In a living room brimming with college students anticipating the night’s NBA playoff action, Lucas Santa is the only one wearing his favorite teams merchandise.
The vibrant screen printed Knicks logo on his t-shirt lets everyone know whose side he’s on. A custom-made Dominican flag is proudly stitched to the side of his Knicks knit hat.
On that Thursday night, the playoffs finally returned to New York for the first time in four years. For most New York basketball fans, however, it’s been a lot longer than that.
The playoffs were back in the big apple, but in the wrong borough.
“They got a nice team this year, but honestly who gives a shit about the Nets,” Santa said as he laughs mockingly at the Nets as they took the court to take on the 76ers in game one of the first round of the 2019 Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Unfortunately for Nets fans, Santa makes a valid point. The Nets finished dead last in average home attendance this season despite making the playoffs as a six seed. An exciting young core of overachievers led by D’Angelo Russell could only bring in, on average, 14,941 fans to the Barclays Center during the regular season.
🚨🚨 For all my Brooklyn fans we need to talk! I’m goin to need y’all to start coming to these games and filling this arena! This is a playoff team that needs your support for then ever. If I have to give out 100 tixs I will! Or even call @joetsai1999 for a new ticket package!— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) January 30, 2019
Only 12,726 fans were in attendance for Brooklyn’s 9th straight home victory over the Chicago Bulls on the night of Dudley’s tweet. If he’s still wondering where all the fans are, they’re across the bridge at Madison Square Garden watching the Knicks tie a franchise record with 65 losses.
On average, the Knicks brought in 19,002 fans a game which was good enough for 9th in the entire NBA in attendance. For the second time in five years the Knicks set a new franchise low in wins, but the fans still stuck around through all the toxicity that has plagued their favorite team for decades. The Nets can be great and the Knicks can be atrocious, but New York will always be the Knick’s city.
“I’m just going to be patient and pray,” said Knicks fan Terrell Miller on his decision to stay loyal to the Knicks. “I’ve been an Eagles fan since 5th grade and they finally won a Super Bowl last year so I’m gonna stick to my team through all the ups and downs.”
Like Santa, Miller is a college student that is a part of a generation of Knicks fans that hasn’t been alive for many, if any, ups. There’s been too many downs to keep track of because the Knicks have only been to the playoffs four times since the year 2000. The peak of Miller and Santa’s fandom came in 2013 when Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks over the Celtics in six games to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals. Not the NBA finals, but the conference semifinals which they lost to the Indiana Pacers.
The Knicks haven’t been back to the playoffs since and it wasn’t a slow decline back down toward the lower echelon of the conference either. The Knicks only won 37 games the year after winning a playoff series which led to Phil Jackson firing head coach Mike Woodson. Then Derek Fisher came on board and only won a franchise low 17 games. It wasn’t a surprise when he was fired during the middle of his second season as coach in 2015. The most notable thing about his tenure was his beef with Matt Barnes, who wasn’t even on the Knicks. Jeff Hornacek didn’t do much better and was swiftly canned after two years as well.
College aged Knicks fans are used to the dysfunction because it’s all they’ve known they’re whole lives following the team. Since Jeff Van Gundy resigned as Knicks head coach in 2001, the Knicks have had nine different coaches start the season under the helm. James Dolan is as much to blame for the Knicks failures as everybody. Bringing on Phil Jackson on as the team president set the team so far back that the Knicks are still trying to recover. If that decision wasn’t bad enough, Dolan is being sued by shareholders for making too much money off the team while at the same time spending the majority of his time with his band. Listing all the reasons why he’s the worst owner in sports would take all day, but his confrontation with a fan who wanted him to sell the team sums up the man that’s held the franchise hostage over the years.
That’s why fans have been clinging to this fantasy that the team would acquire NBA Champions Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency. Even James Dolan couldn’t find a way to screw up a duo of KD and Kyrie right? Not to mention whoever the Knicks take in this years NBA Draft. The coming together of top tier superstars in free agency has been the formula for championship success in the NBA since Boston made it famous in 2008. The big three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen changed the fortunes of the Celtics franchise by immediately winning a title. The Heat became two time champions after they acquired Lebron James and Chris Bosh in 2010 and paired them with Dwyane Wade. Kevin Durant himself extended the Warrior’s dynasty by signing with them instead of the Thunder. Knicks fans like Miller continue to pray, hoping this is the year fans are rewarded by the basketball gods for staying faithful to an organization that doesn’t deserve the fans they have.
“At some point it’s got to work out for us,” Miller said. “Hopefully we get some big names so we can be a contender again.”
We went to Madison Square Garden to see what Knicks fans think about Zion, James Dolan and the state of the franchise ahead of tonight’s lottery pic.twitter.com/BQ5ZWfzznX— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) May 14, 2019
On the day of this years draft lottery, fans finally had a reason to break out their Knicks gear. This was supposed to be the day the Knicks got the first big name of the summer. The day the team finally locked up a generational superstar that could overpower the dysfunction of the front office. Zion Williamson was supposed to the first piece of a master plan that would bring the Knicks back to relevancy.
“If the Knicks got KD, Kyrie and Zion! Heads would be tearing the city a part they’d be going crazy,” said Knicks fan and Bronx native Michael Vasquez on if the Knicks big three came to life this summer. “It’d be more wild than any St. Patrick’s Day parade because it’d just be a bunch of crazy fans getting drunk and losing their minds. If that happens they should just hand the Knicks the title.”
If Oswego students didn’t know who the Knicks fans on campus were before, they did yesterday. A sea of blue and orange t-shirts and hats paraded their way throughout dining halls and classrooms throughout campus. The Western Conference finals were set to take place later that night, but the only thing fans on campus cared about was whether or not the Knicks would land Zion.
Fans of other teams snickered and laughed, but can you blame these Knicks fans? A 14 percent chance at Zion Williamson is the closest these fans have come to having someone on their team that can bring them sustained success. Something a Knicks fan hasn’t had the luxury of witnessing since the days of Patrick Ewing in the nineties.
Younger Knicks fans sometimes get heat for always talking about the draft and free agency all the time, but what else is there to talk about when you don’t really know who the best player on your team is? Is it Dennis Smith Jr who electrified the crowd with his athleticism? Is it rookie big man Mitchell Robinson who led the team in win shares (6.1)?
After missing out on the Zion sweepstakes, it isn’t back to the drawing board. The plan to bring the Knicks back to relevancy doesn’t die with the number three pick. Fans will have to wait until free agency to know whether or not the 2019-2020 Knicks will be relevant or not. The lottery could’ve been a lot worse. The Cavaliers and Suns had the same odds at landing Zion as the Knicks did, but finished with the 5th and 6th picks respectively. R.J. Barrett is projected to land in New York and if any player other than Zion was slated to go number one, Knicks fans would be ecstatic.
“Damn,” was Miller’s reaction to me telling him the news about the Knicks missing out on Zion. “But shit I’ll take top three any year though.”
Fans may not have gotten the answers they were looking for last night, but Knicks fans aren’t going anywhere as evident by the team’s attendance numbers. If fans haven’t left after that past twenty years of downs, they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. They want to be there when there’s an up, they’ve invested too much time in the team. New York fans are loyal and will be waiting impatiently for their team to finally bring in a superstar worthy of headlining the world’s most famous arena.