State of the Knicks – July 4th, 2016

Happy Independence Day to all our American Knickerbuddies out there. Enjoy the festivities, and be safe. To all our non-American Knickerbuddies, happy regular old Monday.

A lot has transpired in Knicksdom over the last several weeks. The dominoes began to fall with the Derrick Rose trade a little less than two weeks ago. Rose lobbied his Bulls’ comrade, Joakim Noah, to join him in New York, and Noah turned around to convince free agent SG Courtney Lee to round out the Knicks’ starting five.

Of course, there was a lot of drama, hand-wringing, speculation, speculation about speculation, and a bit of terrible summer league play in the mix. By now, unless you’re living under a rock or very, very new to the Internet, you’re familiar with all of the gory details. I’m here to offer some perspective on the moves and the pending actions, although I suspect my take on all of it is only one of many possible takes. I’m sure a lot of you will passionately disagree with my thoughts, while others will offer their endorsement. I’m going to take each of the main transactions separately, then discuss the situation as a whole, and finally drop a few thoughts on where we go from here.

Derrick Rose

I’ve never been a huge fan of Derrick Rose. He’s always been enormously talented, even after his multiple knee injuries. Before the injuries, he was a lightning bolt of a player, an introverted Allen Iverson. After the injuries, he’s been quite good in terms of his athletic recovery, but his overall game has suffered. He hasn’t so much reinvented his game, as pushed harder and harder to get his old game back. In some ways, he looks the same on the court. You see flashes of that brilliant pre-injury MVP. If you watch his post-injury highlight videos, in fact, you’ll marvel at how many times the TV guys use the phrase, “That’s vintage Derrick Rose!” I can hear Mike Breen’s voice echoing in my head as I type this. See for yourself.

Go ahead and count the number of times “vintage Derrick Rose” appears. I’m too lazy to do it, but I’ll bet it’s more than 5. Question: If Derrick Rose is able to show his “vintage” self that often, does that mean he’s still very good?

In some ways, Rose is exactly what the Knicks need. Even in his diminished state, he’s a very good penetrator, he runs downhill to the hoop, and he’s not afraid to throw tough passes. He’s the anti-Calderon in both positive and negative ways. Calderon was notoriously slow, bad at getting to the hoop, and tentative about throwing difficult passes. He was also an efficient shooter and took good care of the ball, two things you can’t say about Rose. In effect, the Knicks have traded one sets of problems for the opposite set of problems. It’s a trade off I’m very happy to make because I think the riskier, less efficient play of Rose can be managed by talented teammates, who are all capable of making good plays on the other end of his wild forays to the hoop (see: Porzingis put-back highlights) and his wilder pass attempts (see: all decent NBA players’ skill sets).

Rose’s contract is up after the 2016-17 season, just in time for the hugest free agent bonanza of all time, and another rising salary cap. Next offseason will make this year look tame in comparison. The Knicks will be able to deal with Rose in whatever way they see fit, even holding onto him if he turns out to be the best version of himself. There’s a chance to showcase Hornacek’s system with a fast, athletic lead guard to entice a Rose replacement if there’s mutual interest. It’s a relatively low risk move for a moderate reward on the other end. Giving up Robin Lopez and his great value contract was unfortunate, but really there’s nothing too dramatic in this trade beyond some of the names.

Joakim Noah

I have to confess….I love Joakim Noah. Among the top three or four sports heroes of my youth stands Yannick Noah. The senior Noah played tennis with such a sense of joy amidst a crowd of stoic Europeans, only John McEnroe rivaled his passion on the court. He used a signature volley slam to great effect throughout the late-70s and early-80s. I would have been a Joakim fan even had he been a fringe NBAer during his career. The fact is, Joakim Noah is exactly the type of player Knicks’ fans would fall in love with were it not for his role on the rival Chicago Bulls. He’s a tough guy. He’s outwardly passionate, like his father. His game is predicated on hustle and energy. He’s a native New Yorker. Need I say more?

The main problem with Noah is his health. Joakim was DPOY three years ago and finished in the top 5 of the MVP voting. In 2013-14 Noah averaged 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game. There have only been seven NBA seasons of that kind in history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar averaged 11+ rebounds, 5+ assists, 1+ steals, and 1+ blocks back in the late-70s. Kevin Garnett did it three times in his Minnesota days. Bill Walton did it once, over 58 games, for Portland, and Sam Lacy did it for the Kansas City-Omaha Kings back in the day. Noah’s scoring average is one of the least impressive of that group, but the rest of the numbers pop out.

Noah is the first prime time player the Knicks have had next to Carmelo Anthony in his time with the club, who doesn’t require shots to excel. The last player of that sort was Jason Kidd, and we all remember how that turned out. Noah’s scoring has suffered over the last two injured-plagued seasons, mainly as a result of terrible shooting from the field and the line. The rest of his game has held remarkably steady, however, and if you look at the rates instead of the counting stats, he put up career highs in both rebounding and assists last year during his 29 games off the Chicago bench. The optimistic take on Noah, which I favor given my feelings about the guy, is that he can be an All NBA defender again if he stays on the court. His shooting can trend upward in the Knicks offense, and his court vision is prefect for keeping the ball on the move. You can run the offense through him at times and do some real damage in the process. Rose can push the ball and get into things early, while Noah can set things up in the half court.

The pessimistic take on the Noah deal has everything to do with the idea of decline, and the 4 years attached to his $72 million contract. The risk with Rose is that he’s washed up and won’t help the Knicks do anything in 2016-17. The risk with Noah is that he’s also washed up and he’ll drag the Knicks down over the next several years. It’s for that reason that Rose-detractors say, “Meh,” while Noah detractors say, “WTF????!!!!!!!! NOOOOOOO!!!!”

I’ll stand by my optimism with Noah, deserved or blind, and say that he’s the most important free agent signing the Knicks have ever made….either for better or for worse. He’s Amar’e redux, only the end may already be upon us. To take your mind off that frightening possibility, I give you this:

Courtney Lee

With little cap space left over to build an entire roster, the Knicks desperately needed a starting guard to put alongside Derrick Rose. It was imperative that said guard be durable, good from beyond the arc, and solid on defense. Courtney Lee was sitting there around the right price point, but other teams had interest and the Knicks backup plan seemed to be Eric Gordon, which left me having night sweats. There was no way the Knicks could spend all their free cap space on broken Eric Gordon with Derrick Rose manning the other backcourt spot. In the end, Courtney Lee took a little less money (thanks in part to Joakim Noah’s recruiting) and the Knicks got a picture perfect guard for the personnel on the club already. Many of the NBA pundits have praised the Knicks for nabbing Lee at that price, and some have compared it to the shrewd decision making that landed Robin Lopez last year. Goodbye to one excellent value contract, hello to another.

There’s not much to say about Lee, except that everyone thinks highly of him. The most common refrain you hear when his name comes up is, “How does a solid player like Lee bounce around like that every year?” The Knicks have locked him up on his reasonable deal for 4 years, which will take him into his 35-year old season. Lee is the sort of player who can legitimately start on a team with talent at the other spots, and slide into a prominent bench role if the overall talent upgrades. He’ll play 30+ minutes for you in a supporting role as a starter, or 20-25 minutes off the bench as a reserve. I’ve always liked Courtney Lee from afar. He’s the kind of “3 and D” player that Knicks fans see on other teams and wish they had at MSG. The Knicks never seem to have a guy like that for very long, but here we are today. Looking into him a bit further, I stumbled on this video that ought to make Knicks fans happy.

The Big Picture

Each of the moves I described individually can be dissected and debated on their own merit. Basketball is a team game, though, and the whole is always greater than the parts. How did the Knicks fare as a unit in rebuilding the starting lineup?

On the surface, you can talk about replacing Jose Calderon with Rose, Afflalo/Vujacic with Lee, and Lopez with Noah. In that equation, the Knicks upgraded their talent, particularly in the backcourt, and injected a different sort of personality/profile into the center spot. The team was so abysmal in the backcourt last year that almost any move was going to improve prospects. Adding Jeff Hornacek as coach necessitated a different approach from the guard position, so Phil Jackson and company killed two birds with one stone. They replaced the NBA’s worst starting guards with guys who can play with pace. Lee’s statistical profile isn’t a huge departure from Afflalo, except that he plays good defense. That alone helps the outlook. The two biggest changes we ought to expect from the new group are 1) pace on offense, and 2) aggressiveness on defense. The pace on offense will be predicated on Melo’s willingness to run, and his ability to keep the ball moving. The efficiency of that offense will remain in question until we see how well Rose and Noah shoot. On defense, the Knicks ought to look a bit more “attacking” than reacting, although Derrick Rose has never been one to create a lot of turnovers. If the team is going to be successful in upping the pace effectively on offense, they’ll have to become much better at forcing turnovers in the backcourt. It remains to be see whether or not Rose has it in him to make that happen. To that end, it’s important to sign the right backups with our remaining cap money, in order to hedge against injury and ineffectiveness.

The last “big picture” note involves the Melo/Porzingis timeline. Clearly, all of these big name moves are an effort to appease Melo in his shrinking timeline. His contract is up after three more seasons. Noah and Lee signed up for four. There’s no reason why the Knicks shouldn’t roll the dice this way, given the fact that Porzingis will only be 24-years old when the contracts expire. That’s insane when you think about it. There is an argument that building slowly and incrementally would allow the team to build a sensible, young core around Porzingis. By the time Melo leaves, Porzingis’ team would be primed to fill the power void left by the aging crop of contemporary superstars. I don’t think it’s impossible to do that anyway, but that plan is temporarily on hold in favor of some playoff basketball at MSG (maybe…hopefully). The Knicks are going for it, and I suspect the big push will come during the 2017 offseason as they look to add the final pieces to a short term championship run. For the record, I’m skeptical they have any sort of realistic shot at that whatever they do, but I admire the gusto nonethless.

The Path Ahead

There’s a lot of work to do beyond July 4th for the Knicks. The biggest need is guard depth. Presumably, the Knicks will be able to retain Lance Thomas, although nothing is guaranteed. Bringing back Langston Galloway solves some problems with bench depth, but really the Knicks need a guy who can step in as a full time starter behind Derrick Rose if/when he misses time. That guard has to be able to duplicate some of the skills Rose brings along in order to have some continuity in the system. Langston isn’t that guy. He also isn’t a great shooter, so you’re not bringing a “spacing” guy off the bench when you give him minutes. Willy Hernangomez will likely be joining his former Sevilla teammate, Kristaps Porzingis, on the team, but the club has to allocate cap money to a few other guys before that situation becomes clear. WHG’s agent is already playing footsie with Euro clubs in order to push the Knicks to pony up some money.

As things stand now, although nothing is set in stone, the roster might look like this:

Rose

Lee/Galloway/Holiday

Melo/Thomas

Porzingis/O’Quinn

Noah/Hernangomez

There’s at least some possibility that Phil Jackson trades KOQ’s contract to someone for cap space. At $4 million, that contract looks like a huge steal for a team in need of depth at the PF position. The Knicks could hang onto him and commit to using him more next year, or they can turn his cap hold into an asset to address the backcourt. In fact, they may have to do that given the slim pickins and the big money being tossed around.

Hang onto your hats, friends. More is yet to come. In the meantime, be safe on the 4th and don’t watch the summer league. Trust me.

Afflalo and Williams to opt out: $30+ million in cap space looms

This is big news for the Knicks. Afflalo was the source of great frustration for Knicks fans this year, and it’s not at all surprising to see him opt out. He’ll get a raise and a new start. Williams had bright moments for the club, but is easily replaced in his limited bench role. The Knicks can free more space by dealing Kyle O’Quinn and/or Calderon. Calderon could also be stretched to free up a bit of room.

The team can opt to go big game hunting to bag a max player, or sign several quality role players and hold the ammunition for 2017 when sexier names will be available. First up on the agenda, nabbing a draft pick to use on Thursday. Things are moving along….

Knicks Notes: Thoughts from the Outside of the Playoffs

A lot of energy converged around the Knicks coaching situation after the season mercifully came to a close. Phil Jackson set up the news cycle with a typically cryptic style of communication, when he was communicating at all. It strikes me that a generation ago, there would have been little controversy about the way Jackson conducted his early offseason, between his travels and his choices in interviewing (or not interviewing) various coaches. The fact is, we wouldn’t have known a tenth of what we know today and the intensity of the deliberation would have been muted by virtue of local conversation versus the global conversation made possible online. We “know” a great deal more about the backstage of team dealings, including player, coach, and administrators’ day-to-day business. The truth of the matter is, most of it is speculation and conjecture, but to fans it’s all visceral and real. The joke is often on us.

The intensity of the post-season culture mainly revolved around the speculation that Phil Jackson wanted Kurt Rambis to remain as the head coach for the duration of his tenure. The press peppered everyday’s news with the statement, “Kurt Rambis remains the front runner for the job,” turning that phrase into the punchline for a variety of gallows humor anecdotes. Nothing loomed larger for the future of the franchise than the hiring of the next coach, so it was a pleasant surprise to many that Jeff Hornacek dropped into the picture against all odds. Now that the tension of the coaching bubble has burst, there are a host of smaller storylines that occupy our Knicksy thoughts.

Recently, there’s been a great deal of attention paid to Hornacek’s tweaking of the Triangle and the shift that it represents from Phil’s early time as president. The key angle to that story has become the focus on the point guard position, where most speculation had been centered on Phil’s comments about point guards as a secondary concern. Hornacek has reinforced the speculation among fans and media that the Knicks would reassert their interest in point guards by mentioning the position frequently in early interviews. Part of that assertion has come from his being asked frequently about it, but his responses haven’t shied away from the belief that the Knicks desperately need a really good lead guard to make things work. There’s been a renewed interest in Mike Conley as a potential target throughout the Knicks-o-sphere. Conley had become an afterthought as Phil Jackson “meh-ed” the pursuit of a point, and news out of Memphis had him set as a lock to return. I would imagine he’s still a lock to stay in Memphis, but the storyline has found a crack in the door to peak through as the narrative has changed.

Evan Turner is the name most strongly connected to the Knicks so far. His name came up a month ago as a reasonably priced replacement for Arron Afflalo, and the story has grown some legs as Turner and his agent have drummed up the PR campaign to get paid by some desperate club. If you look at Turner’s metric profile, he compares favorably in most areas to the more expensive Rajon Rondo, who Melo surely would like on the club. When I use the word “favorably,” I mean to say that he does a couple of things well and a lot of other things very poorly. Rondo has some eye-popping counting stats in the assists and steals categories, but lower efficiency overall. Their games aren’t particularly similar except that they lack the three pointer and rebound well for guards. I would be disappointed to see Evan Turner as one of our key additions in the offseason, but the speculation is out there. I’ll believe it when I see it.

There aren’t many great free agent options for the Knicks this offseason. The big names are unlikely to show up in New York, and most are likely to stay with their current clubs. It seems that my dream addition, Nicolas Batum, is destined to stay in Charlotte. The primary and secondary free agent market looks pretty slim for the Knicks, so we’ve started to see a less sexy set of names popping up. Turner, Bazemore, Fournier, Courtney Lee, and Brandon Jennings have all been recently mentioned in the dreary gap in the news cycle. There’s also been talk of acquiring a pick, and/or trading for a player. At this point there’s no real news, and no prospect of real news until the draft gets closer. Some speculation about Willy Hernangomez has bubbled up as his Real Madrid contract expires on June 30th.

The salary cap is jumping so much this offseason that the talk has been about how many clubs will have to splurge and overspend in order to make the cap floor. Things are about to get stupid, and it remains to be seen whether the Knicks are going to participate in the insanity or whether Phil Jackson is intent on standing back and waiting for the right players to become available, even as the press is calling for his execution with every passing “Phailure.” Do you max Mike Conley in order to play the market by its new rules? Do you max guys like Bazemore or Fournier, knowing you may regret it in short order? Do you overpay Jennings on a short term flier to see if he can push the Knicks pace and get the team on the path to a playoff berth? None of those options seem palatable, but the feeling around the club is that Phil and Hornacek are intent on becoming competitive as quickly as possible. Can you do any of the aforementioned things and still make a max player splash in the 2017 market when the cap is set to explode yet again? Given the number of restricted free agents on the target list, and the guys more likely to stay put, can the Knicks reasonably expect to improve the club significantly and preserve flexibility for All-Star caliber free agent pursuits in 2017? So many questions.

In the meantime, the news is certain to be occupied with the minutiae of Hornacek’s choices for his coaching staff. Kurt Rambis is back, which is probably a non-story and a meaningless item that will be packed with symbolic landmines nonetheless. Sean Rooks interviewed for a position on the staff, which was a great sign that Hornacek has his eyes on talented people, but sadly Rooks passed away at the young age of 46 a day after the meeting – a tragedy for the NBA family. Will he keep the guys Fisher brought in from OKC? Will Jim Cleamons be back? I could pass out from boredom at the thought of this conversation over the coming weeks, but it’s all we’ve got. Maybe a couple of interesting hires will give hope that Hornacek is dramatically improving the coaching profile for the franchise after some years of uninspired management.

The most dramatic thing that’s likely to happen to the franchise has already happened with our new coach. Unless Kevin Durant losing his mind and signs up in New York, we’re looking at 3-4 months of overblown speculation and analysis. We’ll have existential fights about Courtney Lee’s 2-year, 20 million dollar contract and Tony Wroten’s flashy, but inefficient showing at the Orlando Summer League. We’ll argue about some random thing Phil Jackson tweets about how the Finals are #goink and his sweat lodge visit during the NBA Draft. We’ll acquire a pick and Clarence Gaines will eventually emerge as the mastermind of the Knicks selection of 6′ 6″ point guard Dragjab Strangevanovic, who will finish 5th in Rookie of the Year voting. Just remember that the long months ahead aren’t half as good or bad as they seem during any given news cycle. It’s all going to be fine….not great or awful, but fine. Be kind to each other.

 

Get Your Official Andrea Bargnani Draft Hat Today!!

Like many of you, I’ve purchased an item or two from the Knicks online store. I have Porzingis t-shirts for the whole family. Making purchases like that puts you on the Knicks e-mail list, which is completely acceptable to me. I dislike being on e-mail lists, but for the Knicks I’ll make an exception.

This morning, in my inbox, a head shaker of an e-mail promotion arrived. Take a look:

Take that Masai!
Take that Masai!

I get that this sort of thing is part of the NBA rotation. The draft comes, every team develops a hat. They sell the hats. There’s really no connection to the actual circumstances of any team. It’s corporate momentum. Still, this is pretty tone deaf. The Knicks have no draft pick this year. It’s the last remaining stain of many regimes past. All the organizational wins and losses beyond this year’s draft belong to the Phil Jackson folks. We gave up a lottery pick for Andrea Bargnani, and now you can get a 2016 Knicks Draft Cap to remind you of that fact every single day. It’s the perfect gift for that fan you hate!!! (I bet Frank Isola has 20 of these.)

In the end, it’s not a big deal. But, as a Knicks fan it’s pretty head shaking to get this ad splashed all over my inbox this year. They could have at least put a little Porzingis in the bottom corner with a cartoon balloon saying, “Look over here!” Or, they could have stitched the phrase “Take that Masai!” on the side. Maybe they could have had Jeff Hornacek modeling the hat at his introductory press conference. “I’m your mother f*^&^in’ draft pick people!”

Hornacek to ink 3-year deal with Knicks

From the Wojmeister:

At last, the long wait is over. A lot of Knicks fans were feeling the classical conditioning of years of franchise-level trauma. Until Hornacek was at the small table putting his name on paper, it was still “Kurt Rambis remains the front runner” in the breeze.

More details are sure to emerge soon, and we’ll all now breathlessly await the press conference where the subjects of guards, pace, free agency, Triangles, Morris Twins, and other tidbits will dance like sugarplums in our Knickerbocker heads.

Breaking (with Updates): Jeff Hornacek to be named Knicks Head Coach

According to Howard Beck, the coaching process is coming to and end, and in a most surprising way. More to come…..

Update (7:55pm):  

Update (8:20pm):  

Update (8:30pm):  


Whiteness and the Knicks Beat

A funny thing happened just now. I was holding a piece of writing I did this morning to avoid stepping on Mike Kurylo’s excellent post about the Liberty and Isiah Thomas, and I stumbled across a great interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Chris Herring. During the interview, Herring was asked about diversity in sports writing, and had this to say:

There aren’t nearly enough women covering the NBA; especially if you look past the ones who serve as sideline reporters. It feels like there are more people of color who write about the NBA than in other sports, and perhaps that’s because it’s overwhelmingly black compared to the other leagues.

I don’t know how much it impacts the way the league itself is covered. What I’m more curious about, sometimes, is how, if at all, it impacts the way players communicate with reporters. I’ll never forget interviewing Jim Brown and seeing him do a double-take when I told him what outlet I was representing, and that I wanted to ask him a few questions for my story. He later told me he was proud to see a young, black man in my position, because it was something he rarely, if ever, saw — especially when he actually played the sport.

It’s obviously not nearly that rare now, but I do think being in my 20s and black has helped me relate with some of the players. One time in the locker room, Iman Shumpert was looking at each of the reporters, playfully ribbing us one-by-one for the way we were dressed. He got to me, and decided to make fun of my sweater. Carmelo stepped in before Shump could really say anything, telling him, “Nah, Chris is cool — he’s with us.”

In light of this excellent interview, I decided to throw my post up. Make sure you read Mike’s Liberty post as well. Here goes….

The Knicks beat is one of the most high profile arenas in sports journalism. The people who cover the Knicks for the major media outlets often appear on national broadcasts and find their work cited in newspapers and on websites around the country. If you frequent the social media neighborhood of the New York Knicks, you might come across a rather passionate collection of opinions about the quality of the work produced in this exclusive little circle. To be sure, people have their favorites. Some writers are known for their accuracy and reliability. Some are known for their temperaments. Others are seen, alternatively, as trolls or shills. I’ve certainly been a critic of the general climate surrounding the Knicks beat. When I sat down to wrap my head around the field of writers and pundits covering the Knicks, I discovered a curious thing. It’s a thing that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone, and your reaction will likely be….”Mmm hmmmm. That’s true. Shrug.” Still, it merits some consideration in “print.”

The Knicks are covered almost exclusively by white men.

I told you that you wouldn’t be surprised. To see it spelled out is an interesting exercise, so let’s take a stroll through the Knicks beat, shall we? Before I do this, I’d like to note that I’m dealing with the primary characters assigned to covering the Knicks. When I show you the names, most of them will be the top names in Knicks coverage, some might be part-time on the Knicks beat, and I may be leaving out other minor players to be sure. We’re dealing in broad strokes at the top level.

New York Daily News – Frank Isola, Steven Bondy, Mike Lupica, Mitch Lawrence

New York Post – Marc Berman, Mike Vaccaro

New York Times – Harvey Araton, Scott Cacciola, Filip Bondy

New York Newsday – Al Iannazzone

Wall Street Journal – Chris Herring

CBS Sports – Ken Berger, John Schmeelk

ESPN New York – Ian Begley

There are probably a few other outlets worth collecting, and there are probably writers who belong on the list, while others may not. This is a snapshot, and Knicks fans will recognize most or all of those names. With the exception of Chris Herring at the Wall Street Journal, every other person on the list is white and male. In my very quick search, I discovered that Brian Lewis, who is African-American, covers the Nets for the Post. Laura Albanese, a white woman, covers the Nets for Newsday. At the New York Post, George Willis occasionally dabbles in basketball, but is mainly a fights columnist. Branching out beyond the Knicks, and beyond the NBA, the field becomes more diverse, if only barely.

Why is this significant? There are any number of reasons, but the most significant from my point of view is that in 2015 76.7% of NBA players were people of color. Only one of the people on the above list is a person of color. If you’re not sold on the whiteness of the Knicks beat….or the maleness….let’s expand this treatment to the talk radio circuit. The two main sports talk stations in the New York City area are WFAN and ESPN Radio. Here’s their work day roster:

WFAN – Boomer Esiason, Craig Carton, Evan Roberts, Joe Beningo, Mike Francesa

ESPN – Mike Golic, Mike Greenberg, Dan LeBatard, Alan Hahn, Rick DiPietro, Michael Kay, Don LaGreca

Of course, these people don’t limit themselves to Knicks talk, but sports talk radio is the most concentrated form of sustained, local sports coverage available. Social media are driven by the sports writers and their peers on the radio. The papers set up the narrative, the radio broadcasts it constantly to an enormous audience, and the general public negotiates it all online. All of these characters, again, are white men. Dan LeBatard is a New Jersey born Cuban-American based in Miami, and his show is syndicated in the morning. He’s not so much an ESPN NY guy as a nationally syndicated radio personality for ESPN. The heart of the NY sports media, particularly covering the Knicks is painfully uniform in its white-maleness.

74.4% of NBA players identify as African-American. The sport’s culture is rich with an incredibly diverse range of African-American experiences, but the media covering it are all outsiders. The story being told to the public about the NBA comes from a small circle of people who have not lived any version of the African-American experience. It doesn’t mean they aren’t doing a good job, in many cases. It doesn’t mean that the story of the NBA is only an African-American story, or that one must be African-American to cover the game. It does mean that three quarters of the voices in the sport are filtered through a small, white minority.

To be fair, the same issue persists in the blogging community. It’s important for us to be self-aware when we’re turning this lens outward. White men also dominate the many excellent Knicks blogs you may read. It’s an issue.

The reason I decided to bring this up today is that pesky little story about social media I brought up at the start. You may get the sense that people aren’t in love with the coverage they receive from the Knicks beat. It’s a story that probably repeats itself across the country, to be honest. For a very long time, mass media sources were the only sources of information about the world of sports. Love them or hate them, the characters bringing you the latest in the world of sports were the only characters in the game, and fans didn’t have access to them. Today, information comes from many places. The quality of the information hasn’t caught up to the quantity of information, and it never will, but a funny thing has happened along the way. Some new characters have walked on stage from outside the mass media arena. Small pockets of talented people have begun to participate in the arena in an increasingly high profile way. Most of these people don’t have the same level of access to the teams, players, and agents as the mass media professionals, but they bring a much needed ingredient to the mix – perspective.

The longer you run in the same circles, the more a dominant logic begins to invisibly take hold. This is true in any close community of people. That dominant logic begins to weave itself into the DNA of the community and give shape to everything that goes on within its boundaries. This is true of organizations. It’s true of writing fraternities of the sort we see in this example. Outsiders bring new perspectives, which challenge the established order. Some of the media establishment look down their noses at amateur outsiders, treating the entire population with the same derisive brush. There are a wide range of outside perspectives, from the rowdy loud mouths on Twitter to the thoughtful “fan bloggers” who build reputations among the greater fan base. This is all a very good thing, from my point of view. A diverse range of voices and perspectives is a positive thing. It’s the American way, frankly. When I speak of challenging the narratives in the mass media coverage of sports, I’m only scratching the surface. It’s one (important) thing to open discourse about the meaning of sporting events and the day-to-day operation of sports organizations. It’s another thing to challenge those narratives by taking a critical approach to the voices of the people providing the challenge.

Basketball, as a part of American culture, is infused with the lived experiences of the Black men and women playing the sport. Leaving out Black voices in the high profile coverage of the game is a sin in a long line of American sins related to race. The mass media institutions have done a much better job in recent years of including former players as their high profile voices on the air. Inside the NBA is one of the most interesting and joyful media experiences in the basketball business precisely because Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal and others take the lead in the discourse about the game. They’re not always right and they often say silly, off-the-cuff things, but their voices carry something of the game’s meaning from the people who actually embody “Ball is Life.” New York City is one of our nation’s foremost centers of African-American cultural history. Basketball has lived and breathed at the center of that culture for generations and generations, and yet the beat is snow white. I’m not certain exactly how change will shake out, but this piece is a simple plea for awareness and an open consideration of the subject. We all need a little more Clyde Frazier in our lives.