There are exceptions, because there are always exceptions, but this is by and large a pretty good time for the NBA. The NBA’s pre-All-Star broadcasting pulled in record ratings, the Rookie Challenge game was hilariously loose — the screaming “OH BABY” dude from the And1 Tour was all that was missing — and while Blake Griffin’s winning effort in the slam dunk contest was basically a sledge-o-matic away from total prop overload, it’s always and everywhere kind of hard to argue with Blake Griffin. (If admittedly harder to argue with this) There are a bunch of good teams in the NBA, and they are for the most part fun to watch and interesting to ponder. So, looming labor strife and other bumouts notwithstanding, it’s a good time for the NBA. But there are exceptions, because there are always exceptions.
Among the most glaring being that James Dolan (above) — mock turtleneck aficionado, revenge-blues artist, embodiment of loathsome entitlement’s most loathsome aspects and general toxic idiot — still owns the New York Knicks. When the Knicks are playing well, or even just playing the hyperactive pick-and-roll offense and kind-of-playing the whatever-that-was defense for which Coach Mike D’Antoni is known, they’re a very likable team — one comprised of a legitimately fascinating philo-Semitic power forward, a few long-shot reclamation projects made good, a comic Russian, and a host of players enjoying the sort of statistical and reputational boost that playing in D’Antoni’s system offers. (Raymond Felton and Boris Diaw have something to talk about next time they get beers, is what I’m saying) And when they’re playing badly, as they sometimes will, the Knicks are — and this may be even more important — also pretty likable. They always play hard and at times play very well and are largely free of the sad, extravagantly compensated and thoroughly past-it veteran washouts that be-shat the stat sheets during Isiah Thomas’s implausibly long tenure as the team’s GM last decade.
Given that Dolan is Dolan, and that he abetted and co-piloted Thomas’s trashing of one of the NBA’s marquee franchises, there’s a sense in which the looming, if not already extant, reunion between the two is unsurprising. While I feel for GC and other Knicks fans as they face down this reunion between Titanic and Iceberg, I also don’t really care all that much about the Knicks. The team I grew up caring about has its own clownish/offensive owner and wince-induction issues, and while the Knicks are exponentially more fun to watch than the Nets at this point, I don’t really watch either all that much. (The one Knicks game I’ve been to this year was for work, and I’ve been to maybe two others in the past three years) But as a Mets fan, I know the unpleasantness of watching a dim-but-loyal ownership group defer to a defective chief executive who manages to consistently underperform his worst-in-class reputation. I know that it sucks, a lot. I just don’t feel it as acutely in this case.
But I’m getting there. The blamelessness of walked-over team president Donnie Walsh — who turned the league’s most fucked franchise around in impressive time — is beyond debate, which makes the way in which he has been treated pretty gross. And given just how bad the two parties at the center of all this are — Dolan is Dolan, and Isiah, who has done literally nothing to warrant a job in basketball since retiring as a player, is both an unctuous creep and terrible at everything that could conceivably fall under his job description as a team-runner — the possibility of Dolan-Thomas Part Two is kind of a challenge to any basketball fan’s gag reflex.
Swapping three of the team’s best players and a valuable draft pick for Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony — terrific players both, neither of them a fit for the style that has belatedly made the Knicks a non-joke — looks like a classic Isiah Thomas deal, but whether the trade happens or not, it’s hard not to feel for Knicks fans seemingly consigned to cheer for a team that’s a laughingstock even when the on-court product isn’t a joke. At Straight Bangin, the indispensable Joey Litman addresses the sorry state of a Knicks fan facing “a miscarriage of reason” that he compares to “the basketball equivalent of Sauron and Voldemort joining forces to complete the Death Star.” The prospect of entrusting Thomas to create a Big Three based around Anthony, Stoudemire and a star PG TBD, Litman writes,
… Takes for granted that Isiah Thomas will find the right complementary players, that Isiah Thomas will successfully navigate the salary cap, and that Isiah Thomas can preside over a functional organization. He has never demonstrated an ability to do any of these things, though, and that is why today’s news is so distressing. Allowing Isiah Thomas to return, even as some Machiavellian puppeteer, is an insult to reason, to history, and to decency. It’s an affront to fans, to professionals, and to the entire NBA. His initial tenure with the Knicks was a cautionary tale of epic ineptitude, unapologetic petulance, and even lurid inhumanity. Rewarding him with another opportunity is just an insult all around.
We expect nothing more from James Dolan–who deserves more run in conversations about the worst owners, and millionaires, in the world–but all the same, this feels gross and terrible. Setting aside a fan’s righteous indignation and debilitating lack of control, restoring Isiah’s power, in the shadows or elsewhere, also is a legal, moral, and ethical crime. He is employed by Florida International University as its basketball coach, yet he is currently working on basketball projects for another organization. I am sure his employer, his players, his recruits, and the parents to whom he must answer all are pleased to read how little they mean to him. So, too, must Donnie Walsh, who twists in the wind as the cuckolded Knicks president, love that his hard work and tireless commitment to prudence and propriety has been rewarded with such indifference, if not casual disdain. Were Isiah returning not inherently so awful, allowing him to run the Knicks and wage war against Walsh with the owner’s approval would make this entire story distasteful, anyway. There are few constants in the universe, but one of them remains that nothing involving Dolan and Isiah will ever be done appropriately, respectfully, or rationally.