Can the current Knicks create a legacy that will endure?
The last three days have been filled with flashbacks for the Knicks — glimpses of the past, injections of nostalgia, reminders of what once was in the franchise’s history — and snippets of what the future could look like.
First, there was the halftime ceremony Saturday to honor the 50th anniversary of the 1972-73 title team. Tuesday will mark the 20th anniversary of Patrick Ewing’s jersey retirement ceremony, with his No. 33 the most recent jersey to go up to the rafters. And this week, the Knicks enter a pivotal stretch against Atlantic Division opponents, which started with a 109-94 win over the Celtics Monday night that allowed them to take control of a top-five position in the Eastern Conference.
It’s an interesting juncture in the Knicks’ modern history, as celebrations about the past and optimism about the short-term future have become intertwined. But there’s something missing from this run, or rather the groups from the last decade or so that preceded it.
The celebrations are lacking a tinge of recency. They’re missing a reason to start new anniversaries. And while jersey retirements have sparked separate debates for Charles Oakley and Bernard King, with Carmelo Anthony even giving his own pitch, it’s unclear where this next generation of title celebrations and jersey retirements could lead. It’ll be facing them Tuesday once Ewing’s anniversary arrives. The tweets. The videos. Maybe even a replay of the ceremony on YouTube.
The connections between the most recent glory days to this current group is stretching thinner by the season. Tom Thibodeau, Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett all said they admired the 1972-73 team, honoring their most distinguishable characteristics while playing under the umbrella of the franchise’s reputation they helped shape. Brunson and Barrett both talked about their desire to honor them the rest of the season.
“Man, it was great just to see them here and just even see all the videos up on the jumbotron and stuff,” Barrett said after the Knicks’ latest win. “Just the energy that was in there tonight was amazing. They’re legends. It’s very inspirational, especially the way they were able to win a championship, bring a championship back to New York.
“That’s something that we’re trying to do, so it was great to have them in the building tonight.”
But one wonders if the words were born more of a hope than desire. Or perhaps an internal plea, hoping to manifest what no Knicks team has accomplished since.
During the 50th anniversary ceremony Saturday, a video of Ewing appeared on the Madison Square Garden jumbotron. He couldn’t make the ceremony in-person — the consequences of having a Division-I coaching job, as Ewing holds at Georgetown — but still thanked the members of the 1972-73 team in attendance for laying a foundation for when he arrived in 1985. There was an expectation of making the postseason.
“I spent 15 years in New York, 15 years playing, that is,” Ewing said the night of his jersey retirement ceremony in 2003. “But I’ve never left, even though I moved on to other teams and other walks of life. I’ve never left. I’m always a New Yorker.”
Playoff berths, and clinched series, were almost assumed when Ewing played. Despite some down years before his arrival, Ewing played with the recent titles from 1970 and 1973 overshadowing every move he made on the court. Anniversaries were a new phenomenon.
Amid all the storylines of legacy, anniversary and celebration surrounding the franchise the last three days, another one has started to emerge. They’ve only won one playoff series since Ewing departed New York City. They haven’t won a title in 50 years. Every team has its roots. They could play under the shadows of franchise greats like Ewing and the 1972-73 team forever.
But there’s a heightened urgency to shape the next layer of that.
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Could anyone really catch Wilt?
With Damian Lillard’s 71-point explosion Sunday night, marking the NBA’s second 71-point performance of the year, it brings back to the surface the question of whether someone could actually — or, rather, feasibly — match Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point-game.
It hasn’t been touched since Chamberlain made 36 shots, 28 free throws and attempted 63 shots from the field against the Knicks in 1962. Kobe Bryant came close in 2006 with 81. Lillard now sits in a tie for eighth with Donovan Mitchell (2023), David Robinson (1994) and Elgin Baylor (1960).
But, ironically, Lillard had 41 points at halftime Sunday — the same amount Chamberlain had in the first half of his record-setting game. He attempted a season-high 38 shots from the field and made all 14 of his free throws. He was even drug tested last night after the game, to which Lillard reacted with a, “Y’all serious?”
“That was actually the first time in my career [getting] tested after a game,” Lillard told reporters. “Then, aside from that, they know I am scared of needles. I know I got a lot of tattoos, but when you’re doing a blood draw it is different than tattoos.”
Chamberlain, though, played 48 minutes in 1962, and Lillard played 39:11. The substitution frequency of the NBA, especially in regular-season games that don’t amount to much in the standings or end in blowouts, will likely prevent anyone from surpassing Chamberlain’s mark.
Lillard and Mitchell, though, have come close to countering that argument.
Are the Padres the new villains of the NL?
For the longest time, it was the Dodgers. They kept spending. And spending. And spending. Mookie Betts. Freddie Freeman.
Then, and more recently, it was the Mets. Steve Cohen kept spending. And spending. And spending. Max Scherzer. Justin Verlander. Carlos Correa (almost).
But with Manny Machado becoming the latest player the Padres have extended — agreeing on an 11-year, $350 million deal with the third baseman Sunday — perhaps there’s another budding villain in the National League, one that had 90 losses four seasons ago. Now, another beneath 90 wins would be viewed as a disappointment in San Diego.
As The Athletic noted Sunday, the Padres have signed Fernando Tatis. Jr., Joe Musgrove, Xander Bogaerts, Yu Darvish and now Machado to deals or extensions over $100 million each. They now have the third-largest payroll in MLB for the 2023 season at over $251.4 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, that trails only the Yankees and Mets. They’ve even surpassed the Dodgers, who didn’t make any major free-agent splashes this offseason.
According to a Forbes list that ranked how much each team is worth entering the 2023 season, the Padres sat at 17th at $1.575 billion. Teams like the Rangers and Nationals, which didn’t come close to making the postseason last year, checked in ahead of them.
They have the payroll — and the stars. Their market size, at No. 30 according to Sports Media Watch, doesn’t compare to MLB franchises in cities leading the list. But in trying to “buy” a title, have the Padres joined MLB’s other free-spending villains or are they a model to which other small-market teams should aspire? Guess that kind of depends on what side of the scoreboard you’re on.
Knicks-Celtics by the numbers
The Knicks started out a critical week with a rousing 15-point win over the Celtics at MSG Monday night. Let’s briefly dissect a few of the key numbers from the game…
21.4: The Celtics’ shooting percentage from the 3-point line, from where they missed 33 of their 42 attempts.
34: The number of free-throw attempts for the Knicks. Yes, they missed 11 of them, but when you get to the line 20 more times than the opponent, volume matters.
20: The Knicks’ rebounding edge over the Celtics, making every coach in the tri-state area happy.
7: Estimated number of minutes it took (per the @KnicksMuse Twitter account) the officiating crew to sort out the replay review of the foul calls on the fourth-quarter entanglement between Jalen Brunson and Marcus Smart.
— Paul Forrester