Per 36 Minutes:
Sometimes you can do everything right and life can still disappoint you. Balance work with life. Pay your bills on time. Eat right. Get some exercise in. Do right by your fellow man. Recycle. Opportunities still pass you by. Loved ones still get sick. Rain still falls during days at the beach and the sun still shines outside all-day meetings. The universe isn’t cruel, it’s just probabilistic. Best you can do is maximize your odds, minimize your risk, hope that when the good times come, they stay, and that when the storm hits, you have a deep enough foundation to weather it.
Because sometimes, you can’t see the storm clouds on the horizon.
This is not a story about one of those times. This is a story about one of those other times. One of those times when the clouds are most definitely out there, but you just can’t bring yourself to admit that you see them, because the plans that they might ruin just seem like too much fun.
Two years ago, the Knicks made a wonderful mistake. They placed a 5-year, $100 million bid for a player who was not LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. Competitors looked at the offer and folded; analysts looked at the offer and scoffed; insurance companies looked at the offer and declined. And a 27-year-old power forward with 37-year-old legs and 17-year-old defensive instincts looked at the offer, picked up a pen, and wrote “Amare Stoudemire” on the dotted line. And immediately, the question was not “will this work?” but, rather, “how long until this stops working?”
About half a season, as it turned out.
For a few months there was ecstasy, the truest honeymoon period between New York fans and a free agent in my memory. The team was fine, no better, but the personalities charmed and the Garden rocked and in the middle of it all stood the Hero, the Redeemer, a physical specimen to stand against all comers and throw down dunks and knock down 20-footers and raise his hands to the rafters – he could almost reach them, it seemed – and unleash a rallying cry around which players and fans alike could gather and say “Now this is it, this is what has been missing, this is what we’ve been searching for and damned if I didn’t forget what this felt like.” He reeled off 8 consecutive 30-point games. He blocked shots and rebounded like a player whose knees were far steadier. He was the subject of semi-credible MVP arguments at the season’s quarter pole. And game after game, he logged minute totals that spat in the face of the situation’s delicacy.
And all the while the clouds gathered on the horizon, and the Garden faithful convinced itself that the winds would blow them clear of Four Penn Plaza.
All such delusions are broken now, having bypassed us like so many dribble-penetrators unencumbered by help defense, having been scattered like so many shards of glass from a fire extinguisher’s broken casing. The realities linger like gray clouds on a still evening – 3 more years, 60 million more dollars, young players set to leave each offseason and no space left under the salary cap to bring in their replacements. And a one-dimensional power forward who doesn’t fit with the team’s true stars, whose scoring efficiency is down, whose body continues to wear, who seems to have fallen victim, somewhere inside himself, to the same frustration and doubt as the rest of us.
Sometimes you do everything right and life can still disappoint you. Other times you make a mistake, but you make it with such good intentions that it feels like it just has to work out. And sometimes it does. Usually, it doesn’t — that’s what makes it a mistake.
I was back home in New York the day in December that the terms of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement were announced. My dad picked me up from LaGuardia in the 2003 Toyota Camry that he had purchased after I wrecked his old Corolla, the Corolla on whose radio Gus Johnson had described Allan Houston’s series winner against the Heat to us back in 1999. We entered the house through the kitchen door, the door that we had opened to play basketball in the dead end out back after the Knicks had seemingly put away a playoff game against Indiana in 1995, only to discover that the game had one last twist in store for us and that we would be in no mood to shoot hoops that afternoon. We sat down in the living room where we had watched Jordan become a legend and Starks keep shooting and Duncan become a champion and generally witnessed the longest ever stretch of Knickerbocker success come and go without full consummation. And he asked the question that had been hanging in the air since we had rehashed the basic terms of the CBA on the car ride home.
“So, do you use the amnesty provision on Amare?”
I was ready for it. “I just don’t think you can. He just meant too much last year. LeBron and Wade left those meetings laughing at us. Joe Johnson wasn’t even interested. And he embraced it. Not in spite of how hard it seemed, but because of how hard it seemed. No way ‘Melo comes here without him. No way we’re even talking about Chris Paul or Deron Williams without him. And now when it seems hard from our end, we’re gonna cut bait? Gonna make him the answer to a really depressing trivia question? Gonna move on to bigger and better things? Not gonna let the guy who laid the first brick stick around for the Grand Opening?”
The person who taught me to love this team, taught me to love this whole beautiful, heartbreaking sport, looked at me. He nodded. He spoke.
“You’re a good boy, but they’ve got to let him go. We know where this is headed if he stays, and that’s worse for us and it’s worse for him too.”
Days later the Knicks used their one-time-only amnesty provision on Chauncey Billups. Billups who had but one season remaining under contract, whose retention would have left the Knicks sitting on ample cap space this summer. Space that they have instead chosen to keep filled with their unreluctant hero, their imperfect star, their much-maligned redeemer.
Six months gone by and my dad’s question still hangs in the air, never fully answered, under a cloudy sky.
Grades (5 point scale):
Final Grade: 2.4 (C-)