Before game one of the Eastern Conference Finals yesterday — the series that doesn’t have LeBron James and the Cavaliers — the ESPN/ABC pregame crew discussed the future of LeBron James. We will confess, the ESPN/ABC crew is not among our favorites: Stuart Scott is Stuart Scott, Jon Barry talks Very Seriously about nothing much in particular, Michael Wilbon gives in to his more sycophantic tendencies and Magic Johnson … well, one would have thought by now that someone would have taken Magic aside and gently informed him he’s incomprehensible on television, but if it’s been twenty years and it still hasn’t happened, it’s probably too late. Anyway, they were talking potential landing spots for LeBron, and no one liked the Knicks. Barry actually said the Clippers would be a better place to go. Isn’t this strange? Wasn’t it just a few months ago that the general consensus was Cleveland or New York?
It was, actually, but that was a time when the question was different. The question, really, was: Would LeBron stay in a place like Cleveland, where he could win several titles, or would he leave, so he could make more money and become a more global icon? The assumption was that he could win the most titles with Cleveland. No one assumes that anymore.
But now Chicago is in the picture, and New Jersey, and the Clippers — even Miami: The Knicks are considered the selfish pick, the LeBron Doesn’t Care About Winning pick. It has become the general consensus: Bill Simmons wrote last week that going to New York was the “Sonny Corleone Move,” making LeBron’s free agency roughly the 452,239th sports occurrence Simmons has compared to The Godfather. Simmons does rightly point out that saving basketball in New York and winning the Knicks a title would be the “best available accomplishment in team sports right now,” but is still insistent that the Bulls are the pick. We think it’s because he’s rooting against the Knicks getting LeBron. We think everybody is.
One of the reasons we’ve enjoyed writing about the Knicks over the last couple of seasons is that, in a completely rare experience for New York sports fans, the Knicks have been underdogs. We’ve had pleasant upstarts, shocking upsets, wretched slumps, weird lineups, all kinds of wackiness — the kind of charming randomness that happens when no one expects you to win. We thought, by this point, after the last decade of pain, the rest of basketball might consider the Knicks the underdog franchise that we do. But the actual possibility that LeBron might leave Cleveland — as opposed to the theoretical it was before the flameout against the Celtics — has made observers turn on the Knicks. They see the Knicks as the Yankees: LeBron James is Albert Pujols, and everyone in the league who isn’t the Knicks are the Cardinals. People have accepted that LeBron might leave Cleveland (even, strangely, Cavs fans), but the impurity, the crass move, appears to be going to the Knicks. It seems like cheating to the rest of the sport; New York, once again, getting whomever it wants.
That the Knicks have worked like crazy to build up the capital to go after LeBron, that they couldn’t just toss money around like the Yankees, is beside the point. If LeBron joins the Knicks, people are going to be mad; if he joins the Bulls or the Clippers or the Nets, they won’t be. If there’s any solace to be had in that, know that despite the pain of the last decade, people still love to hate the Knicks. That’s news you can use.