Suddenly, the New York Knicks are reeling. Only a few weeks removed from a winning streak of similar scope, last night they lost their sixth straight game. They have slipped back to the eighth spot in the playoffs. More concerning for the countless number of fans in the tri-state area (and displaced fans who happen to be in the Commonwealth) is the thought of the Knicks facing 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose and his Chicago Bulls, last night’s opponent, in a best of five series beginning this spring. Somewhat appropriately, the New York Daily News says the team is in a “free fall”.
Six weeks ago the world was introduced to Jeremy Lin, the incredibly talented but overlooked basketball player from Harvard, and Palo Alto High School before that. He had spent most of his time on the bench in Golden State and Houston, as well as a short stint with the Reno Bighorns of the NBA’s D-League, before spending more time on the bench in the New York. Lin was on the verge of yet another release by his NBA employer, until the Knicks were decimated by injury and were forced to let Jeremy not only play, but start. He had a tremendous debut in the starting lineup, followed by an equally impressive second, third, and so on. His performances as a starter are now the stuff of NBA lore, and will likely result in professional basketball teams reconsidering how they evaluate young players. The only element capable of exceeding Lin’s play during these games was the hype surrounding his arrival as a player on the world’s top basketball stage.
He was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated – two weeks in a row – and he’s one of only a few basketball players to ever grace the cover of Time Magazine. The Knicks sold-out of his jersey and it immediately became one of the best sellers in the NBA. Being the first Taiwanese-American to play and excel at the highest level of professional basketball, he grew instantly far beyond the typical sports marketing phenomenon. He was an organic, genuine happening without promotion or hype.
Here we are a few weeks later, and Lin’s still playing very good basketball. However, a number of stars absent during his Lin’s rise, which resulted in Linsanity, have returned to the roster and the team isn’t clicking like it once did. It’s a complicated situation – established stars playing with soon-to-be-established new faces, in the center of the basketball universe. Team dynamics aren’t always easy to manage. Among other important elements, it’s a challenge managing expectations, and personalities. The Knicks are working at it – they are addressing the chemistry and will likely make some personnel changes, this year or next. Like their fans in New York, I’m looking forward to seeing the slide come to an end and perhaps, taking a better seat in time for the playoffs.
The ebb and flow of being a fan can be much to handle. (Does anyone pull more at our emotional strings than our beloved Red Sox?) One month ago the Knicks were experiencing a major uptick in the season ticket sales based on the performance of their new star and the team’s surprising winning streak. Last week, they were booed off the Madison Square Garden floor after losing to the rising Philadelphia 76ers. Maybe the rollercoaster effect is part of the draw of big-time sports. All I know is that I’m keeping faith – and all Knicks fans should too.