The New York Knicks current hopes and dreams involving Kevin Durant greatly contrast with tough and rugged teams of yesteryear.
The heart and soul of Willis Reed dragging a bum leg onto the Game 7 court. The workmanlike show-running skills of Walt “Clyde” Frazier. The beast in the paint who sparked an entire era of ruggedness, Patrick Ewing. The gifted grocery store employee who threw an entire city on his sleeve, John Starks.
The man who snubbed his team for the exact enemy who bested him three straight over the final three games of the Western Conference Finals?
The 2015-16 NBA season marks the spring that changed it all for Durant. Up 3-1 in the series, KD found himself on the brink with his squad. His 26 points in Game 4 helped cement such a stranglehold on the defending champion Warriors.
The Thunder lost Game 5 in Golden State, despite Durant’s 40 points (12-for-31 from the floor). They then lost by seven at home in Game 6. Durant’s team-high 29 points were yet again misleading thanks to a paltry 10-for-31 from the floor. In Game 7, the champs took out Oklahoma City by eight points. Durant finished 10-of-19 for 27 points.
Rarely could a more bitter disappointment be imagined. For Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Thunder, an entire summer ahead of wondering what could have been was thrust upon them. For the leader, Durant, a certain fire and lust for revenge had to serve the summer order. Right?
Instead of regathering the troops and vowing to take down the enemy, we all know what unfolded. Durant joined the greatest regular season team in the history of the NBA, a decision that’s drastically altered the competitive balance in the NBA to this very date. At times, watching a moment of regular season basketball feels hopeless.
He took the easy way out. He decided to hop on the LeBron James journey: join forces with superstars en route to easy chips after coming so close with the drafted team. LeBron followed up the easy route by taking the challenge most deemed impossible: winning a chip with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.
Suddenly, during that very same Spring of 2016, all was forgiven.
James’s impossible title in The Land forced an entire NBA to sit back and marvel at the abilities, the leadership, the basketball IQ. It’s such a vital part of Durant’s story. What possible challenge is tougher to take on than New York? It’s part of the reason (other than Royal Ivey) many folks in the know—Ric Bucher, Howard Beck—have Durant to Manhattan as a “done deal.”
The challenge itself is a noble one. Attempting to mesh the player’s character with the historical value of past Knicks personalities is a tough chore.
The two most recent winning eras in Knickerbockers history have showcased a specific squad understood by the city. When Willis Reed heroically limped onto the court in Game 7, the hardworking, gritty club that played fundamental team ball had officially cemented itself.
What Riley faked in Los Angeles he owned in New York. Toughness, attitude and relentless effort became the order of the day. Remember, Ewing served as the only legitimate star in the city. It’s an unheard of NBA notion to garner so much success under such a circumstance.
The squad fought with everything possible. They were dirty as hell. The early 1990s New York Knicks were the team nobody wanted to play.
“Shoot a jumper? Get an elbow in the chest. Drive baseline? Get your head knocked off.”
Charles Oakley was a man. A chest bigger than any baller in the Association, rebounds where just a slight part of his overall game. Anthony Mason and Xavier McDaniel represented the X-factors, the dudes who’d linger in the background and jolt forward at the first sight of trouble.
The game has undoubtedly changed since the days of that relentless physical play. The league traded in its sandpaper element for a much softer brand of Charmin.
Moreover, Durant is the play. He has to be. The past winning formula that could allow a one-superstar team to find success has vanished in this “tag-team star-driven” basketball world. At this point, with Kristaps Porzingis gone and enough cap space for two studs, Durant and a running mate, is the right move during the Summer of 2019. Nobody can deny this fact.
While realizing that, just understand the character of the player in question. He’s not Patrick Ewing, a man who’d rather die than play basketball in another city. He’s not Willis Reed, the captain who’d risk losing a limb for a couple of buckets. He’s not even John Starks. (Would KD ever perform clean-up in aisle 10 where the pickle jar was carelessly knocked over?)
Durant is a new-age sort of player who took the LeBron James path to easy chips and who’ll literally cement such a path by taking on the greatest challenge of all, New York.
The last time the franchise took a chance on a supposed superstar was Carmelo Anthony, the man who performed a cowardly punch-and-run in Madison Square Garden prior to his arrival.
It didn’t work out. Admittedly, Anthony and Durant are nowhere near the same class of basketball. This much is certain (at least now, for the masses, as compared to years past).
If the Kevin Durant-led New York Knicks win, personality and character matter very little. But before diving in, understand the contradiction between this cat and the organization’s unrelenting history of a specific kind of basketball-meshing-with-city character.
This truth doesn’t mean it won’t work out for the best. It simply means the contradiction is real.