Brian DiMennaThe last Knicks team to win the Atlantic Division was the 1993-94 Knicks. They went 57-25 en route to the NBA Finals where they lost to the Houston Rockets in seven games, the details of which I don’t need to go through for anyone here, but it naturally all hinged on the play of Gerald Paddio (Ed. note: Does anyone remember Gerald Paddio? Seriously? Anyone?).
It also happens to be my favorite team of all time, in any sport.
I sometimes think we fetishize winning a little too much, and we forget about its cousin, the noble failure (Which also doubles as a possible title for my upcoming autobiography). Those Knicks did not win a championship, but I was bound to them more than even the teams I’ve rooted for who did.
Now, some of this is just timing. I was 13 the year these Knicks marched to the Finals, pretty much the perfect age to be a sports fan. At 13, you’re smart enough to understand sports, to have opinions about them, to argue amongst your friends, but you also have almost nothing else going on. Sports aren’t a distraction from the other parts of your life, they pretty much are your life. In other words, you lack perspective. Aside from the faint hope to one day see a boob, there was pretty much nothing in my life more important than that team winning a championship.
There’s, of course, some old-fashioned nostalgia at work too, the way you always imagine things were better from your youth than they actually were. Like finding yourself watching a movie you hadn’t seen since childhood, but recalling a particularly hot scene, only to find out it amounted to 27 seconds of a bare shoulder, “Oh right, that was more exciting then.”
I’ve rewatched that Houston series many times over the years and it never fails to suck me in. I mean, I KNOW they’re not winning, I’m almost certain I understand that, but it doesn’t deter me at all from completely investing myself in the proceedings. Within minutes, I’m screaming at bad calls, imploring Starks to settle down, or just flat out cursing at Sam Cassell. And every time, I find I think they should win, but they never do.
To this day, I can’t see Patrick Ewing’s face on TV without letting out a deep sigh and pouring a glass of wine. Were we ever to meet, I would just wrap my arms around him in a warm embrace that would last just as long as it took for security to arrive. The fact that he never won a championship bothers me as much today as it did the day he left, it’s this weird thing I’ll never quite get over. There were times I wept for that team, literally wept, as only a child who doesn’t really understand a thing about the world could conceivably do, but it was a thing I did. I broke an endless series of remote controls, no doubt convinced they shared some of the blame.
But thinking back on the recent lost decade of Knicks basketball, it’s not the winning I miss the most, it’s the caring. Those Knicks of the 90′s, yeah, they annually broke your heart, often as painfully as humanly possible, but you cared enough to let them. For me, it probably will never feel quite like it did then, where every game felt like life or death, because for a stupid kid without any real problems it really almost was. But it’s just so nice to have some skin in the game again, to feel like you don’t just have something to win, but a little bit to lose as well.