By Julian Reed
A bustling metropolis, the biggest media market in the country, home to legendary rabid sports fans, but also home to a long running ineptitude. Welcome to New York. Whether you’re talking about the Yankees, Knicks, Mets, Giants, Nets or Jets, the immediate future doesn’t look bright. And for all those teams minus the Yankees, the recent and distant past hasn’t been too bright either. Thinking about this reality, I asked myself why this is the case.
Why does the mentality of New York sports fans and owners of professional sports teams within the same city seem to mirror one another?
To answer that question, one must first understand the dynamic of New York City. I’ve been to New York City many times and even had the privilege of living outside the city in Long Island at one point as a youth.
While there, instantly apparent what was at work within the people who occupy NY. Grit, aggression, disinterest, self absorption, entitlement, and even a bit of delusion seemed to be common traits. People work hard in pursuit of a better life no different than anywhere else in the country. But, New York is unique for good and bad reasons.
For starters, by architectural design the city is a series of smaller districts and boroughs smashed together. Only separated by bridges, streets, and buildings, this is the home of legendary congestion. Addition of traffic, bitter cold winters, and steaming hot summers largely is the cause of the day to day frustration and anger that is the universally accepted traits of what constitutes the personality of a New Yorker.
New York has a vibe to it that cannot be understated. Down every street corner you’ll find vibrant music, art and a confluence of cultures and styles that adequately represents the original “Melting pot”.
New Yorkers have an attitude to them. They won’t be pushed around, won’t settle for less, won’t accept less than excellent. “This is New York” is a common phrase and widely accepted belief. The idea that if you’re to be widely successful in America, it will happen here. The concrete jungle and the gateway to striking gold (subliminally speaking). This attitude trickles down to sports as well. Whether it’s the Yankees, Knicks, Rangers, Jets, Giants, etc, they expect excellence. There is no other option but winning.
Within that attitude exists a sort of hubris with sports. New York culture feels as though it is above building, rebuilding, developing talent, etc. Majority there expect their local teams to win always. It is widely understood in all major sports that expectation and criticism is highest in New York. This reality creates a weighty pressure that poses a series of problems for teams.
Unlike places like Memphis, Milwaukee, Portland, San Antonio, etc, there are many things to do in New York. Like Los Angeles, New York has an infinite number of leisure activities to offer locals and tourists alike. This creates great urgency for sports organizations.
People don’t have time for ineptitude or even average. Fail to provide an upper echelon product with stars and intrigue and people will take their money and spend it elsewhere.
Interesting thing about urgency, it can be as poisonous as much as it can be helpful. In pro sports there are clear cut formulas to winning that have been established over decades.
Largely, rebuilding isn’t optional in sports. Stars and superstars come and go (at a much higher rate in major markets), thus in between those periods of consistency and relevance teams need tangible ways to reload and return to prominence. That puts tremendous onus on effective ownership, general managers, front office, and scouting departments. Their efforts and diligence largely determine the product put on the fields and courts on decisions made years in advance.
The true silver lining in sports, no shortcuts to victory. So when somebody asks me what happened to New York sports, my answer is a short and sweet one: decades of shortcuts and band aids. Trying to win newspaper frontpages and moment to moment public perception battles. Big name head coaches and past prime players bereft of former glory being overly compensated to make an immediate impact and create what amounts to a short lived buzz.
Sure, some of these moves by New York professional sports teams have resulted in minor spikes in attendance or a few nights or weeks of interesting, but the result has remained the same.
Recently, the New York Knicks introduced Phil Jackson as President of Basketball Operations. Jackson arguably is the greatest coach in NBA history, winning 13 championships in total. 2 as a player on the Knicks legendary teams of the 70’s, 6 as a coach with Michael Jordan In Chicago and 5 more with the Lakers dynasty including most notably Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’neal.
Jackson’s reputation in the basketball world is illustrious as the “Zen Master”. Despite that legendary resume, many criticize the hire as another of a long tradition of New York hires reeking of agenda.
The New York Knicks currently are 32 (Wins) and 43 (losses) this season. They are fighting for the final spot in the eastern conference playoff seating along with Atlanta and Cleveland but likely won’t make it in.
This season for the Knicks has been one of the worst in recent memory with massive injuries throughout, embarrassing blowout defeats and a cloud of gloom hanging over the team.
The gun charge looming over point guard Raymond Felton, the strong possibility that Superstar Carmelo Anthony will opt out of his contract and go elsewhere this summer, storm of off the court issues for Shooting guard J.R Smith well chronicled, hot seat for embattled coach Mike Woodson, etc.
Those issues along with others have led to massive public scrutiny of Knicks owner James Dolan.
Fans a few weeks ago had even held a protest outside Madison Square Garden voicing overwhelming distrust and disdain for Dolan. Many believe Dolan brought in Phil Jackson to take at least some of the heat off his back.
Logic being, hire a big name, make him president of basketball operations, and that’ll serve as instant gratification to appease fans. While also serving as the scapegoat going forward, should the Knicks not succeed under Phil. Given the long track record of the organization, hard to argue with that sentiment. It isn’t just the Knicks who have alot of problems on their hands.
The New York Jets have teetered between tire fire and average for over a decade (121-114 since 99). A plethora of coaches, a multitude of quarterbacks, no consistency.
Current head coach Rex Ryan had a hot start in NY with back to back trips to the AFC Championship Game off the heels of HBO’s Hard Knocks.
The reality series films a selected NFL team for all five weeks of training camp which includes practice, preseason games, and individual players lives in the locker room and outside the facility. Ryan as well as his Jets team in the beginning seemed to draw strength from bravado.
The bright lights of New York City and the passing of eras seemed to dim an ominous shade of grey on what seemed like an up and coming elite team. The Jets quickly decayed, going from 11-5 (and a 2nd consecutive trip to AFC Championship Game) in 2010 to 8-8, 6-10, and 8-8 again the next three seasons, missing the playoffs all three years.
Coach Rex Ryan’s brazen machismo act suddenly didn’t galvanize his team nor New York City fans.
Through that decay he gradually started losing some of his former executive authority as the Jets hired current GM John Idzik to be 2nd in the chain of command behind owner Woody Johnson. The near future nor the distant future looks bright for Jets fans sadly.
Both the Knicks as well as their new in city rival the Brooklyn Nets have one major thing in common that speaks to the recent organizational ineptitude of both organizations.
In what figures to be one of the best and deepest drafts in NBA history, neither team has a single pick in either of the two rounds in it, thus won’t be apart of it.
In both cases for lack of a better term, they essentially mortgaged their future (through rebuilding in the draft) for assets to help make them championship teams today. Neither is a championship caliber team today, ironically. The ego driven, impatient “win now” mentality/approach rears it’s ugly head yet again, producing zero results.
The Nets traded all of their picks to the Boston Celtics last year to acquire Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry. The trio is a collection of players well past their primes on their last legs in the NBA. Terry was recently traded for another player. The Nets today have a roster that likely won’t get them out of the 2nd round of the playoffs.
Upon deducing basic match, in one to two years when the current cast of players is retired, the Nets will have nothing. No young developing talent, no championships, no assets. In trying to “win now”, they’ve already lost everything and it hasn’t hit the fan yet.
In thorough study of all these organizations as well as the city, I find it profoundly fascinating. This cultural problem within NY pro sports has been a repetitive cycle for over 50 years.
There have been bright spots along the way like the Yankees and Giants, but for the biggest media market in the country, it feels ever so fleeting. A blip on the proverbial radar of a championship obsessed society. In my heart it feels like a painful under achievement for the crown city of the nation. A black eye, if you will. Keep in mind, I am not a native New Yorker.
However, I am not ignorant either. When New York sports are good, national sports, society, cultural relevance are better for it.
As a consumer, I gain something of tremendous entertainment value when the Knicks have an eminent quality to provide my television screen or ticket stub. In the city of Wall Street, birthplace of Hip hop, cradle for art and creativity, gatekeeper for modern culture, ego and success seem intertwined like nowhere else. Deeply flawed as it may be, it’s New York, so you have to love it for what it is.