Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Knicks, Car Washes, T-Shirts, and You

If the relationship between Patrick Ewing and Knicks fans had to be described using only two and a half words (contractions count, for this purpose, as 1.5 words) of Facebook terminology, this connection would be defined as: it's complicated.

Ewing is undoubtedly the most talented Knick of my lifetime. (And it's not particularly close. I guess Allan Houston would have to be the second greatest Knick of the last 25 years, and his career just doesn't compare to Ewing's.) But there's still a nagging sense that Ewing never quite lived up to his potential. He never won a championship, obviously. He missed a finger roll that could have won Game 7 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals in Indiana. The Knicks went on a run to the NBA Finals in 1999 without him. It are these failings which define the Ewing Era of Knicks basketball.

This characterization is not fair, of course. Ewing was an original Dream Teamer. An eleven-time all-star. Rookie of the year winner. One of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time. An NCAA champion at Georgetown. More: If John Starks had made that buzzer-beater in Game 6 of the '94 Finals, Ewing would be remembered the way Hakeem Olajuwon is. If Starks had shown up at all in Game 7 of that series, Ewing would be one of the few basketballers to be the best player on an NCAA champion and a NBA champion.

So yes, Ewing might be the most accomplished Knick. He is certainly the best statistical Knickerbocker of all time. But there is a vague feeling of unease when it comes to Ewing's career.

There is no such ambiguity when it comes to Ewing's teammate and on-court bodyguard, Charles Oakley. Oakley was always the toughest guy in every game he played. Michael Jordan keeps him around to be the toughest guy in the room. He was never expected to lead a team to a championship, so the lack of a championship doesn't define his career like it does Ewing's. He was never in the position to attempt a game-winning finger-roll in a deciding playoff game, so he never missed one. Oakley is remembered solely for the things he did well, not for his shortcomings. And that is why Oakley might be my favorite Knick.

As a Knicks fan forced to endure the Isiah Thomas Era, I don't think I can be blamed for having greater affinity for a player who represents only the good aspects of the last really good epoch of Knicks history. (I'm not including the 1999 team because they had no chance--none--of beating the Spurs. Also, that shortened strike season was weird and maybe shouldn't be taken seriously). There shouldn't be anything complicated when it comes to my favorite Knick. And so, if anyone is already searching for birthday presents for me, you could do much worse than this official Oakley's Car Wash t-style shirt. And yes, I did compose this entire post as a way to link to that shirt.

(Somewhat relatedly, I think David Lee's unquestioned status as New York's favorite Knick is related to Oakley. I, for one, have always wanted another Oakley on the Knicks, and it looks like the Knicks may have found one. Even though Lee is a far superior offensive player now, in his fourth season, than Oakley ever was, and even though Oakley was a way better defensive player. But their rebounding percentages are pretty similar. But those who argue that Lee would better serve the Knicks as trade-bait, and that those who advocate keeping him around are thinking irrationally might not know the half of it. The irrational love of Lee might have been building for 20 years.)

No comments: