The New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets are underway once again. And hopefully the basketball played in New York (and New Jersey) the last few years has already hit rock bottom and is ready to bounce back. Isiah Thomas is but a distant memory (unless James Dolan gets another one of his crackpot ideas), the salary-cap slashing is done, the LeBron James Watch is over (though the Carmelo Anthony Watch may be with us until next summer), the Nets got their historically bad season out of the way last year, and they have a new, fresh group running the ship, with a rising star in Brook Lopez, the Knicks have a superstar in Amar'e Stoudemire (though we'll miss David Lee)--let the 2010-'11 season begin.
And it's about time we had a new basketball heyday around here. We desperately need another 1968-'76. The '90s and early Aughts were exciting, exhilarating and entertaining, with the two locals making four finals appearances, but there weren't any championships. That nine-year span three or four decades ago, though, produced numerous champions. The Knicks won two titles, made the finals three times and reached the Eastern Conference finals six straight seasons ('69-'74). Meanwhile, the Nets were winning two ABA Championships of their own in 1974 and '76, and lost another one in '72. And championships aside, the talent alone was worth watching. From the '71-'72 season to '73-'74, the Knicks had five Hall of Famers in their starting lineup and one coming off the bench (Jerry Lucas). While the Nets had Julius Erving, along with ABA stalwarts Bill Melchionni, Billy Paultz and Larry Kenon. We need basketball to matter again, but I guess we should start with some baby steps. How about if one of these teams just contend for a playoff spot this year? Let's hope for that.
Here are the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports:
Nothing But Net: The Knicks won. The Nets won. And not only in the same season, but on the same day. When was the last time that happened? It took the Nets three years to win their first game last season (and it came against the Washington Generals), so they can breathe a sigh of relief that they won't be going through that again. Devin Harris and Brook Lopez starred in the opener, and Anthony Morrow made a crucial three-pointer at the end to put the game away. Wilson Chandler was the key to the Knicks' win, with 22 points off the bench, and Amar'e Stoudemire's Knick debut was a success. He's the go-to guy at the end of the game that the team hasn't had in years. Landry Fields (11 points) and Derrick Favors (eight points, 10 rebounds) made impressive NBA debuts, while Timofey Mozgov was, well, not so impressive, finishing the game with zero points, three rebounds and a seat on the bench.
First Place: The Yankees, by spanking the Cowboys at their space ship of a stadium, just an A.J. Burnett wild pitch from the sight of the Bombers' ALCS loss. The game was a contrast in coaches. Tom Coughlin completely schooled Wade Phillips, from throwing the challenge flag to just about every other decision there was to be made. With Coughlin and Eli Manning leading the way, the Giants never panic. No matter how many interceptions or "Favres" he throws (we'll name that fourth-quarter folly Manning tossed after the king of throwing the ball up for grabs when the game's on the line), he remains unflustered, keeping a level head and getting back to the business at hand. And though Coughlin often looks like he's going to explode, his in-game decisions aren't made in a state of hysteria or alarm. They've both been through it all by now, and lead the team in their image. Let's also give credit to Perry Fewell, who has the defense rocking and rolling, ranked first in the NFC in sacks (24) and fewest yards per game (263.3). The Giants would be a great team if they ever stop turning the ball over so much, but they just can't seem to stop. They're now in sole possession of first place in the NFC East, Ahmad Bradshaw leads the NFL in rushing, the offensive line seems to be gelling again, Manning leads the league in touchdowns and interceptions (who is he, Joe Namath?) and the punishing defense knocked another quarterback out of the game (and without using a helmet as a weapon). And oh yeah, Hakeem Nicks is awesome. But there's bad news heading into their bye week: Mathias Kiwanuka was place on injured reserve.exacted a bit of revenge for the
Money For Nothing: As I watched a despondent, heartbroken Derek Jeter being interviewed after the series loss, I really started feeling for him. A tear almost began falling down my cheek, as I sympathized with his sadness and despair. But then I said to myself, "Wait a minute, what the hell am I doing? This guy's won five World Series, makes more money in two months than I'll make in my whole lifetime, is engaged to one of the most beautiful women in the world, is one of the most admired and successful people in America and is pretty much a perfect human being." So instead I started crying for myself. The Yankees were the team looking old, looking overwhelmed and crumbling under the pressure. Texas pretty much steamrolled right over them, and Joe Girardi's questionable managing didn't help matters. The organization in the Bronx lives with the mantra of "If we don't win the World Series then the season's a failure"--so does that mean the Steinbrenners will slash ticket prices next year to make it up to their fans, for putting a failed product on the field? Somehow I doubt it. Instead they just fired Dave Eiland (but re-signed Girardi). Next up is the Jeter negotiations and the Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera decisions. And, of course, the Cliff Lee Watch will commence shortly.
A New Era: Sandy Alderson will be announced as the new GM of the Mets this afternoon. He's just what the organization needs--organization. Sure, having Bud Selig champion Alderson and foist him on the Mets is a strike against him (and what did Alderson know and when did he know it when all those steroids were infesting baseball?), but the new Met GM is a mixture of the old-school (mainly because he's 62 years old) and the new. He was sabermetrician-cult-hero Billy Beane's mentor and is one of the founding fathers of statistical analysis himself. He's already built a championship. He's credible. He's smart. And he has to be more articulate than Omar Minaya. But cleaning up the Mets will be almost as difficult as cleaning up after Charlie Sheen after a night at the Plaza. Sheen's agent blamed his behavior on an allergic reaction to medication, which is, coincidentally, the same excuse used by Minaya when he signed Oliver Perez to that three-year contract.
Scratch That Itch: When John MacLean told Ilya Kovalchuk to take a seat for Saturday's game, he created the scratch heard 'round the world (or at least Newark). Rumor has it, the reason for the benching was that Kovalchuk was late for a meeting (not Tom Coughlin late, but really late). MacLean and the Devils are still being tight-lipped about the whole incident, and the Devils' coach may not admit to what happened until his dying breath. Instead of "rosebud," he might whisper something like, "bonehead . . . Kovalchuk . . . called me . . . a bonehead . . . so I scratched him." In the meantime, New Jersey keeps on piling up the losses, with three more this week. The upstart Islanders are backsliding a little, going 0-2 this week (and they sent Nino Niederreiter to Portland of the WHL now that his nine-game trial period is over), while the beat Boston and New Jersey, with a hard-working, physical, all-for-one approach, but came down with amnesia and forgot to work hard and play physically for stretches of their loss to Atlanta on Wednesday (and Martin Biron wasn't much help either).
R.I.P. Bill Shannon: The official scorer of the Yankees and Mets games passed away this week in a house fire in New Jersey, at the age of 69. He began his role as official scorer in 1979, and was also an author and baseball historian. He was a character and fixture in the New York sports world, and will be missed.
(For in-depth analysis and discussion of the Yankees, Mets, Knicks, Nets, Giants, Rangers, Islanders and Devils, go to SB Nation's Pinstripe Alley, Amazin' Avenue, Posting and Toasting, NetsDaily, Big Blue View, Blueshirt Banter, Lighthouse Hockey and In Lou We Trust, respectively.)