What it Would Mean if the Knicks Ever Won (…a Championship)

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August 4, 2013 by NowhereButPop

By Andrew Doscas

Just as history is divided into two epochs, B.C., and A.D. so too can the history of the big three North American sports be divvied up into two periods.  For the NFL the break in time comes with the advent of the Superbowl.  For all intents and purposes the Superbowl era of the NFL is the modern era or A.D., whereas the pre Superbowl years are the B.C. years.  In the MLB this break between B.C. and A.D., past and present occurs in 1960 with the end of the original Yankee dynasty and the onset of the era of expansion and the amateur draft.[1]  The dividing period in the NBA happens to be the merger of the NBA and the ABA after the 1975-76 season.[2]

Not only did the merger bring in 4 new teams into the NBA it also ushered in an era of great change.  The league soon expanded to include eight new teams, the three point line was created, dunking was now allowed, and most importantly, games were now being televised live instead of on tape delay.  These drastic changes to the game, and how it is now changed, coupled with the 40 year championship drought almost seems to render the two championships won by the Knicks moot, or at the very least a distant memory of an entirely different game.

Because the Knicks won their only two championships in 1970 and 1973, before the merger, during the “B.C. years” of the NBA, they don’t mean as much because there is no inherent present value to them.  It’s a similar situation to the Cleveland Browns or the Philadelphia Eagles wherein both teams won championships in the pre-Superbowl era, but because they haven’t won any championships in the modern iteration of the game, these previous world titles don’t really mean as much, because it was in the distant past of a sport that was played radically differently than it is today.

No person under the age of 40 knows what it’s like to see the Knicks be crowned as world champions.  Entire generations of fans have neither this memory nor knowledge of seeing their team hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.  Not only is this unacceptable for a team that plays in the same city as the Yankees and the Giants, but as the Mecca, the global capital of basketball, this is a downright travesty.  As New Yorkers and as Knicks fans we are all instinctively attune to this conundrum, and so we channel our passions and our frustration further into our own fandom and fanaticism for the team.  Almost as if by cheering loud enough, or believing loyally enough, we could will them to a championship.  Just once in my entire life I would like to see the Knicks win; one time and I’m good for a lifetime.

Now to the question at hand; if the Knicks were to actually win a championship, in a word, it would be pandemonium.  It would be bigger than 1977, bigger than 1994, and bigger than 2007.  The ensuing summer would be filled with celebration, bedlam, and copulation.[3]  Not only that, but it would wipe away 40 years of failures and shortcomings.  In a way, it would be vindication; vindication for the let downs that were the 1980s, the tantalizing years of the 1990s, and the dark Isiah Thomas years of the 2000s.  All would be forgotten because at that moment the only thing that matters is the present, not the past.  Historically speaking, the Knicks as a franchise have been and semi-finals team.  Since the merger the Knicks have made it past the second round of the playoffs only four times.[4]  Granted though, their best shot of winning in the post-merger years happened to occur right as Michael Jordan ascended to greatness.  But for a city that craves and expects championships as New York does, this display falls far short of our yearnings.

By virtue of what it is, a championship is very much a present thing, and therein lies the problem with the Knicks and their noticeably lacking of one.  In sports, the past can only be used as something to draw upon or satisfy a fan base in one of two ways.  Either a team has to have a rich history rife with championships such as the Lakers or Celtics, or a championship must have been won with a somewhat recent and identifiable team.  Now, the Knicks don’t have that winning pedigree as their golden age was from 1969-1973; their winning history is a static and confining history.  And unlike a team like the Spurs, who even though they haven’t won in seven years their past victories are still very relevant to the present because they’ve sustained their winning ways throughout the years with a team that is still recognizable to fans of all ages.  In comparison, every Knick who has ever won a championship is a member of the AARP.

It’s one thing to go decades without winning, but when the game changes so much as the NBA has in those decades, those championships become somewhat forgotten and overlooked.  One way to look at it is that the Knicks either haven’t done enough to stay competitive on a consistent basis, or in a Darwinian sense, that they just aren’t fit enough to win in the modern day NBA.  The hunger of wanting to win a championship is sprung from the fact that there is only one golden age, and that was 40 years ago.  Every other period afterwards has been characterized by either mediocrity (late 70s-early 80s), disappointment (mid-late 80s), missed opportunities and a failure to meet lofty, but realistic expectations (early 90s-late 00s), and by being the laughing stock of the NBA (early 00s-early10s).  For those of us who weren’t there in the early 70s, that is how we see the Knicks.  A championship would make it all worth it, for that one moment where the Knicks would stand triumphant for the first time in generations.

Even though the Knicks have won multiple championships they came during a time where the league was much different from what it is now.  As such it makes it difficult for those who were not there to relate to it, and call it our own.  To be honest it isn’t.  Those championship Knicks are my dad’s Knicks, not mine.  My Knicks, the ones I most relate to are the Pat Riley Knicks of the early 90s.[5]  The Knicks that I’m stuck with are the proto-typical Knicks.  A semi-finals team and little else.  I’d love to be wrong about this and see them win it all this coming year.  But, it ain’t gonna happen.  Trust me, I have 40 years of history on my side.

[1] The original Yankee dynasty yielded 20 World Championships in 40 years.  This will never ever be duplicated for as long as humanity is extant.

[2] Interestingly enough these breakpoints also mark the end of a certain franchises’ dominance over the league.  Prior to 1960 the Yankees won 20 championships but only 7 after, while the Celtics won 13 titles before the merger, but only four since 1976.

[3] The first two responses are a given, the third one is purely speculative.

[4] In 1993, 1994, 1999, and 2000.

[5] For those wondering the Pat Riley Knicks were incredibly different from the Van Gundy Knicks.  It’s like comparing  the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies to the Marc Webb Spider-Man movies.

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