Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I forgot that these words could be put on paper in this order

Ladies and gentlemen, the New York Knicks have won the Atlantic Division Championship.

Yeah, I know. It sounds weird, right? In my rational, probability-driven point of view I know that it was probably unlikely I would go the rest of my life without seeing the Knicks win an NBA title, let alone a mere division crown, and yet, it still seems a bit odd. After all, last year when the 'Bockers won their first playoff game since I was a sophomore in high school and that alone was a bizarre sensation, which I detailed at length. But when you take sheer odds into account, and then add in the multiple biases in New York's favor (a big market rife with marketing opportunities that attract top players, general franchise cache that does the same, the ability to spend large amounts of money), it would be silly to think the Knicks were forever doomed to the mediocrity I had grown accustomed to.

And yet, it still seems strange. But here we are.

Last night, by virtue of their 120-99 thrashing of the Washington Wizards, the Knicks, winners of 13 in a row and of 50 games for the first time in 13 years, clinched their first division championship since 1994, when, in case you're wondering, I was a few months shy of my ninth birthday.

Now, if we're being honest, this is a largely meaningless distinction given how little of an advantage division winners have when it comes to seeding, matchups or even home-court advantage in the NBA Playoffs. But it's still a nice little reminder that most tunnels, no matter how long, have some light at the end. Unless you root for the Chicago Cubs. Still, while the Knicks have made playoff appearances the last two seasons and a start (and apparently a finish) to this one that makes them look like a championship caliber team, in many ways as a fan you still need concrete tangible signs that the franchise is taking decisive steps in the right direction. This, even though it will never actually be signified with a banner in Madison Square Garden, most certainly qualifies.

The next step, of course, is obvious. If the Knicks threw a massive party complete with fireworks and streamers for winning a single playoff game last spring (they did), then maybe it's about time they win their first playoff series since reaching the NBA Finals and losing in five games to the nascent San Antonio Spurs dynasty 14 years ago.

I happen to think they're more than capable -- to the point that they should at least reach the second round of the playoffs and possibly the third before they run into the Miami Heat this spring -- but that inkling of doubt will probably remain in the back of my head until the Knicks manage to pull it off. After all, old pessimistic habits die hard, and there's nothing that could make one more of a pessimist in as short an amount of time as what the Knicks became in the mid-to-late 2000s. Dealing two unprotected first-round draft picks for someone who has proven to be an inneffective player with a heart condition will do that to a franchise.

Seriously. Isiah Thomas traded a first-round pick and the right to swap first-round picks for someone with a known heart condition. I cannot stress this point enough.

But a few deep breaths and years depression later, here we are. The Knicks are looking damn good, and if not a bona fide title-contending member of the NBA's elite (though I think they are), certainly high on the next rung down the ladder. That, in and of itself, is cause for excitement that I still don't quite know how to interpret, but given how bad the Devils have been lately, I'm looking forward to interpreting it.

After all, this has turned out to be something of a banner few weeks for New York-area teams that wear blue and orange considering Matt Harvey has begun to appear more myth than man (this has me way too excited about the Mets' future) and even the Islanders are looking good. But I'm not silly enough to think the Mets are actually competing for anything noteworthy this season and I don't particularly care about the Islanders making the playoffs for the first time since I was a senior in college. (Side note: the shot to the right was taken by Getty photographer Brian Garfinkel. Not a bad guy to know.)

The Chicago Blackhawks, too, are having a stellar season and just might win the Stanley Cup, and while that would be nice, we all know the Blackhawks aren't really the team that owns my heart. And then there's the Geelong Cats, who have started out the current AFL season 2-0 and could be primed for a run at the Grand Final, but that loud, audible "Huh?" I just heard from all of you reading this means no one else will understand what I'm talking about when I bring up footy.

So that leaves me with the Knicks as the only team I can really pin hopes on for raising a banner this year, or at least the only one that provides significant meaning and that I can share with people around me. That may seem a bit far-fetched given how good Miami, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Indiana and the L.A. Clippers are, among one or two others. But for the first time in a long time the Knicks, division champions, are finally in that mix, and they have to be included in that short-list discussion of teams that could be spraying champagne on the Larry O'Brien Trophy this June.

That's a prospect that may look weird on paper, but I'm happy to read it over and over until it doesn't.


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