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Will Knicks Improvement Earn Fans' Patience? It Should

By JACOB SMITH

There exists in sports, as in so many of life’s adventures, an internal conflict between dedication and disappointment. As fans, we must balance them and weigh one against the other, because, to some immeasurable extent and not unlike Wally Szczerbiak, Stephon Marbury and others discussed at the trade deadline, fans also have expiring contracts. Many writers feel it is their responsibility to address the team’s issues, explain the reasons behind its spot in the standings. However, it is the loyal fans who make the team and the league what it is, and it is you all for whom my pen advocates and seeks to entertain.

There is a loyalty threshold, much like a commander who time and again leads his troops blindly into battles that cannot be won, and who deserved the mutiny he later receives. Certainly the Knicks are an improving organization, but to countless Knicks fans the forgettable past and mysterious and uncertain future have caused an unmistakably transitioning present that has us questioning our commitment to our team, going over and over in our minds whether or not to jump ship and move on ourselves. Why follow a team that has no identity and is sure to be subject to demolition over the next year and a half?

I grew up with Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Charles Oakley and Pat Riley. Older fans remember the days of Clyde Frazier, Earl Monroe, Willis Reed and Red Holzman. Albeit the twenty-five year gap, these teams shared the passion, consistent effort and unwavering commitment to team that constructs a winner. The players weren’t all glitz and glamour but they were inspirational and commanded our respect. They made us Knicks fans for the present and for life. Or so we thought.

How many Knicks fans do you think have left since Y2K? Ten percent? Twenty? There sure are tons of empty seats in the Garden these days, and though I'm loathe to admit it, I miss the days of Knicks tickets being the hardest get in the city. How many new fans have spawned in that time? Surely not as many as have left is the unfortunate answer. As we approach the second decade of our new millennium, there are three legitimate, irrefutable reasons to stick with our team. Bear with me.

Due to injuries and a system that fits his skills like spandex, Nate Robinson, a.k.a. KryptoNate, is a likely candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. He has quickly become everyone’s favorite Knick, keeping the team in games with his energy, catlike quickness and increasingly reliable jump shot. On a few occasions, i.e. February 23 against the Pacers when he posted 41 points, many coming down the stretch, he has single-handedly delivered a plus-one to the Win column. You didn’t support the team all these years to give up on it when we finally have a player who commands our attention and has earned our love and respect.

You also didn’t wallow through the misery of the Larry Brown/Isiah Thomas era to desert the team when we finally get a coach who has infused Knicks basketball with shots of much needed optimism and hope. After reading much of The Yankee Years, I was reminded how much faith Yankees fans had in Joe Torre during his stint as skipper. And while some basketball purists might not be ready to accept a transition into an offense-is-the-best-defense ideology, and it is true that our team’s defense, ranked 28th out of 30 teams, is less temporarily absent than absolutely obsolete, we have to be happy with the instant credibility Mike D’Antoni has brought to New York. The team is not likely to garner a playoff spot, but we are a part of the conversation. And we're one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the entire league. Our team is fourth in points per game. When is the last time we were fourth in anything?

And then there’s Lebron, DWade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, and the rest of the free agent class we may or may not recruit to the Big Apple. It’s not a promise of basketball relevance, but it’s a huge reason to stick around throughout the transition in hope of brighter days. And if the team clears the necessary cap space but is unable to make major moves to improve the team? Well, that is a bridge we'll cross when we come to it. For now, just keep the hope alive.

I am a loyalist by nature, and obviously devoted to my team for the long haul. But I know many others who see no reason to currently commit themselves to a team that in two years will undoubtedly have once again been overhauled. And to be honest, I get that. So albeit not admirable, I do deem it acceptable to seek alternative short-term options - after all, we all want someone to root for in April and May. Marvel at the effortless fluidity of Kobe’s Lakers or the everlasting mechanic brilliance of Duncan’s Spurs. But make sure your heart stays true to the Knicks Blue, because for the first time in a long time, both the players and the front office are showing great effort and noticeable improvement, and they have finally earned something important. Our patience.

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