Madison Square Garden

Knicks, On Six-Game Winning Streak, Are Making Spring in NYC and Madison Square Garden Hotbeds of Basketball, Again

by Scott Mandel

It’s springtime in New York City. The weather is turning warmer, vaccines are going into arms, and New Yorkers are walking around again with a hop in their step (still masked and socially distanced). The Mets seem to be on their way, led by an effusive new shortstop. The Yankees are in forlorn, stale despair after just 15 games but few believe they won’t be in the post-season when all is said and done. But, April in New York City of any given year, is the month when this town rocks like no other when its New York Knicks are relevant. Unfortunately, the Knicks have not been relevant in over 20 years so April springs in this town haven’t rocked, all that much. Until now.

Because the Knicks, on a six-game winning streak and playing defense like Oakley and Mason and Ewing and Frazier, Reed, and DeBusschere played it, are relevant, again. They’re in the fight for the playoffs, an event they haven’t participated in since 2013, currently sitting in the sixth spot of the Eastern Conference, knocking on the door of fourth place.


The excitement is palpable, on the streets and in the drinking establishments. And, it grows with every win or well-played game. As rabid as New York sports fans have always been towards their teams, there has never been a greater love affair between any fan base and its team than Knicks fans for their hoops team. NYC has forever been where the sport of basketball was, if not born, certainly developed its personality, its creativity, and raised its skill-levels, across the five boroughs on its concrete playgrounds. New Yorkers feel like basketball is the city’s game, more so than any other sport. That’s what makes the decades-long failure of the Knicks franchise to win a championship so incredulous.


And, here is another example of what happens when the Knicks are playing well. The stars of the NBA take note.

As Zion Williamson, the young NBA star and the next LeBron James (in skill and branding) said last night after playing his first professional game at Madison Square Garden, getting soundly defeated by the Julius Randle-led Knicks, “New York is the Mecca of basketball. I love playing here. I played here in college and this is my first time playing here in the pros. And this atmosphere, whether they’re cheering or booing for you, it’s amazing.”


Then he smartly threw a bone to his New Orleans Pelicans fans, who no doubt will begin to fear Zion has his eye on playing for the Knicks, someday, “Outside of New Orleans, obviously, this might be my favorite place to play.” You could tell he didn’t mean one word of that. For this 21-year old kid, MSG is the place and NYC is the town, if you are a basketball player. The Mecca is The Mecca, again.


It’s funny how a little winning basketball from the Knicks changes perceptions, almost overnight. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, free-agent superstars, chose to take their talents across the East River to Brooklyn rather than play for a losing franchise in Manhattan with a bad owner. Today, one could imagine those two players, if they were making the same decision, might have teamed up to play at The Mecca instead of the arena named for the Barclays Bank.


If anyone thinks the Canyon of Heroes parades in the past were incredible for the championship-winning Yankees and the football Giants and even the ’69 Mets, those will be nothing compared to what a Knicks championship would look like in this town.

Mandel’s Musings: Knicks “Interim” Coach, Mike Miller Has Similar Qualities to Another Interim Hire – Red Holzman

By Scott Mandel

The Knicks put up 77 points in the first half against the Hawks, last night at Madison Square Garden. Then, they proceeded to add another 66 points in the second half, completing a 143-120 blowout of the Atlanta Hawks, another struggling NBA team.

The win brought the Knicks’ record under their interim coach, Mike Miller, to 3-3, which includes four west coast road contests. The previous coach, David Fizdale, had compiled a record of 4-18 before he was fired.

I’m not about to compare this new coach, Miller, to the legendary Red Holzman, the former Knicks head coach when the franchise won its only NBA championships in 1969-70 and 1972-73 but he seems to share a lot of the same personality traits and coaching sensibilities the self-effacing, camera-shy Holzman used to impart to his players.

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Interim Knicks coach, Mike Miller, may lose his interim title if team continues to progress

Holzman, an organizational scout who preferred to work behind the scenes in his scouting capacity, was brought in on an interim basis to replace Dick McGuire as Knicks coach in 1967. The Knicks were a putrid team going nowhere in those days but they did have a handful of talented parts on their roster. Today’s version of this franchise has continued a 20-year year run of mostly pitiful basketball, pitiful scouting, pitiful drafting, and pitiful coaching.

In both instances, there was no clamor from legitimate, high profile coaches to become the head coach of a franchise on its way to nowhere, either in 1967 or today. Even Steve Kerr, with no head coaching experience in 2013, turned down the Knicks. Whatever happened to him?

Both Holzman and Miller were organizational men who did what they were asked, which was to finish out the current season and try to get the team back on a path of respectability while a new coaching search began. Holzman did more than that, and has a bust in the NBA Hall of Fame to prove it. So far, Miller is 3-3. Both are superb accomplishments, given certain realities of the organizational history and the rosters they inherited.

At 4-18, it was time to say goodbye to David Fizdale. Enter organization man, Miller, a 55-year old basketball lifer who, like Holzman, worked the back roads of the basketball universe, far from the bright lights of Broadway, before being asked to take over a broken franchise. Miller became something of a last resort.

Like Holzman did, in 1967.

Back then, the team president, Ned Irish, decided to replace McGuire, who, like Fizdale, looked beaten and couldn’t wait to find the exit door. The team was in last place, and Irish decided to reach out to the nearest candidate, which he presumed to be Holzman. Holzman preferred the anonymity of scouting.

But Irish persisted.

”And I realized that if I didn’t take the coaching job,” Holzman, modest as always, said, ”I might not have any job.”

Miller, too, is one of those self-effacing types who doesn’t seek out television cameras or a high profile. He doesn’t make himself the story. Like Holzman, he’s a teacher, first, a disciplinarian, a basketball lifer, an old-school guy who focuses on the fundamentals of the game. Nothing fancy about the suits he wears or about the way he approaches the game.

Like Holzman.

Bill Bradley, who played for Holtzman from 1967 through 1977, once told me Holzman often solicited the players’ opinions on what they thought would work in a given game. The mutual respect sometimes made the process a collaborative one for those great Knicks teams. Of course, Holzman had the benefit of collaborating with basketball geniuses with very high hoops IQs. Bradley, DeBusshere, Frazier, Reed, Barnett, Phil Jackson, Jerry Lucas, Monroe. There wasn’t a Dennis Smith or a Julius Randle among them.

But, if last night’s game is any indication, we watched the youngsters on the Knicks, guys like Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox, cutting hard to the hoop off of pick and rolls for easy buckets or finding cutting teammates with slick, but basic passes for easy baskets. Fundamental basketball.

Like Holzman.

And, a quick history lesson. Those terrible 1967 Knicks made the playoffs in the season in which Holzman took over the club. He agreed to stay on as coach. In December of the next season, the team traded for DeBusschere, giving the Knicks a tremendous force around the basket, as a defensive forward and long-range shooter. It was the piece that made the difference and made Holzman a legendary figure in NBA history who never took credit for his success. It was always about the players.

This guy, Miller, a quiet, middle-aged, balding basketball lifer with the interim title seems like an odd fit for this young, hip-hop 2019 team. But, something here is clicking. Any coach who can convince freakishly athletic talents with low understandings of team basketball like Dennis Smith and Julius Randle to play more controlled and within team-oriented concepts on both sides of the floor has somehow figured out how to communicate with this younger generation, despite the 30+ years in age difference with this roster.

Just like Holzman.

Mandel’s Musings: New Heavyweight King, Andy Ruiz, Jr. Does Not Epitomize Boxing’s Hallowed History of Champs

By Scott Mandel

Say hello to the new heavyweight champion of the world, a man from Mexico named Andy Ruiz, Jr.

Ruiz Jr. did what many believed was the impossible by stopping Anthony Joshua in Round 7 on Saturday to capture the WBA, WBO and IBF world titles in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

No one is really sure if this shocker occurred because of Ruiz’ great skills in the boxing ring in beating the 6’5″, 240 pound chiseled slab of granite in Joshua. Or, if the champion, Joshua, a Brit who apparently doesn’t enjoy one of the prerequisites of his sport, getting repeatedly punched in the head, had just had enough and decided to hit the mat.

A rumor was being floated around the Garden that Joshua, new to New York City and very much a bon vivant, man-about-town who enjoys his celebrity, wanted to make sure he wasn’t late for his dinner reservations in one of Manhattan’s fancy restaurants. He knows he’ll get a rematch to regain his title belts but you never know if you can get another reservation in some NYC restaurants.

Andy Ruiz, Jr., the new heavyweight champion, knocks out Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden last night

As an event, heavyweight championship fights used to be kind of a big deal, particularly in New York City or one of the Las Vegas hotels. Now, the brutality of boxing that once made it so popular has been overtaken by the even more popular and more brutal sport of MMA fighting, in which fighters not only punch each other in the head but they dropkick opposing heads and ribs, attempting to smash those body parts into unrecognizable formations of bone and sinew.

World boxing champions typically present as the epitome of physical conditioning, if not mental acuity. Andy Ruiz, the new champ of the “glamour” division in boxing, looks like he abstains from the training and road work typical of boxers as they prepare for championship matches. Ruiz, 6’1″ and 265 flabby pounds, appears to prefer his potatoes and tacos to sweat equity.

Muhammad Ali, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, George Foreman….all were great heavyweight champions. Now, you can add to that hallowed list, the name of fellow pugilist, Andy Ruiz, Jr.

So long to boxing as sport. Now, it’s become more like a freak show.

New York City Going Just a Little Nuts for Zion Williamson

from the New York Post

Zion Williamson would be Knicks’ first domino with ‘endless potential’

The Knicks hope that having the biggest star at the NBA draft lottery will bring long-awaited luck to the downtrodden franchise.

Patrick Ewing, the prize of the first-ever lottery in 1985, will represent the team which drafted him at Tuesday night’s event in Chicago, with the Knicks tied for the best odds (14 percent) of landing the No. 1 overall pick, and the rights to Duke superstar Zion Williamson.

Former rival and fellow Georgetown legend Alonzo Mourning will be representing the Miami Heat, while active players Kyle Kuzma, of the Lakers, and DeAndre Ayton, last year’s No. 1 overall pick of the Suns, will also be on stage.

Actress Jami Gertz, part of Atlanta’s ownership group, will be the face of the Hawks for the second straight year, an honor she called a “lot of pressure” last year.

Here is the complete list of team representatives for the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery:

SEE ALSO

NBA draft lottery 2019: Time, how to watch and how it works

SEE ALSO

2019 NBA draft lottery odds: Knicks’ chances at landing No. 1 pick

New York Knicks: Patrick Ewing

Cleveland Cavaliers: Nick Gilbert (son of team owner)

Phoenix Suns: Deandre Ayton

Chicago Bulls: Horace Grant (special advisor to team president and COO)

Atlanta Hawks: Jami Gertz

Washington Wizards: Raul Fernandez (vice chairman)

New Orleans Pelicans: Alvin Gentry (head coach)

Memphis Grizzlies: Elliot Perry Minority (owner and director of player support)

Dallas Mavericks: Cynthia Marshall (CEO)

Minnesota Timberwolves: Gersson Rosas (president of basketball operations)

Los Angeles Lakers: Kyle Kuzma

Charlotte Hornets: James Borrego (head coach)

Miami Heat: Alonzo Mourning (vice president of player programs)

Boston Celtics: Rich Gotham (team president)

Philadelphia 76ers: Chris Heck (team president)

St. John’s Would Make Huge Mistake By Choosing Cluess Over Rick Pitino as Head Coach

Reports are spreading that St. John’s is leaning towards choosing Tim Cluess, the 60-year old Iona coach, to be its next head basketball coach, replacing Chris Mullin. But, not Rick Pitino.


Nice.


Cluess, 60, could tell recruits he’ll be there at least until their sophomore season or until his first social security check arrives, whichever comes first.


Cluess is a nice guy. He’s been a good coach for mid-major basketball programs who probably deserved his shot at major league college basketball (defined as lots of tv games in a power conference, like the Big East USED TO BE) many years ago. One wonders why that opportunity didn’t present itself then, or, why he didn’t pursue it.


In any event, Cluess is a bad choice for any long term goals St. John’s may have for its basketball program.


If winning is your thing, and the coach’s age doesn’t matter, you pick the very best and most available college coach in America, Rick Pitino.

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Tim Cluess appears to be leading candidate for St. John’s coaching job

Pitino, with New York roots, is a youthful 66-year old from Long Island who never lost his New York accent. His name and his track record of National Championships at Louisville and Kentucky would bring 5-star players to do their one-and-dones or two-and-dones on the biggest stage, in New York City and Madison Square Garden.

There are growing numbers of college head coaching jobs opening up as we speak. Pitino will get one of those jobs because he owns a .740 win percentage (770-271), ranks fifth all-time in NCAA Tournament history with 54 wins, sixth among coaches with seven Final Four appearances and has won two National Championships. He is also the only coach in college basketball history to take three teams to the Final Four (Providence, Kentucky, Louisville) and win championships with two different Division I schools (Kentucky and Louisville) But, for St. John’s and any other school considering him, he will change the basketball culture of those schools, change the financial structure, and will raise the national profile of a struggling program, as well as immediately bring in 5-star athletes.


Under Pitino, it is easy to imagine St. John’s getting to the Sweet 16 by year two, after he has had a few months to recruit the best high schoolers in the country. And, appearing in the Elite 8 by year three, all the while putting fannies in the seats at a packed Madison Square Garden for every game, making money. They’d be getting the back pages of the tabloids in town (if that’s still a thing), and re-generating interest in the struggling brand known as The Big East Conference, a conference which used to be known for its legendary coaches.


What about the future, scream the Pitino nay-sayers, if they hire an old coach like Rick Pitino, 66, who isn’t that much older than Tim Cluess? Why not bring in Richard Pitino, Rick’s son, currently the very successful head coach of the Univ. of Minnesota. St. John’s always priding itself on its “family” within the athletic department, could put its money where its mouth is, by bringing in a great young coach who happens to be in Pitino’s family.


Pitino seems like a perfect fit. That’s if you want to win basketball games.

Tim Cluess, at 60, would have been a nice hire for St. John’s a decade ago, when he was 50. He’s been a successful mid-major coach with an excellent track record winning games with two-star players up in New Rochelle, New York.


Cluess can be a steady presence for a few years, too, if that’s what St. John’s truly believes it needs. A nice, solid, steady, sleepy presence in New York City, which ain’t New Rochelle.


Will five-star high school players come to St. John’s, located in Jamaica, Queens, just so they could play for Tim Cluess? Nope.


Would they come to play for Rick Pitino at St. John’s?


What do you think?

Archives: 2009: A 24-Year Old LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, One Year from Free Agency

Mandel’s Musings: Knicks Fall Again to James and Cavaliers

New York – Lebron James took his show on the road tonight to play in front of a jam-packed Madison Square Garden that included several players from baseball’s world champion New York Yankees, this town’s role models for what a winning franchise looks like. In stark contrast, James and his Cleveland Cavaliers were matched up on the court tonight with New York’s leading role model for a losing franchise, the New York Knickerbockers, who continued their dreary early-season play in what may turn out to be the dreariest of seasons as they were blown out by the Cleveland Cavaliers, 100-91.

Blown out? A nine point differential? Yup, it was a blowout, not including a late Knicks run in the final five minutes of the game. The Cavs led 40-21 at the end of the first quarter, 63-40 at the half, 77-58 at the third quarter mark and led by as much as nineteen with six minutes in the game and seats emptying quickly until the Knicks went on one of their too little, too late frenetic paces of steals and three point shots being drained before they ran out of game clock. This game was never in doubt.

What is in doubt, however has been the status for next season and into the future for the Cavs’ still-young superstar, James. As usual when the Cavs come to town, the conversation veers from the game itself to the more important question-and-answer game of “Will He or Won’t He” starring LeBron James. While this magical player continues to dominate every game he plays in, the buzz going around this arena remains about whether the Cleveland superstar, playing with an expiring contract, will opt to leave his Ohio roots and decide to play out the rest of his career under the bright lights of Broadway.

At halftime, Yankees pitcher, C.C. Sabathia, here along with several of his championship teammates to bask in the warm embrace of Knicks fans dying to cheer for a winner, ventured the opinion that James would indeed, take his next act to New York.

“I’ve told him there’s no better place to be a winner than in New York,” said the former Cleveland Indian hurler who got to know James as a high profile athlete in that town. “If I’m a betting man, I would say he will be here in New York next year.”

James scored 19 of his 33 points in the first quarter as this game became a huge snoozefest through three and a half quarters. His performance could only make Knicks fans swoon and sigh in a wishful manner.

James came to play on the night the Garden crowd was feted not only with the presence of baseball champions who play to the north of the arena, somewhere up in the Bronx, but with celebrities from many walks of life. Ah, to be young and rich and an admired athlete in the city that never sleeps.

“I got an opportunity to say congratulations to C.C. (Sabathia), A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez), Robinson Cano, and Joba Chamberlain,” said James after the game. “Obviously, it was an unbelievable season for those guys and they deserved it.”

James smiled at the thought of being a champion in a city like New York and an arena with the history of Madison Square Garden.

“There is a lot of tradition in this building,” he said. “A lot of great players have been through this building that have laid down a lot of statistical things as individuals and as teams. It is a great building. To be a part of that and be able to play the game of basketball at a high level is great.”

You could almost sense the sighing and wishful thinking may be a two-way street, with James imagining himself as a star in the Big Apple.

“It is a humbling experience for myself,” said James. “You grow up in a city like Akron, Ohio. It is a really, really small city. For me, as a kid, you always wish and dream to be on the NBA level. Now that I am here playing for my hometown team and then be able to go on the road to showcase my talent to people who appreciate the way I play the game of basketball at a high level is humbling. I thank the New York fans. It is great that they really respect the way I play the game of basketball.”

“It’s the atmosphere, here,” he continued. “A lot of stars in the building. It’s humbling to know that you have guys like the Yankees come out and J. Z. You see some of the Giants out here and John Legend and Chris Rock. You almost feel like you’re a performer sitting on the stage and they’re watching you perform.”

You can just tell this kid can imagine himself on the biggest stage of all, lighting up the old arena in a way it hasn’t been lit since Patrick Ewing’s heyday, maybe even further back to the Knicks championship teams of 1970 and 1973.

“When I was a kid, I visualized playing for all the NBA teams,” James said. “There’s a lot of great individual NBA players that I would love to play alongside of and try to contend for an NBA championship. At the end of the day, a max contract doesn’t really matter to me. It’s all about winning. When that day comes next summer, I want to put myself  in a position where I want to win. If I feel a team is capable of winning, I’ll make my decision like that.”

That has to make Knicks fans sink a little, hearing that winning is James’ sole objective in determining where he’s going to play next year. Winning hasn’t exactly been part of the Knicks tradition over the past 36 years or so. That 1973 championship was the franchise’s last.

The Cavaliers are in an interesting position as far as LeBron’s future is concerned. Many of their players, including James, Shaquille O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, have expiring contracts this year so the feeling is this particular Cavs team won’t have the same look next year, either.

Cavs guard Daniel Gibson had an interesting take on the Cavaliers’ position, given the fact so many of the Cavs’ players have expiring contracts. I asked him if the team’s approach to this season has a little more urgency to it because of the potential of having this team ripped apart after this season.

“I never thought about it until you just asked me,” Gibson said. “We approach it as, right now, he’s still a Cav so we’re not thinking about next year. For us, we need to take care of business right now. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next year in this league. Every year you play basketball, you play for the ultimate goal. The fact that he’s potentially leaving next year, I don’t think any of us are thinking about it.”

Ilgauskas took an interesting position.

“I can see coming to New York to play if you’re leaving a team to play for the Yankees, already a winning organization,” said the seven-footer they call Z. “But, coming to New York to play for a struggling team like the Knicks? I’d rather stay in Cleveland where I know I have a chance to win.”

Somehow, I don’t think the Knicks will be trying to sign Ilgauskas anytime soon.

Knicks fans will have to hope when next July comes along, and LeBron is sitting on his porch in Akron, Ohio pondering his next career move, he’ll think about what he can accomplish in an offense devised by Knick coach, Mike D’Antoni, a man most NBA players would take a discount in pay to play for because of his wide-open offensive schemes.

At this point, as we watch the Knicks record fall to 1-5, it’s about the only thing they have left to dream about.

Follow Scott Mandel at www.sportsreporters.com