Once upon a time, in what seems like forever ago, New York City was the basketball capital of the country. My town produced some of the game’s greatest stars from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Bob Cousy, from Dolph Schayes to Tiny Archibald, from Billy Cunningham to Satch Sanders, each of them honored in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Madison Square Garden was called the mecca, a place where the best players in the game were regularly on display. And for overflow, the city added the handsome new Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn.
Now those two fancy arenas have turned into basketball wastelands, home of the woebegone Knicks and equally inept Nets. Since Christmas, the Nets have the worst record in the NBA. The second worst record belongs to the Knicks.
This is sad stuff. The best brand of basketball in New York these days is played on the playgrounds, not in those arenas.
The Nets are mired in an 11-game losing streak and have dropped 22 of 23 games. Not to worry. The team just signed a sponsorship deal with Infor, a cloud software company. Infor is expected to provide “cutting edge data science,’’ It will turn this sow’s ear of a basketball team into a silk purse or so the analytics-driven front office would like you to believe. This trick will be performed without benefit of a first-round draft choice this summer or next. Both belong to the Boston Celtics thanks to the foolhardy Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett trade, which also seems like forever ago.
All the fancy formulas in the world won’t work without a roster of good players and that quality is in short supply in Brooklyn right now.
Meanwhile, the Knicks are engaged in a continuing soap opera. The team hired Phil Jackson a couple of years ago and remains mired in a treadmill to oblivion. Jackson’s signature move was to re-sign Carmelo Anthony, the face of the franchise, to a fancy five-year contract that includes a full no-trade clause. Since then, the $1 million a month chief executive has taken veiled shots at Anthony on social media and made no secret of his desire to trade him. Maybe Melo will waive the no-trade to escape this madhouse, and give himself a chance for a championship. Maybe he won’t. Tune in tomorrow for the latest basketball installment of “As the Knicks Turn.’’
How goofy are things in Jackson’s World right now? Well, he gave a four-year contract to a hobbled Joakim Noah, which was about three years too many. He traded for frequently injured Derrick Rose, who took a day off last month without bothering to inform the team of his whereabouts. And he remains a proponent of the Triangle Offense, which worked well when Jackson had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Chicago and Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles but not so well with their New York facsimiles.
Then there was the Charles Oakley affair.
Oakley is a throwback to another Knicks era when the team was not an embarrassment. He fell out of favor with owner Jim Dolan for some crime real or imagined and is not celebrated in the Garden environs. So when he showed up for a game the other night and found himself seated behind Dolan, it was an uncomfortable situation for all concerned.
One thing led to another and one push led to another and soon Oakley, confronted by Garden security, was in handcuffs, arrested and charged with multiple counts of misdemeanor assault and trespass.
The Knicks issued a press release that said Oakley had acted in “a highly inappropriate and completely abusive manner, and concluded that “he was a great Knick and we hope he gets some help soon.’’
The same might be said about the team he left behind.