Dumb Office Arguments: Are Knicks Fans Allowed to Become Nets Fans?
Over the weekend, news broke that the New York Knicks were dragging their feet in matching the Houston Rockets’ $25 million contract offer to point guard Jeremy Lin. As the nervous laughter of Knicks fans (“Ha, this is hilarious … can you imagine? No, but really, guys. Sign him”) turned into acts of hair-pulling and fist-shaking and full-blown Twitter meltdowns, our fearless leader, Bill Simmons, posed the question: If the Knicks, following the apparent financial advice of Carmelo Anthony, turn their backs on the most exciting, well-liked player to rock blue and orange since [insert beloved Knicks player Sprewell, Starks, Ewing … Renaldo Balkman], would New York fans be wise to turn their backs on the team and become fans of the other New York franchise, the Brooklyn Nets? Simmons certainly thought so. We asked several members of the Grantland family, some of whom count themselves as Knicks supporters, for a verdict.
Under what should heretofore be referred to as the Lin-Dolan Clause of Desperate Fandom, a team switch should be allowed under extraordinary circumstances. Here, we have two: (1) a backbreaking, morale-obliterating move by an utterly incompetent owner who has zero regard for his fan constituency, and (2) the arrival of another team within not only the immediate region, but the city borders. (And also, as long as we’re on the subject,  the incompetent, suggestible owner is seemingly still under Rasputin-like sway of ousted managerial war criminal Isiah Thomas, who, we’ll soon discover, has been adding ground glass to Dolan’s smoothies as he tries to convince his mesmerized buddy to give him a controlling chunk of the team in the “statistically unlikely” event of “death by slow stomach bleeding.”)
This is America. And in America, we express our opinions on important matters like where to live, what to eat, which Kardashian is our favorite (hi, Khloe!), and who should run the country by spending our dollar bills. For most sports fans in this great land, the question of what teams to root for — and where to spend fan dollars — is easy: Who are the locals? I live in Washington, D.C., so I root for the ‘Skins, Almost-Bullets, Caps, and Nats. Now, whether or not I actually attend games and/or spend dollar bills on team merch depends on the team and franchise trajectory that year and whether or not I feel like I’m being grifted. What does this have to do with the Knicks and the Nets? Mostly nothing, because I have never understood how people in New York figure out whom to root for, having heard 86,593 different explanations for who does what on what basis. But if it were me, I would look at my dollar bills and ask them: If I send you to this team, will you feel the way Redskins’ fans feel about Dan Snyder?
You may switch allegiances in general only if you are under the age of 14. You may switch allegiances to Brooklyn if you are an artisan pickle manufacturer, play the banjo in a bluegrass punk outfit, or are Adam Driver.
Regardless of what some people believe (read: Bill), there are no rules for being a sports fan. You can be a fan of whatever team you want, whenever you want. The team you root for is a completely subjective concept, and there isn’t some committee (read: Bill) that sets guidelines and allows you a window to make a switch. That is some bullshit. Who is someone else to tell me what team they “are fine with” me being a fan of? When I turn on the television and see two teams trying to win a game, I don’t send an e-mail to a distribution list asking if it is OK for me to want one team to win more than the other, it just happens in my heart. If you’re a Knicks fan and you want to root for the Nets, go right ahead. Who cares? That is what I will be doing. I know this opinion is unpopular, but you know what isn’t unpopular? Fucking freedom. So while all of you are asking each other permission to root for one team or another, I will be draped in the American flag drinking a Budweiser with a bald eagle perched on my arm switching sports-team allegiances. If you have a problem with that, then you should really reevaluate what is important to you.
Imagine a man living in Oklahoma City. It’s 2007. He is a lifelong Dallas Mavericks fan, a team that resides little more than 200 miles due south. He attends every home game, driving three and a half hours both ways to watch Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Josh Howard. The season is over. His team has just been eliminated from the NBA playoffs, a no. 1 seed humiliated by the exhilarating underdog Golden State Warriors. Seven weeks later, the Seattle SuperSonics draft a Texas Longhorn forward named Kevin Durant — the same Sonics that have been threatening to leave their native city. Oklahoma City is the rumored destination. The man starts to dream. His imagination wanders. One day, maybe I’ll root for Kevin Durant. Soon, a team will be just minutes away. Season tickets will be cheaper. A fan base will be energized.
Things worked out for the man in Oklahoma City. Things will work out in Brooklyn.
In what universe is switching “allegiances” from one team to another remotely controversial? At the professional level, you should always focus on whatever a team represents in the present tense: You should be motivated by the current roster, the current coaching staff, the current ownership, the uniforms they’re presently wearing, the facility where the team plays, geography, and whatever bizarre interior drive dictates your self-created relationship with the franchise. Remaining loyal to a team is not like remaining loyal to an actual person. If you want to change who you’re rooting for in the middle of any given game, that’s totally acceptable. Honestly, if you truly love sports, you should fight the urge to root for anyone, ever. You should just appreciate the game itself. The word “fan” derives from the word “fanaticism,” which is a bad thing. There are certain teams I always root for (and probably always will), and I will always feel stupid about it. It’s a real weakness.
Several hours into a wedding this weekend, I glanced at my phone to see the name “Kurt Thomas” all up in my Twitter feed. We’re still making these jokes? I thought. The Camby signing was days ago! Alas, I’d forgotten one of the rules of thumb of being a Knicks fan: If it sounds like a punch line, it’s probably true. And so a day of cartoonish courier dodging ended in controversy: The Knicks, everyone’s sources started to say, would not be re-signing Jeremy Lin. Here’s the weird thing, though: I’m not even mad. Bewildered? Yes. SMH? Sure. Occasionally bursting into peals of maniacal laughter? Every few minutes. But for whatever reason, this is just (bad) business as usual to me. These are the Knicks. These are my Knicks, the same team I’ve known and loved and absolutely despised for pretty much my whole life — the epic dysfunction, the “Garden Kremlinologists,” the fact that a pal of mine can write a reasonable, measured take on the team’s offseason and then have the entire thing rendered obscenely obsolete within hours. I wouldn’t even begin to judge anyone for whom this is the last straw; anyone who says “fuck this noise” and buys one of these kick-ass tees and never looks back, except perhaps in disgust. Vaya con dios, in this case dios being Jay-Z. But there’s no way I could do it myself. It’s barely even crossed my mind. Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome, or maybe it’s just that I’m no longer living in Brooklyn, where the walking distance to the Barclays Center would be tantalizingly short and the lure intoxicatingly strong. Maybe I’m stubborn, or stupid, or both. But I’m sticking around. I’m going down with the ship, playing “Go New York, Go New York, Go” on a waterlogged and out-of-tune violin. I may be a bitter old biddy by the time the Knicks finally win a post-‘70s title; more likely, I’ll be dead. But I just truly don’t think I could ever imagine it any other way.
I hate to make it sound like sports isn’t the most important thing in the world or something, but … do you like the Nets more than the Knicks? Would you maybe rather be a Nets fan than a Knicks fan? Then be a Nets fan. I mean, I realize identity is tricky and feelings are complicated, but George Washington didn’t kill the King of England so you could suffer against your will for the Cablevision Corporation. You don’t need permission here. Make your own rules.
Allowed? Yes. This is America, home of the freedom to shift allegiances at the first sign of trouble. But is it a good idea? Hell no. Am I changing the question and annoying my editor? Yes. But look — the best, most ecstatic, most euphoric championships always come after a drought. It’s a confirmed fact. I root for the Yankees, the Giants, and Duke basketball (I encourage you to take a minute to puke), and all three teams provide great empirical data. The two best Yankees World Series came in ‘96 and ‘09, after RELATIVE periods of drought (yes, you may puke again). The titles in ‘98, ‘99, and 2000? Still fantastic, but not nearly the same experience. Ditto the Giants — as wonderful as this year was, it will never compare to 2008. Duke’s titles have been separated by about a decade each except for the ‘92 run, which was easily the least spectacular of the four. You probably know without looking that they overcame UNLV in ‘91, but who was their opponent in ‘92? It took you a minute to remember Michigan, right? Obviously there are a million circumstances that go into the value of each championship, but when you’ve suffered through the lemon years, the rush of success, when it finally comes, is like a shot of adrenaline to the soul. Consider the Red Sox; which of their titles was more emotionally transcendent? The one that came after 80-plus years of unthinkable heartbreak, or the one three years later, when they beat the Rockies? Just like Jonathan Papelbon, that’s a no-brainer. So stick with it, fellow Knicks fans. Jeremy Lin is a passing fad, and that title is somewhere on the horizon, waiting for us in the fog. When it comes, you don’t want to be the guy cheering for Brooklyn because you felt sorry for yourself. And since I’ve already annoyed you with my team allegiances, let’s get real pretentious and close with a quote by Tennessee Williams: “Once you fully apprehend the vacuity of a life without struggle, you are equipped with the basic means of salvation.”
I’m sure NBA fans couldn’t give a crap less about what a die-hard Dallas Cowboys supporter who grew up in New York feels about this issue. Too bad — here goes. I have no problem with Big Apple natives switching their allegiance from the Knicks to the Nets. Especially those who actually reside in Brooklyn. And this has nothing to do with the ongoing punch line known as James Dolan or the Knicks’ Lincompetence in general. This has to do with common geographical sense. Imagine that a pro team is coming to the very neighborhood you live in. Are you telling me if you started off rooting for the Knicks you’re not allowed to now pull for the Nets? Even if their home games take place down the block? How far do we go with this? What if the Nets moved into your house? How about then? Still can’t root for them? Should you just hide in your mother’s pantry pretending Tyshawn Taylor isn’t dunking on your makeshift backyard hoop? Of course you can root for them. But you have to decide on one team. Knicks or Nets. Can’t be both. They play against each other too much. Make no mistake about it: There is a conflict. So choose once and choose wisely.
Many moons ago — also known as 2004 — when newspapers still had useful real estate listings, Miranda Hobbes decided to move to Brooklyn. Now, after countless New York Times trend pieces, a failed Real World: Brooklyn season, one renovation of Alex and Simon’s house on Real Housewives of New York, and nearly the entire course of Gossip Girl, which featured “edgy” Brooklyn dweller Dan Humphries, the Manhattan-to-Brooklyn move is well-worn territory. This is now a common, cliché move, and Brooklyn is no longer cool. Are you listening, Knicks fans? You can’t just make this well-traveled move now because you read about it in the Times via your iPhone, because Jay-Z is the owner of the Nets, or because you heard James Dolan really messed up this time. No, the only Knicks fans who are allowed to become Nets fans are the top-tier, die-hard fans — the ones who have scrutinized every Dolan move, lived in fear of an Isiah Thomas return, and survived the relative success that their former team has had in Denver. Only these people, the truly wounded, can seek solace in Brooklyn. The rest of you are stuck with the Knicks. You haven’t earned the right to jump ship.
If you are a Knicks fan who hasn’t turned on your team already, you might as well wait until the third year of Jeremy Lin’s contract to find out if he is a star or an oft-injured salary cap albatross who never matched his first-year production. Linsanity could end up being a cultural reference that is on the same level as Crystal Pepsi, pogs, or the Bash Brothers. It’s not like Mike Woodson was really going to figure out the Knicks offense anyways. Knicks fans already have to face the fact that the Nuggets have a better record since the Carmelo trade, even though they are happy to forget as they watch him play hero ball during an exciting Sunday-afternoon game. The Brooklyn Nets are just as annoying as the Knicks when it comes to operating as a wannabe superstar destination that doesn’t have enough flexibility to build a complete team, so Knicks fans might as well stay put and hope Amar’e finally has the career-ending injury that fulfills his destiny as the Most Injury-Prone Man Alive and wipes his contract off the books.
April 27, 1984. My 18th birthday. Bernard King went 17-for-26 from the floor and 10-for-13 from the line for 44 points. He added 13 rebounds and the Knicks beat Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, and the rest of the hated Pistons in Game 5 to win a hotly contested first-round playoff series. After the game, my friends and I went to this local parking lot to play touch football under the lights in celebration of both my birthday and the win. I had started watching the Knicks with my dad at 4 years old, and that night was the zenith of my Knick fandom until I had my own son, Sam, and began taking him to the games. Sam has never had a zenith. The question posed is, Can Knicks fans switch over to the Nets if Dolan doesn’t match Houston’s offer? This is all I’ve thought about for the past 16 hours. The answer: We have to. The team that we rooted for — to which I have donated 42 years (23 as a season-ticket holder) — is dead and gone. The Dolans, even more than other owners, do not care about the fans, the legacy, the history, or anything, really, at all. James Dolan seems to me to be like “Wormtongue” from Lord of the Rings, and his father is Theoden, under a spell and powerless to even see what’s going on. But we, the fans, are not powerless. We can decide to recognize that the throne is, for all intents and purposes, empty. We can decide to recognize that the team we loved does not exist anymore. That it can never exist as long as the Dolans own it. We can decide to see the Knicks for what they actually are, not what we wish them to be, like the husband who realizes, finally, after everyone else has told him, that his wife is not only cheating, but poisoning his mac and cheese. I am done eating poisoned mac and cheese. And I am done with the New York Knicks. Let’s go, Brooklyn!
I grew up playing basketball in New York, and I don’t care about the Knicks. I’m 2 percent happier when they win and pretty ambivalent when they suck. Currently, they seem to be in avid pursuit of some sucky form of winning a slim majority of their games and then losing early in the postseason. I’m thrilled that they’ve elected to do that while bringing back Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas, the only members of the 1999 Eastern Conference champion Knicks who are still active NBA players. But that’s the only Knicks news in the last week that got much of an emotional reaction (sneering joy) out of me. As a New Yorker, I take more pride in seeing other New Yorkers succeed in the league. I’m happy about the past successes of Lamar Odom and Metta World Peace and disappointed that their careers seem to be in decline. I’m forlorn that Kenny Satterfield, Erick Barkley, Andre Barrett, Corey Williams, Shaheen Holloway, Omar Cook, Taliek Brown, and Richie Parker never made it. I want New York to matter the way Kenny Smith and Nate Archibald and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar mattered. I want to be from the city that produces the best basketball players in the world instead of the most overrated basketball players in the world. But basketball is different nowadays — it’s so spread-out, the talent comes from all over. So I’m from the city that once produced the best basketball players on the planet, and the Knicks, whether they’re a lottery team or NBA champions, aren’t changing that.