The Downfall of a Once Proud Franchise

There was nothing like the glory days of New York Knicks basketball during the 1990’s. The passion, effort, and vibrant Madison Square Garden atmosphere was unmatched by just about any venue in the NBA. The Knicks were one of the proudest and most important franchises in all of sports. Today, ask a Knicks fan to name the team’s starting lineup or what the Knicks’ record is right now and chances are that they won’t know simply because they don’t care. In a mere 10 years, the whole Knicks franchise has plummeted, both in the standings and in the eyes of the fans. What happened to the Knicks?

Household names, such as Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson and Charlie Ward are long gone. These were the Knicks of old and names fans remember as if they were part of their own extended family. Ward probably should have took winning the 1993 Heisman Trophy as a sign to stick with football. Oakley had an atrocious offensive game, but no Knicks fan could forget his tenacity on the boards and his competitive spirit that landed him in countless scuffles with Knicks’ rivals. Starks was the most physically talented Knickerbocker. His constant hustle around the perimeter and excellent jump-shot made him both a fan favorite and an integral part of the squad. However, while the Knicks were not the most skilled bunch of players, nobody could question the team’s effort on the court.

Starks and Oakley were traded before the 1999 season and the Knicks added Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby to fill their places. Sprewell and Houston formed a formidable backcourt duo during their time together. Despite his infamous history, Sprewell’s two-handed tomahawk dunks constantly lit up the Garden and inspired both the team and the crowd. Hence, the Knicks magic still remained and The World’s Most Famous Arena rocked with chants of “de-fense” at every home game.

The team’s unforgettable 1999 playoff run was the highlight of the season and perhaps of the last decade. It can simply be remembered by two letters: LJ. No Knicks fan can forget one of the greatest moments in Madison Square Garden history when Johnson made a miraculous four-point play in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pacers. Unfortunately, little did we know that this would be the last great memory of recent Knicks’ history.

There are several important moments that led to the downfall of the Knicks dynasty. It all started a month before the 2000-2001 season, when the Knicks traded away the legendary Patrick Ewing in a multiple-team swap for a package that was highlighted by the spectacular trio of Glen Rice, Luc Longley, and Travis Knight. The Knicks ended up making the playoffs that year for the 14th consecutive time, but they were knocked out in the first-round by the Raptors.

Three years after the infamous Ewing debacle, Owner James Dolan hired Isiah Thomas to become the team’s General Manager. The rest, as they say, is history. Penny Hardaway, Malik Rose, Maurice Taylor, Jerome James and Jalen Rose have all been brought in during the Thomas Era. These players’ contracts have all contributed to the Knicks’ bloated payroll, which is the highest in the league. The team’s combined record over the last two full years in the dismal Eastern Conference is 56-108.

It is true that the NBA as a whole is not as appealing as it was 10 years ago. This is partially because the players seem to care less and less as they are paid more and more. But the Knicks’ failure cannot simply be attested to the NBA as a whole. It is absolutely ludicrous that one of the most important sports franchises in the country is run by two of the most utterly incompetent figures in professional sports. If you set out with a plan to destroy the Knicks rather than build them, you would make the exact same moves that Thomas did. The Knicks players no longer play with passion and don’t pride themselves on hustle and defense. New York no longer has any rivals because quite frankly, no one really cares enough. Six years ago, a Knicks-Heat game in the second-half of the NBA season would be almost as popular as a Yankees-Red Sox game. The Knicks played the Heat last Tuesday night, but not too many people can say what transpired. Will the Knicks ever return to the way it was? With Dolan and Thomas at the helm, count the Knicks out; however, there is a lot of talent present in College Basketball, so if the Knicks undergo a complete rebuilding process and build upon young talent through the NBA Draft, perhaps the team can restore life in the Garden and revert it to the way it used to be.