Full-Court Distress

No young players on the rise, lots of leftover guys whose limitations we know as well as our own – is there any joy to be had from watching the Knicks this year? The truest fans, like season-ticket holder Nora Ephron (“I wish I could just turn away”), have no choice but to try. Here’s how they survive:

Keep your eyes on forward Lee Nailon, a gangly ball hog who’s a throwback to the days of Bob McAdoo, when the only passing in the Garden was of joints in the blue seats. “Nailon’s mentality is, I gotta get mine,” says painter Alexis Rockman. “That’s how it was in the seventies in New York, and that’s how it is now. I find it exciting.”

Bonding with other fans eases the agony, like group therapy. As Jason Dubow, a writing teacher at Rutgers, puts it, “Certain things that often seem to be waning in our culture – ritual, a social fabric, common values, loyalty, etc. – can be found among those who stick with the Knicks.”

Just as L.A. Dodgers fans split in the seventh inning, novelist Jonathan Dee suggests, Knicks fans should adopt a similar tactic to avoid the team’s predilection for fourth-quarter collapses. “Leave after the end of the third quarter,” says Dee. “As long as you never look at a sports section, you’ll think the Knicks are on their way to a 55-win season.”

A true connoisseur might find a way to savor those collapses. Can this year’s Knicks equal the single greatest blown lead of all time, the 34-point mark set by the Denver Nuggets in 1994? The Knicks nearly lost a 32-point lead against Detroit earlier this year. Speed counts, too. In the 1995 playoffs, the Knicks blew a 6-point lead in 3.1 seconds – can that be topped?

“You have to be a romantic about it,” says Gary Hoenig, the executive editor of ESPN The Magazine, who used to watch 70 to 80 Knicks games a season. “You have to imagine how this team could scrape out 40 wins and contend for that last playoff spot.” Does Hoenig think that will happen? “I only have to believe it long enough to sit through one game.”

Full-Court Distress