I have asthma.
It’s pretty under control. I carry an inhaler, but I rarely need it. Months pass between uses, sometimes more than a year. It’s almost possible to forget that I even have asthma. Of course, every once in a while, when it becomes difficult to breathe, I’m quickly reminded: oh yeah. That. That thing that sucks. That’s never going to go away—not for good. I’ll be gone one day. Not the asthma. Not what sucks. That will never go away.
James Dolan is asthma.
Every semester, I give my students a hypothetical: say me and Lebron James are in the parking lot. We’re going to race. 40 yards. Lebron gives me a 10 yard head start. I ask my students how they think the race will turn out.
The kinder ones say Lebron will pass me around the halfway point. The smart asses have him racing by me in a matter of seconds. I tell them I can prove that Lebron will never catch up to me.
Zeno’s paradox is an ancient idea that uses logic to expose the limit of logic. If Lebron is 10 yards behind me, in order to pass me he must at some point halve the distance to 5 yards. Once that’s been accomplished, he must halve that to 2.5 yards, then 1.25, then 0.625, 0.3125, 0.15625, 0.078125, etc. Since there is always a distance that can be halved, from one logical point of view, Lebron can never catch me. This is Zeno’s paradox.
James Dolan is Zeno’s paradox.
The greatest moment of my life as a Knick fan is also the worst. That, too, is a paradox.
One reason I have been able to live a life that continues to value faith and hope and a belief that justice will, at some point, prevail, is because of Allan Houston’s shot to beat the Heat in 1999.
The Knicks rivalry with the Jordan Bulls was the familiar clashing of styles and narratives—speed versus size, athleticism versus power, the king versus the rebel, fighting for the throne.
The Knicks rivalry with the Miller Pacers was the familiar feeling of walking into a room and realizing instantly you and some other dude don’t like each other. Doesn’t matter why. Doesn’t matter that Antonio and Dale Davis were the Bizarro Oakley and Mason. Doesn’t matter that Reggie Miller was as hated by fans around the league as John Starks. Doesn’t matter that Patrick Ewing and Rik Smits were both sweet-shooting big men born overseas. All that mattered was as soon as the Pacers walked in the room—1993, to be exact—they were known: they were hated.
The Knicks rivalry with the Heat boiled at a temperature like no rivalry I have seen between any teams in any sport. The teams were as evenly matched as possible (except for when it came to actually winning), yet despite that it seemed every game boiled down to a 79-78 score, they really were quite different. The Knicks had more firepower and were more athletic—Sprewell and Houston were more explosive than Jamal Mashburn and Dan Majerle. The Knicks were trotting out Stephon Marbury’s favorite backcourt of Charlie Ward and Chris Childs; the Heat had one of the best PGs in the league in Tim Hardaway. Alonzo Mourning was a great center out of Georgetown. Patrick Ewing was a Hall-of-Fame center out of Georgetown. The coaches had backstory and beef. Miami has always struggled with their lack of homecourt advantage against the Knicks.
But Knicks/Heat, like Cain and Abel, was born out of injustice. The only reason the rivalry exists is because PJ Brown dwarf-tossed Ward into the cameramen on the baseline and the Knicks, having a pulse, reacted en masse to the sight of one man throwing another man a foot shorter.
And the league, striving for equality rather than justice, applied the letter of the law in an unjust way, and split the baby in half, and so 5 Knicks were suspended over the last two games of the series, while the Heat only lost Brown for those games, and the Heat went on to win the series, then turn in one of the more over-matched stinker conference finals performances in history against the Bulls…leading MJ and Pippen to crack up the postgame conference with how badly they could play and still win:
Legend has it that had the Knicks lost Game 5 to Miami, Jeff Van Gundy would have been replaced by Phil Jackson. The benefit to that would be obvious and historical—the Knicks, despite being an original member of the NBA going back to 1947, have never, NEVER, had the best player in the league on their team. Never.
Phil Jackson has routinely attracted the top players in the league to play for him, at least 3 in the last 20 years (MJ/Shaq/Kobe). Compare that list of players to the various saviors the Knicks have had since ’99: Houston (till his knees gave out); Antonio McDyess (till his knee gave out); Stephon Marbury (till his head gave out); STAT (till his knees gave out); ‘Melo (take care of them knees, son!).
A few years ago, the Knicks hired Mike D’Antoni as their head coach. They paid him $6M a year to do what you, I, or the late stages of GG Allin’s corpse could have done, which was lose with a team built to lose for the sake of cap room. The thinking at the time was that D’Antoni, off a stint as the architect of the Phoenix Suns Fun ‘n Run teams (the most enjoyable teams I’ve ever seen, besides the Sacramento Kings of the early 2000s) and a gig as an assistant coach for Team USA, was someone players wanted to play for. He was laid-back, his offensive system was free-wheeling and user-friendly, and the combination of his personality and his philosophy would help the Knicks attract the top free agents (meaning Lebron and anyone Lebron wanted).
Didn’t happen. So, despite D’Antoni leading the Knicks to the playoffs and their best record in over a decade, he was coerced into quitting because he couldn’t get an extension (despite Isiah Thomas and Don Chaney having received more extensions than Jenna Jameson).
D’Antoni was criticized for never getting a team to the Finals and being a one-dimensional coach. So naturally, Dolan replaced with him Mike Woodson, a man whose teams have never gotten to the conference finals and who is one-dimensional coach. But Woodson is a company man, and fired his agent at Dolan’s behest to switch to CAA, and of course Dolan won’t wipe his ass till CAA gives him clearance because he thinks if he’s cool with CAA and Worldwise Wes and all those guys, that means he’ll be a player for the top free agents again one day soon.
Glen Grunwald, despite being hidden from the media like he was Sloth from Goonies, did as good a job this summer as was humanly possible. Given that everyone who comes to the Knicks does so for every last dollar possible (‘Melo…STAT…Chandler), they had very little flexibility this off-season. Still, Grunwald was able to make moves that were, if not indisputably brilliant, at least intriguing. The Knicks are younger than a year ago (a necessity). They’re more talented than a year ago (Bargnani can do more things than Novak; MWP can do more things than Copeland; hell, if Beno Udrih can go less than a month between hitting 3s, he’ll have done more than Kidd). Essentially, Grunwald was like Dave Chappelle when he goes on the date in Half Baked. He had like $8 to make it work, and while a hot dog and ice cream isn’t quite dinner at Mario Batali’s restaurant and ice cream at Carvel afterward, it’s as good as you could ask for.
Then, Dolan Dolaned.
Every time the Knicks have a glimmer of progress, Dolan drops a giant mediocre-guitar-playing-entitled turd in the punch bowl.
Three years ago, D’Antoni’s finally getting a chance to run his system with competent players. Dolan decided he had to have Carmelo, even though his coach and GM at the time didn’t want to trade half the team for someone who wasn’t compatible with the other $100M one-dimensional forward they’d just signed that year. So what? What do Donnie Walsh and D’Antoni know about basketball? Boom: hello, Melo. Good-bye, possible-team-with-pieces-that-fit-together.
Two years ago, Linsanity is a revelation, the happiest story to happen to the Knicks since the time Sprewell cursed out Dolan upon his return to MSG after the Keith Van Horn trade (go, Spree!). He brings the Garden millions after almost single-handedly bringing the MSG/Time Warner conflict to a stop. Dolan tells Lin, a restricted free agent, to shop around for a better deal. Lin finds one. Dolan gets pissed and resurrects the Raymond Felton Show.
Last year was the Knicks’ best year since 2000. 54 wins, division champs for the first time since gangsta rap still scared anybody, #2 seed, a series of whuppings of the Heat in the regular season that had you looking forward to seeing what would happen in a playoff series…and then, of course, Team Half-Life started breaking down at breakneck speed, and before we knew what had happened, Roy Hibbert turned into Hakeem Olajuwon, Tyson Chandler turned into Luc Longley, and the season was over. Still, progress had been made. Melo led the league in scoring. Shumpert’s game evolved. JR Smith didn’t shoot anybody. Things were on the up-and-up.
Then, in one off-season, Dolan Dolaned again. Reportedly he was ready to dump Shump. And he dumped his GM and replaced him with the man who hired Isiah Thomas and stood out as a key member of the losing team in the Anucha Brown Sanders sexual harassment suit against MSG…and in case you forgot: Sanders asked for about $6M in damages in that case. The jury decided to give her $11M, that’s how bad it was. If “get in the truck” doesn’t jog your memory, here’s a flashback:
So Dolan has fired a competent performer and obedient-to-the-point-of-invisibility GM and replaced him with Steven Mills, who doesn’t have much basketball-operations background but who, apparently, is good at schmoozing stars. Quality and merit has been sacrificed for hype and hope. As always, in Dolan’s fiefdom.
During the summer of Lebron, a story leaked that when the Knicks made their pitch, Dolan read off of index cards…and not well, either. It was said Lebron wasn’t really leaning in the Knicks direction anyway, but that once the owner made his pitch reading off of cue-cards, that was it: there was no way LBJ was NY-bound.
Dolan changes coaches with no regard for their ability or performance.
Dolan changes GMs with no regard for their ability or performance.
Dolan will Dolan everyone on the planet except, of course, for Dolan.
The Knicks will never win a title with Dolan in charge. He is their asthma. Even when things have improved, even when you’re tempted to forget…he’s always there. He always will be.
The paradox of Dolan’s Knicks is even when they appear to be moving, making progress, you know they’re just halving an infinite distance. The Knicks are light years better than they were 5 years ago. But they’re still no closer to a title. And they never will be. Not with Lucky Sperm Jimmy at the wheel.