Institutional Distrust, James Dolan and Learning to Love the 2012-13 Knicks

Brian DiMenna

I’m going to piggy-back off an earlier post from Tommy because he asks a very good question:

This Knicks team is very good and is proving it nightly. Then why is it that people are waiting for the bubble to burst? Why aren’t people over Jeremy Lin yet? Why do I feel as if some Knicks fans, the die hards that I’ve been in the trenches with online here for almost a decade, aren’t as excited about the Knicks start as others?

I bring this up because I think he’s right, and yet I think I also understand the other side.

Over the last thirty-five or so years in American life, I think we’ve seen an erosion of public trust in our institutions. Beginning with the Vietnam War and Watergate — “Wait, are you serious, this is a Knicks blog post, right?” Yes, just go with it — and lasting all the way to the financial crisis of the late aughts, Americans have come to distrust the country’s largest institutions. With the exception of the military, public opinion of elites, from Congress to the Supreme Court to major financial institutions, has fallen, and it’s had a deleterious effect on our ability to solve problems.

“Ok, dude, so what the hell are you getting at?”

Well, I think a similar phenomenon helps explain the general lack of enthusiasm for the current Knicks. “You’re joking?” No, here goes.

As most of us are well aware, the Knicks are overseen by a controversial figure in James Dolan. Dolan’s handling of the team has been nothing short of a disaster, and yet he reigns as the unaccountable leader of the organization we all hold so dear. It’s a bit like being a subject of the North Korean government. Information is scarce, and what dribbles out seems divorced from the reality. Yes, I’m saying rooting for the Knicks in this period has been something like living in North Korea, except maybe not quite as bad. They do let us watch the games, which is nice.

The nadir of his tenure was probably reached when he actually tried to re-hire then FIU head coach Isiah Thomas back as a consultant. Could there have been an owner more insistent on spitting in the eye of his fan base than Dolan trying to bring back Isiah? Aside from all the losing — and let us not forget, there was plenty of it — Thomas’s run ended with an expensive and hugely embarrassing sexual harassment suit. But Dolan’s reaction was, “So when can I get him back in the mix?”

Dolan’s stewardship has led to just a general distrust in everything the Knicks do. This distrust affected the way the Carmelo Anthony trade was perceived. If we’re thinking rationally about it, the idea the Knicks gave up too much is kind of laughable, particularly the last minute worry that the team really shouldn’t part with Timofey Mozgov.

But if you’ll recall the period, you’ll remember that there were numerous reports toward the tail end of the negotiations that Dolan had gotten heavily involved. Seemingly out of nowhere, Dolan was meeting privately with Denver owner Stan Kroenke. I don’t think there were really a lot of Mozgov-jersey clad fans screaming, “NO! NOT TIMMY!!!” But just a sense that, “Oh no, Dolan’s blowing this!” whether that perception was really fair or not, it felt uncomfortable seeing things taken out of the hands of our wise old overseer Donnie Walsh.

The same can be said with the team’s decision to ultimately part ways with Jeremy Lin. At the end of the day, it’s a pretty defensible decision. It WAS a lot of money, to a mostly unproven player, with little guarantee that it would work out, but the way it went down led to massive skepticism because what had sounded like a certainty all offseason, out of nowhere didn’t happen, with rumors swirling that Dolan had become personally offended by Lin’s negotiating posture. It was hard not to picture an enraged Dolan throwing down his saxophone in a fit and vowing revenge over the point guard’s perceived audacity, “NO ONE does this to JD and the Straight Shot! NO ONE!” It did not inspire confidence.

With Lin gone, the Knicks instead pursued veteran free-agents all well past their primes. Were these on the merits good moves? Yes. There’s little doubt the Knicks were immediately improved, but it was hard not to be skeptical. Many couldn’t help feeling that Dolan had ruined Linsanity, added nothing but 40-year olds and set the team up for another disaster.

This Grantland piece by Ben Detrick makes a great case that the Knicks’ moves were the result of strong analytical reasoning and advanced metrics, but the assumption was of an impetuous Dolan calling all the shots.

So I understand those who have been bracing themselves, expecting that somehow this still isn’t going to work out, and this season will simply be another in a decade long streak of humiliating failure. But Tommy Dee is still right. Assuming that any actions taken by the Knicks are automatically flawed because James Dolan owns the team is self defeating.

For once, it looks like the Knicks are doing things right. That is a thing that is possible.

I know you’ve been hurt. Like a wary “Bachelor” contestant, your walls are up. But I’m here to tell you it’s time to open up. It’s time to let them in. It’s time to throw caution into the wind, get in that hot tub and learn to love again.

Could it all blow up in your face, leaving you to do things like try and explain to yourself how it was you ever really rooted for Eddy Curry (Remember that Eddy should make the All-Star team year? That was funny)? Sure, but it still beats waiting around for the roof to cave in. Who knows, maybe this is the year it finally doesn’t.

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