My earliest basketball memories begin with the back of my comic books in the 1970s. I didn’t know much about basketball, the NBA or the ABA. I never played the game in elementary school, and I don’t remember being around it all that much. Sure, basketball was going on around me, but it wasn’t on the radar. Those comic books, though, taught me just enough about the characters of the game to start to care. If you’re old enough you may remember that Spalding used to make the official red, white, and blue ball of the ABA. They ran cartoonish ads on the back of comic books for their rubber basketballs, featuring Rick Barry and Julius Erving. As ignorant as I was about the sport, everyone knew Dr. J. How could you not know Dr. J? The most famous basketball characters of the time were the pseudo-basketball stars of the Globetrotters and Julius “The Doctor” Erving.
It wasn’t until my family packed up and moved to Oakland, California in 1981 that I actually started following the sport. In a way, I was shamed into following. One afternoon, at a friend’s house, I saw a bunch of Warriors posters on his wall. I’m pretty sure one of them was Joe Barry Carroll, and another was World B. Free. He asked me if I liked the Warriors, with the kind of zeal that made any answer other than, “YES!” a mistake. I assured him that I was a fan, but as he rattled off names, I found myself totally lost. I was determined, however, to match my friend’s enthusiasm for these Warriors and took to finding out as much as I could about the team, and the sport. It was at that time I discovered Bernard King. During the 1981-82 season, King was a 25-year old budding All Star. He had charisma and a cool last name. I was hooked forever.
Our time in Cali was short, however, and we were slated to move back to New York in late-1982, just as my Warriors fandom was taking root. The good news, however, was that Bernard King had been traded to the New York Knicks in exchange for Micheal Ray Richardson and a 1984 5th round pick. My guy was coming along for the ride with me! It was a natural, as a New Yorker, that I’d latch onto those Knicks. They were my hometown team, and they had my favorite player. Still, I’ve always kept the Warriors in my back pocket as a 2nd favorite team, along with the A’s and the Raiders. You might say, I left my heart in San Francisco…except it was Oakland and my heart came along with me back to NY. So much for that…
Over the years, as the Knicks have been up and down, I’ve enjoyed rooting for the Warriors from afar. I was a big Run TMC fan, and an even bigger fan of those Chris Webber teams. The Warriors never offered much of a consolation to the Knicks during the down years, but they certainly helped me to keep a grip while the Knicks were deep in the throws of the “HE WHO SHALL NEVER BE NAMED” era. I never expected that the Warriors would leap into the historically great stratosphere with Steve Kerr turning down Phil Jackson to stay close to his daughter. It’s been a thrill, and all my Bay Area friends, both new and old, are reveling in this glory. There are a few places that I have to admit feeling a little sting.
Steph Curry coulda been, shoulda been our draft pick. He’ll forever be the one who got away. Steve Kerr was Phil Jackson’s long time coaching project, and he wisely opted for the more convenient geography and (much) better roster. The Warriors are doing this with the most incredibly efficient capology you’ve ever seen, both by luck and design, and they’re set up to keep going for as long as Jordan’s Bulls were dominant. We all remember how that went for us, just as we were peaking. Our new Latvian toy, and his All Star mentor, are only going to be able to share so many years of All Star play in common. The window for the current mix is very small. If fortune finally smiles down on us, Porzingis will be the core player for a team that outlasts the Warriors’ peak. But, in the meantime, Knicks fans probably have to get used to concentrating on rising in the East, and riding out the best of Golden State. That’s fine, as long as there’s strong progress and a chance to compete for a spot in the Finals before too many years. Just a realistic chance.
At 43-4, the Warriors are on an historical pace. They come to Madison Square Garden supremely confident. It’s Broadway, after all, and they’re the best show on planet basketball. Steph Curry has dropped a career high 54 on the Knicks in the past, although I best remember that game for Raymond “Penguin” Felton blocking his shot in the crucial final moments. This Warriors team is like a natural disaster that you can see coming, but can’t adequately prepare for. It’s like a super storm that will undoubtedly destroy everything in its wake, so you fill the bathtub with water, stock up on canned goods, and pray that it somehow passes you by. More than likely, this is going to be an extinction level event for the Knicks, but there is the hope that Carmelo and Kristaps can stand defiant against the wind and do some version of Gandalf’s “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!” Gandalf the Grey died in that encounter with the Balrog, and the Fellowship limped away, temporarily broken. It was, however, a necessary step towards the salvation of Middle Earth, and Gandalf the White returned with a divine aura.
Do it for Bernard King, baby. Let’s go Knicks.