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The Knicks’ New Old Boy

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Previous G.M. Isiah Thomas with Knicks owner James Dolan.  

Intertwined with Marbury’s unhappy saga was the 2005 hiring of Larry Brown to coach the Knicks. Brown, too, was supposed to be coming back to New York for a triumphant finale to his vagabond career. Instead, he led the Knicks for only one deeply weird season, marked by spats with Marbury and Thomas and dozens of lopsided losses, and ending with furtive roadside press conferences as he bickered with the Knicks’ owners.

Will it be different this time? Walsh savvily makes no promises and lowers expectations at every turn. “I sometimes go home at night and think, I must have been out of my mind. What the hell have I gotten myself into?” he says. “I think there are good basketball players here. I have respect for the guys who were here before—Larry, Isiah. But it didn’t work. And fixing it is gonna be hard, and it’s going to take time.”

Walsh copes with the stress by meditating. He sits in the most comfortable chair in his new apartment on the Upper West Side, closes his eyes, and tunes out the world. Walsh has been taking a Zen vacation at least once a day for 25 years now. No particular crisis in his life prompted his interest in meditation. “Maybe it was because I saw something on television about it,” Walsh says. “It clears my mind. I think too much, and if you’re not thinking all the time, maybe you put yourself in a better position to make a decision. But I’m not Zen-ing out all over the place.”

Indeed, all the years of wins and losses haven’t dulled Walsh’s passion. Last week, he exited cursing from a blowout Knicks loss to the Celtics—an exhibition-game loss. One of Walsh’s most vivid memories is from the 1995 playoff game at the Garden in which the Pacers beat the Knicks, with Reggie Miller scoring a ridiculous eight points in 8.9 seconds—and how Walsh, in a fit of fury, missed most of the incredible comeback. “I’m sitting there, and the Knicks get up six points; there’s like twenty seconds left,” he says. “I get disgusted. I’m pissed at our team. I get out of my seat. I go down the tunnel and I go into the locker room and I shut the door. I’m in there cursing: ‘Motherfuckers!’ All of a sudden there’s a knock on the door and it’s Mel Daniels: ‘Donnie! Reggie just tied the game!’ And I say, ‘Quit fucking with me! I’m not in the mood!’ I’m yelling at him, and he’s laughing. We find a TV. I see John Starks miss two foul shots; Reggie gets the rebound, and he gets fouled. I look at Mel and say, ‘Are you fucking telling me we’re gonna win this fucking game?’ ”

In some ways, it’s easy for Walsh to find tranquillity these days: His five children are long grown, and Judy, his wife of 45 years, has stayed in Indianapolis, with his beloved Bouvier dogs (“Rescue dogs,” he points out). “I’m working all the time,” Walsh says. “It wouldn’t be fair to her to come to New York and sit around.”

His current monomania aside, Walsh is the rare jock who reads books without pictures and wants to know more about the world outside of sports. Back in the day, he’d drop in to Max’s Kansas City. He’s an ardent Democrat, though his frequent donations to political campaigns often cross party lines. This summer, he contacted City Hall and asked if Michael Bloomberg had time for lunch. The mayor did. “Nice guy,” Bloomberg says. “He called me up, which I thought was an interesting ploy—ploy isn’t the right word—play. My suspicion is he wasn’t told to do it by the Dolans, but it was a very smart move, nevertheless.” Bloomberg has been splenetically angry at Jim Dolan ever since he led the opposition to the city’s bid for the 2012 Olympics. “We had a very nice lunch,” Bloomberg says. “I own two front-row tickets and two second-row tickets to Knicks games, that I pay the Dolans for. And I certainly wish him well.”

Walsh needs all the allies and good vibes he can get—which is exactly why his pal Klores, not the Dolans, suggested the lunch with Bloomberg, as well as goodwill calls to, among others, Governor David Paterson, Roger Ailes, Graydon Carter, and illustrious Knicks of old like Willis Reed and Earl Monroe. There’s already been plenty of stress for Walsh to meditate away. The most alarming moment came in June, when a doctor diagnosed tongue cancer. Walsh had been a chain-smoker for 50 years, but surgery cured his nicotine jones, and he’s been given a clean bill of health. (The cancer story was broken by Peter Vecsey, the Post’s powerful basketball columnist and another of Walsh’s close, longtime, well-connected friends.)


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