Entertainment

02.26.14

Guns, Blow Jobs, and Choke Holds: a History of the New York Knicks

With Ray Felton arrested on felony gun charges, the team is making a run at the NBA title for most-misbehaved franchise.

Are you a fan of the New York Knickerbockers?

If so, I’m terribly, terribly sorry. If you have not wed your sporting hopes and dreams to an NBA team that has not proven to be a howling garbage fire, and remained blissfully unaware, let’s take a moment to briefly encapsulate this year’s bleakly depressing, painfully unfunny model.

A unit that was expected to come close to replicating the prior season’s 54-win squad and once again battle in the playoffs with the Eastern Conference’s two titans, the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers, has instead painted an absurdist masterpiece.

They’ve given their star attraction, Carmelo Anthony, every imaginable reason to flee this foul-smelling clown car after he opts out of the final year of his contract at season’s end, leaving him to utter post-game quotes that could be mistaken for the black-hearted attempts at poetry by of a particularly morbid Emo/Goth teen.

They’ve suffered heartbreaking losses of every stripe imaginable, and blown leads versus teams that are actively trying to lose in order to secure a better position in the coming talent-rich draft.

They’ve plastered a giant “for sale” sign on Iman Shumpert—one of the few Knicks possessing anything resembling athleticism, youth and a reasonable contract—and battered his confidence, transforming what looked like a potential breakout talent during the team’s playoff run, into a tentative, miserable shell of his former self.

They’ve squandered numerous draft picks on a large Italian fellow whose chief contribution has been a litany of easily mockable, hardwood foibles.

Owner James Dolan finally deigned to speak to the huddled masses, granting his first public interview in seven years, though he seemed far more interested in waxing poetic about his vanity project blues band and babbling about the Eagles than providing any real insight into his quixotic, despotic and catastrophic (to appropriate the rhyming prose of the Knicks’ legendary player and color commentator, Clyde Frazier) reign.

And then there’s J.R. Smith. We’ll get to him in a bit.

That’s just the tip of this iceberg of sporting excrement. There’s more awfulness to be plumbed, should you care to delve. But that’s basketball. Sometimes you lose. A lot.

What happened early Tuesday morning is worse. It’s sad and disturbing (if true) because it has absolutely nothing to do with what occurs on the court.

What happened early Tuesday morning is worse. It’s sad and disturbing (if true) because it has absolutely nothing to do with what occurs on the court.

At 12:50 AM, after yet another gut-wrenching loss—this time via a last second fadeaway heave by the Dallas Mavericks’ All-Star power forward, Dirk Nowitzki— Raymond Felton, the Knicks’ starting point guard, was arrested.

According to a law-enforcement official, the arrest stems from a semiautomatic handgun that allegedly belongs to Mr. Felton and was left at the apartment of his estranged wife, Ariane Felton.

Ms. Felton and the attorney representing her in divorce proceedings took the gun, which had 17 bullets in the magazine and one in the chamber, to the 20th precinct station house in Manhattan Monday evening because she no longer wanted it in the home, the official said.

Ms. Felton, 26, said that on four occasions, most recently Feb. 14, Mr. Felton waved the weapon around in an aggressive way but didn't point it at her, according to the official.

The official said the weapon and ammunition aren't legal in New York City.

Felton has been issued a temporary order of protection for six months, and was released on a $25,000 bail. A court date has been set for June 2.

Of course, these allegations actually put him in fine company, given this team’s history. Gunplay is no laughing matter, but if it’s high crimes and comic misdemeanors you’re interested in, look no further than his teammate, J.R. Smith.

This is a gentleman who was fined $25,000 in November for making not-at-all-veiled threats on Twitter. It’s a form of social media he particularly fancies, though his 140-character artistry has lightened his wallet, mainly due to the racy subject matter.

Then there’s his odd shoelace fetish, a habit that he continued even after a “warning” from the league (and assumedly, coach Mike Woodson, his teammates, the bartenders at 1Oak and even possibly the tiny, floating, giant-headed green alien from the future only J.R. can see and hear). In total, he’s racked up over $900,000 in fines for flagrant fouls drug policy violations and other suspensions over the course of a ten-year career. (We’ll have to see if his latest clothing-tugging bit costs him another chunk of change.)

Oh yeah, and he spent 90 days in jail for reckless driving after killing his friend.

If we continue further back into Knick history, there’s the unfortunate (and harrowing) case of Eddy Curry, a 6’11” center with feet like a ballet dancer and an incredibly deft touch at the rim. Unfortunately, he didn’t really seem to enjoy playing basketball that much. But when you’re that tall and that quick, there are going to be plenty of individuals that insist that you’d be a fool to pass up the vast gobs of money.

After injuries kept him out of the lineup for the bulk of two seasons, his difficulties increased. He racked up $1.2 million in debt, was accused by his limo driver of sexual harassment and generally being a bigoted creep (a claim that was ultimately dismissed), and was ordered to pay $200,000 that was owed in a settlement regarding a relationship with a 14-year-old girl

Not enough of a New York icon?

How about Latrell Sprewell—an uber-talented slashing guard that led New York to the finals during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. The four-time all-star and menacing defender arrived for the relatively low price of an aging John Starks, a journeyman wing in Chris Mills and the withered corpse of Terry Cummings because Spree had just finished serving a season-long suspension for choking P.J. Carlesimo, his coach with the Golden State Warriors, after taking exception to the suggestion that he “put a little mustard” on a half-hearted pass

Sprewell also joins one of cogs in Pat Riley’s brutish ‘90s teams in racking up massive amounts of debt.

Yes, those Knicks never won a title, but the rotation definitely fell afoul of the law. Charles Oakley, in addition to scuffling with many an opposing player, continued to scrap even after he retired. 

As then-assistant coach Jeff Van Gundy tells it, even key bench cogs such as Anthony Bonner were served subpoenas while the games were being played.

Not even a Knick legend like Patrick Ewing was immune. The Big Fella was called to testify when a strip club in Atlanta was accused of racketeering, admitting that: “The girls danced, started fondling me, I got aroused, they performed oral sex. I hung around a little bit and talked to them, then I left.”

***

I didn’t pen this lengthy police blotter because I wanted to suggest that the Knicks are a particularly criminally inclined franchise. They’re not. Nor should it imply that pro athletes (contrary to what one might think) break the law at a higher rate than the general population. They don’t.

I took this trip down indictment lane because I’m hoping against hope that Raymond Felton will be exonerated. That’s silly, of course and probably wrong. In reality, there shouldn’t be any difference between this case and the other 400,000 or so arrests that are made in New York City every year.

But when I heard about this story, I couldn’t help but instinctively clutch at the idea that this was all some kind of horrible misunderstanding or the ugly endgame to a failing marriage.

It’s the same reaction I had, when I heard about Eddy Curry or Spree or even J.R. Smith. Not because I was fretting about how this might affect the product on the court. To the contrary, it’s because I can’t stand the fact that his legal/marital problems are going to be conflated with his job.

None of this should suggest anything with regards to his innocence or guilt, but the fact that he’s going to have to go through this process publicly will only make it worse. His legal difficulties will be conflated with his job, including feeble, pawing attempts to discern how this might impact ‘team chemistry,’ or if this will open up playing time for a better point guard or if his contract will be voidable, thus shaving a few million dollars off the Knicks’ salary cap in 2015 means that things are going to be particularly hellish for Raymond Felton.