Writers Vs. Writers: Knicks Vs. Celtics
Writers vs. Writers is a series in which two writers who are sports fans each review a sporting event when the teams they root for compete against each other. In this edition, poet and Boston Celtics fan Soren Stockman battles against poet and New York Knicks fan Danniel Schoonebeek.
March 27, 2015
New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Final Score: Boston Celtics 96, New York Knicks 92
Soren Stockman, Boston Celtics:
I should’ve gone to this game. The Celtics are peaking toward the 8th spot in a heinous, stank-mouth Eastern conference. Why do I care? They show some of the best hustle in the league these days, poise that would make the great grit-and-balls Celtics teams of the late aughts proud, and they’re led by a 38 year-old, second year coach already collectively regarded by his new peers as the ninth best among their ranks. Once you factor in the obvious choices of Popovich, Carlisle, and Thibodeau, and the extremely hot years (and good players) Steve Kerr and Mike Budenholzer have going, Brad Stevens becomes nearly the best of the bunch, mixing in with the likes of Terry Stotts, Erik Spoelstra, and some guy named Doc Rivers, all of whom have, again, significantly better players. Perhaps the previous sentence is sad in its quest for pride.
I planned it all out, found the cheapest tickets flung furthest into the depths of the internet, told various people I was going, nurtured and cared for my own excitement, and forgot about it promptly on game day. Actually, I went to a fantastic poetry reading at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in support of undocumented lives and writing. Trust that I popped in the figurative tape with great fervor the following day.
Walt Frazier is wearing nothing but burgundy velvet, and that’s just my guess from the sound of his voice. The camera then pans to him wearing nothing but burgundy velvet. He mentions that if the Knicks beat the Celtics tonight, a potential outcome would be “to get a sense of satisfaction.” The Four Tops emerge in full, gorgeous song from at least four surprising locations. Bargnani is an obvious delight. Brad Stevens is a legitimate hero. Isaiah Thomas will eventually check in. It’s the Knicks and the Celtics! The teams combine to open the game shooting a quick 0-6.
Marcus Smart is exciting to watch when he’s not doing dumb things like punching Matt Bonner in the genitals. He competes hard; the rest of the team follows the rookie’s lead. He’s a terror on defense already and has shot the ball pretty well in big moments from outside while beginning to make occasional shots in the lane. Jae Crowder is a tough guy who loves to scrap on defense against bigger guys who can’t guard his 3-ball on the other end. Jonas Jerebko is on the team. They play fast and hard, and they’re fun to watch. This is the NBA regular season, so let’s talk about the fourth quarter.
The Knicks actually feature Bargnani prominently down the stretch. He twirls like peanut butter from a spoon. Quincy Acy hashes out a quick tantrum every few minutes. Walt Frazier calls rookies “neophytes.” When the referees waste time at the monitor, the NBA continues to broadcast video of some room in Secaucus, NJ, in which frumpy men show the camera their backs as they watch, in the distance, a meta-television actually showing the court and the players. This is “where the decisions happen,” which reminds me of when people used to say “this is where the magic happens” when they get to their bedroom on MTV Cribs. Cleanthony Early gets some run, and looks like he could play on another team.
Frazier speaks at length about his Rolls Royce, how he first repainted it (burgundy) before adding some “gangster” white walls and hiring a driver to avoid parking tickets, and then about the women who would “throw themselves on the car” versus the women who would simply leave their phone numbers tucked neatly into a windshield wiper, as well as his nicknames, and lastly the number of New York City apartments he’s lived in, as the game turns the corner from a little over five minutes remaining to under three. The Celtics push their lead gently outward from four to ten; it falls back to seven like a brittle leaf cradled in the wind.
Sentence that goes without saying: the Knicks miss some shots that could’ve made it interesting. Derek Fisher wanders his purgatorial grounds, gazing softly beyond the horizon. The announcers shift from the rhetoric of a game up for grabs to the rhetoric of a loss with the subtlety of field mice sneaking into a kitchen at dawn. Whoever currently plays point guard for the Knicks bumps Marcus Smart to the ground, and Crowder does not allow him to help Smart back up, instead walking over calmly to insert himself between the two and brush away the point guard’s reach, providing an extra elbow to his chest for good measure. Smart receives Crowder’s welcome arms and taps him in thanks on the way back up the court, perfecting a moment in which the two players on the court who give a fuck the least do precisely that. As Smart sinks his second free throw to bring the lead to nine, Frazier remarks, “this is definitely a birthday I’ll never forget.” A different Knicks point guard hits a floater through a foul to cut the deficit to seven with 34.9 seconds remaining, and players from both teams mill about unsure and depressed, as though accidentally early for a work party without enough time to go anywhere else before it starts. The Knicks cut the lead to four with 25.9 seconds left, suddenly multiplying their points per second figures exponentially.
Isaiah Thomas is not right yet from a recent nasty fall, but manages to be productive, getting to the line nine times total to offset a bad shooting night. Crowder ends up with seventeen points and nine boards, a line that accurately reflects his impact on the game. Smart ends up with six and two, a line that does not. Luigi Datome got five minutes of court time (he’s being rested for tomorrow night’s game and also proactively for the Finals), and everyone loses. We all know Datome’s blood was boiling to go against his pudgy countryman Bargnani, whom he clearly wanted to leave in his dust with a mouthful of genuine Italian man-bun. I personally believe Luigi would’ve done just that, and so do you. Tyler Zeller, who’s also been on a career-best run the past few weeks, doesn’t play much, as Bargnani strikes again via match-ups. Bargnani, by the way, finished 10-20 from the field for his 25 points, 7 boards, and 4 dimes in a beautiful night of absolute garbaggio.
The end-of-an-NBA-game free throw back-and-forth waste of everyone’s time plods along. More interestingly, Phil Jackson’s hair is strangely combed, with the sides pressed down toward his ears and the top, half-bald part ruffled. “You look like Koo Koo, the Bird Girl,” my father would say. I think of her with love. The game ends. The MSG broadcast wraps up the night with it’s “Moment of the Game”: a highlight reel of Walt Frazier’s birthday celebration. We see him again don a sailor’s cap in reference to the Caribbean sailing trip the Knicks gifted him at halftime. Again, the smooth sounds of The Four Tops surround him, crooning “Happy Birthday.” Disappointingly, The Four Tops do not come back out to sing the boxscores or sing-ask folks to drive home safe. In a game in which the Knicks played alright, they were clearly the main attraction at the Garden, and were given roughly the same floor time. The Celtics retained the 8th spot in the East. After seventy years of cool, Clyde embarks on his next, cooler phase, and sends us home to our burgundy dreams.
Danniel Schoonebeek, New York Knicks:
Here’s an incomplete concordance to things you will and will not see in the first quarter of a late-season New York Knicks NBA basketball game:
You will not see Andrea Bargnani sinking a shot, not once, even though he goes 2-7 this quarter. You will not see any member of the Knicks bench cheering on his teammates. You will see Knicks coach Derek Fisher buying a cursed monkey paw from a gypsy. You will see basketball legend Walt Frazier, it’s his birthday, bursting out of a pile of green beans in a crushed velvet suit. You will see Walt Frazier being awarded an all-expenses-paid sailing trip around the British Isles, even though he’s 70, after which his face expresses zero reaction when the announcer screams this into a microphone. You’ll see Frazier shooting the shit with his co-host about shark bait, because that’s how boring this game is. You will see Shane Larkin bombing a hook shot from the top of the key but getting called for shot clock violation anyway. You’ll see Derek Fisher violently frowning every time he’s on camera. You won’t see a bunch of teenagers in the nosebleeds blackout drunk on Old Grandad, but they are there, my god they are there. You’ll see a saxophone highlight reel of Walt Frazier actually winning a championship in 1970 and 1973. You’ll see Boston point guard Isiah Thomas, for real that’s his name, banking an absolute 1997 streetball chuck off the glass, and of course Shane Larkin commits a foul that a high school kid could’ve avoided and it becomes a four-point play. You will see a couple of front-row ticketholders laughing at Derek Fisher’s disbelief. You won’t see Carmelo Anthony. You won’t see JR Smith untying anyone’s shoelaces at the free throw line. You’ll see injured Tim Hardaway, AKA the only player on the team who cares, high-fiving someone while wearing a suit. You’ll see the Knicks somehow shooting 56% from the field. You won’t see the ghost of Patrick Ewing lighting himself on fire, but I did. You’ll see Spike Lee lighting his shoes on fire. You’ll see a weird dad in a jean jacket pulling a gun out of a bucket of popcorn. You won’t see the ghost of John Starks eating mashed potatoes and dunking on Reggie Miller, but I did.
I mention all of this because utter and surreal disillusionment toward New York sports teams is, I think, embedded in the culture of what we sometimes call being a “New Yorker.”
(While I’m typing this Ricardo Ledo travels unprovoked, it’s almost like he wanted to, just so I’d write this sentence).
I’m not a watchdog when it comes to sports, but I’m a watchdog when it comes to spectacle, Americana, the disgust of consumerism. For instance, every year during the Super Bowl, I keep a list of notes on what’s happening with the advertisements, what’s the theme of the year, what have all the marketing directors agreed upon so everyone goes home richer—sometimes it’s violence, sometimes it’s xenophobia, sometimes it’s the death of capitalism, which is another way of saying the triumph of capitalism.
And my argument here is the misery, the spectacle of watching the Knicks fail, is a distinct part of life in my city. In fact, they are the worst team in the league this year. But let’s not make the mistake of thinking this is exclusive to basketball.
(While I’m typing this Jason Smith gets called on one of the worst screen attempts you’ll ever see).
I want to be very clear that the Yankees aren’t on the table here, and not because they are a winning team. One fact about the MLB is there’s no salary cap on how much money you can spend to acquire players, which partly accounts for why the Yankees have won more pennants than any baseball team in history. To put it another way, the way it ought to be put: they are rich scumbags.
To put it one more way, rooting for the Yankees is like pretending to think the Backstreet Boys deserve a Grammy for, let’s say, Best Artist Alive, except you think this every year without fail.
(While I’m typing this Andrea Bargnani misses another shot from the paint).
The New York Giants, on the other hand, have several of the best players in the league, and yet they still manage to play some of the worst Bad News Bears football known to man. One of their breakout rookie receivers, Odell Beckham Jr., had one of the greatest catches in the history of football this year and the Giants still lost the game. I’m speaking from memory here, but I believe Eli Manning threw interceptions on the first play of the season two years in a row. And yet this is the same team that stormed through the playoffs and won the Super Bowl twice in the last eight years.
(While I’m typing this Bargnani turns the ball over attempting a chest pass).
One of the years the Giants won the Super Bowl was the same year the New England Patriots were poised to become the only team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl behind a perfect season of nineteen wins and zero losses. But the Giants, a rag-tag group of misfit kids coached by Rick Moranis, beat the best team in the league and won the crown. Do you remember that, Soren?
(Also, while I’m typing this, Lance Thomas has airballed).
In a city where mass grief is one of the most moving experiences I’ve had the honor of witnessing and participating in, it was bewildering and crazy-making to witness mass elation in 2011, especially over something as fucked up and ridiculous as professional sports. Honestly thank god I’m not stupid enough to ever compare the two situations in terms of importance, but if I’m being honest, I hadn’t seen that many people celebrating in the streets of New York since the 2008 election of Barack Obama.
(While I’m typing this Lance Thomas blows an easy rebound, just fucking blows it).
When you’re stuck on the C train with 500 pissed off people, here’s the kicker: The New York Giants still play all their home games in New Jersey, at MetLife Stadium, in case you weren’t sad enough. So even the one team with some semblance of grit isn’t even really a New York team.
Since we’re breaking this down geographically, now is probably also a good time to note that going to see the Mets play, going to see the Yankees play, to me it’s always felt like an excursion, a lot like heading out to Coney Island, riding those several trains out to those stadiums, a lot of drunks on the train, and then how tired you feel on the return trip, those interminable trains. It’s beautiful, but you’re on the march.
(While I’m typing this Larkin dribbles off his foot).
What I’m saying is Madison Square Garden is located dead in the heart of Manhattan, I could get there in about 15 minutes right now, and what’s more, you can hang out in the bowels of Penn Station before the game, definitely at Rose’s Pizza, where you can eat overpriced, massive slices of pizza and drink fairly priced 32 oz drafts, and you can also see these bridge and tunnel assholes in suits often crying or throwing up or going on dates. The bathroom in Rose’s is one of the scariest bathrooms on earth. And then you just walk upstairs and blam you’re inside a stadium.
(While I’m typing this, my friend Michael Morse sends me this video of Alexey Shved trying to kill a stranger in the crowd with a basketball).
And then of course we have the Brooklyn Nets. The Brooklyn Nets used to be the New Jersey Nets, which should immediately disqualify them as a New York team, but it doesn’t, because a lot of people think the Nets are owned by Jay Z (they aren’t, they are owned by the third richest man in Russia), they have black and silver throwback jerseys that a lot of people think were designed by Jay Z (this one, sources say, is partly true), there were rumors that Lebron James was going to come play in Brooklyn because he and Jay Z are friends (that one is true, but it never happened, because Lebron James is not an unwitting moron), and the city even built a massive, ugly, economically soul-crushing stadium to allow the team to play in Brooklyn.
And the crazy part is the Brooklyn Nets are actually an alright team. Last year during the 2014 playoffs, a friend of mine, and one of the only people I’ll talk to about sports—because he recognizes how harrowingly vapid sports are—bought me a ticket to see the Brooklyn Nets play the Toronto Raptors in Brooklyn. I’d never been to an NBA game in my life, and it remains one of the weirdest, nicest things a friend has ever done for me, not the least because it was a congratulations present for publishing a book of poetry. To this day I’m willing to bet I am the only person in history who has ever gone to a professional basketball game because he wrote a book of poetry.
The system works!
Let’s go further: you know Drake? Drake is Canadian, and he makes a point of rooting for the Toronto Raptors, which again, but in a different way, see the Backstreet Boys analogy above. The one incredible thing I remember from the Brooklyn Nets game last year is that Jay Z and Beyonce were both in attendance, sitting beside Brooklyn’s bench, and Drake and his entourage of like seven goons were on the side of the Raptors bench, and at one point in the game they put Drake’s face up on the Jumbotron and the entire stadium erupted in boos. It was one of the only times I’ve ever been to a sporting event where the team I wanted to win actually won, and I remember Drake bowing out of the game early, with his whole crew, and the stadium once again burst into jeering, someone even threw a giant soft drink at him. From the nosebleeds I swear it could’ve been Mountain Dew.
That was one of the first times, really the only time, I’ve ever felt like I was a part of sports culture, and not just because I think Drake sucks. I witnessed a lot of public anger, public joy, I lost my friend in the crowd and then I find him again later. Neither of us had fun, per se, but we sat and watched and we rambled.
(While I’m writing this, Bargnani misses a free throw).
And yet even in the face of all this: before they were the Brooklyn Nets, they were the New Jersey Nets, and before they were the New Jersey Nets they were the New York Nets, and you take a wild guess where they played their games.
Did you answer Long Island?
That’s correct, and the New York Nets are completely disqualified.
I haven’t really talked about this game while writing about this game, which is because this game is garbage. And lo, Bargnani actually finished with a good game. But I’ll admit that I often check in on my New York Knicks, quietly and sadly, as people often tell me (this is true) that they check in on their exes via social media, just to see how they’re doing. Or probably more to the point: how they’re not doing. And when it comes to these athletes they’re always doing poorly. I remember being a kid, wearing hot blue Ren & Stimpy pajamas, and watching Reggie Miller destroy the Knicks when they had their best team in twenty years, Ewing and Starks and Oakley and Pat Riley. It fucked me up on the same level as real-life trauma I experienced as a kid, which is disturbing to me. And then Anthony Mason dies in 2015. It’s like we can’t win, except when you use that inclusive pronoun and talk about the Knicks it’s literal.
(I hate when people say we, like they think they’ve helped win a game by sitting on a cushion and eating Tostitos).
The Knicks have had some patches of hope: Carmelo Anthony is one of the greatest players alive, he seems to believe in the city, and one night he scored more points in Madison Square Garden than any player in history (62). The Knicks had a good season in 2013, but honestly it’s more or less been 20 years of abject pain. What do you think about that Soren? You and your Celtics and your Patriots and your Red Sox. Every now and then I think of my friends who like basketball, how their teams have all been really good in the past 20 years, won championships, and I despair.
But hey at least I’m not covered in Mountain Dew and I’m not Drake.