly just laughing in their general direction.
It's difficult to come up with a better example of this than Steve Kerr. Kerr has, somewhat inexplicably, become the most sought-after coaching candidate this offseason, even though he has never coached a game in his life, he was plainly terrible as general manager of the Phoenix Suns (he ruined one of the most entertaining NBA teams of my lifetime) and, by the way, is completely wrong about the 20-year-old age limit in the NBA. Nevertheless, once word filtered out that new Knicks team president Phil Jackson wanted Kerr to coach the Knicks, suddenly, everyone wanted Kerr, from the Lakers to the Warriors to the Pistons.
Still, that seemed just talk. Jackson had put so many eggs in the Kerr basket -- there doesn't appear to have been a backup candidate -- in large part because he wanted someone to run his old triangle offense and, well, no one seems to run that anymore. (All told, no one but Jackson ever really has.) Kerr had been the presumed Knicks choice for so long that it was a surprise the team and Kerr were taking so long to get all the papers signed. What's the holdup?
We now know the holdup was Kerr didn't want the job after all. Kerr signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Golden State Warriors yesterday, making him (again, inexplicably) one of the five highest-paid coaches in the NBA. One assumes he will not attempt to force a trade for Shaq again.
This has been treated, by the Knicks and the reporters who cover them, as a betrayal of the most dramatic proportions. "KERR-PLUNK!" screams the Daily News: "Steve spurns Knicks! (This on the same day the Subway Series is going on, and the Nets are eliminated from the playoffs.) The reaction from the Knicks, from Jackson, from anyone involved, is shock and horror: How dare someone not choose the Knicks? This is the Knicks, dammit!
For all my doubts about Kerr's coaching acumen, the decision between the Warriors and the Knicks shouldn't have been much of a decision at all. Let's compare the two jobs:
Warriors: Five years, $25 million.
Knicks: Four years, something less than that.
Warriors: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green.
Knicks: Iman Shumpert?
Warriors: 2014-15 payroll: $65.1 million.
Knicks: 2014-15 payroll: $91.2 million.
OK, let's call that last one a push.
The point is: The Knicks' job is a lousy one, Phil Jackson or no Phil Jackson. The Knicks have an old roster that isn't nearly as talented as the team seems to think it is. They have a star player who's really more of a complementary star player (and may leave the team in the offseason anyway). They have traded away future draft picks for guys who can't get in the starting lineup now. They have no real young talent to build around. They don't have the cap space to bring in the superstars they're always claiming they will. And they don't have the intestinal fortitude to shut it all down and start over like they probably should. You know the minute they have a chance to grab a past-his-prime pseudo-superstar, they will. Jim Dolan cannot be trusted, even with Phil Jackson around. (It's amazing how quickly that Jackson press conference good feeling went away, isn't it?) The Knicks act as if the rules that apply to everyone else don't apply to them. And this is why they haven't won a title in 40 years. They always have themselves to blame.
Who would want a part of this mess? Certainly not Steve Kerr. (And, one wonders, after a while, if Jackson will have the stomach to keep trying to clean it up.) The Warriors have their own problems, but nothing to the extent of the Knicks. The Knicks believe they have the best job in the world, and anyone should be elated to even be considered to work for them. That is the exact opposite of how sports works now. The Knicks won't be the elite franchise they believe they are -- they one they should be -- until they stop thinking of themselves as so damned special. Don't hold your breath on that one.