The Manhattan Renaissance
People on the east coast, especially New Yorkers, just seem to care more about sports than the rest of the country. Sports radio gets better ratings and the media and fans are harsher. This may seem like a broad generalization because there are great fan bases in the Midwest and on the west coast. I have a few theories but no concrete explanation why sports seem to matter more on the eastern seaboard.
New Yorkers love their baseball, but they have always had a special love affair with basketball. You will find some of the best pickup games in the world at Rucker Park in Harlem. Little schools like CCNY and LIU were mainstays in the early years of the NCAA tournament and N.I.T. St. John’s emerged as a national program in the 1980s. Madison Square Garden in midtown Manhattan has always been considered the Taj Mahal of basketball, and the Knicks were the kings and princes.
From about 2002-2010 major basketball in New York was dead to rights. St. John’s was terrible after Mike Jarvis left, and Isiah Thomas almost single-handedly destroyed the Knicks. The Nets had a nice run in 2002 and 2003, but they’re the Nets! Somewhere Spike Lee was crying in his signature horn rimmed glasses, and Woody Allen was more self loathing than ever!
Like the deus ex machina from ancient Greek tragedies two men seemed to save the day in 2010. Former UCLA coach Steve Lavin was hired at St. John’s, and Knicks gm Donnie Walsh landed his first big time free agent in Amare Stoudemire. Under Lavin the Johnnies have been giant killers at home and are in the top 25 for the first time in a decade. The Knicks were a young team on the rise in the eastern conference and primed to make their first playoff appearance since the 2003-2004 season.
It wasn’t until late February that the Knicks became the center of the NBA universe. After weeks of speculation New York landed Carmelo Anthony from Denver via trade. The Knicks now have two of the NBA’s top 20 players and a great veteran point guard in Chauncey Billups. With Deron Williams off the market, if the Knicks can land Chris Paul in 2012 they will be title contenders for years to come. For the first time in a long time New York basketball aficionados have a reason to dust off the vintage Willis Reed jerseys and make the Garden the place to be.