Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving Deliver Ultimate Insult to the Sad New York Knicks
Sell the team, Dolan.
The jokes arrived quickly, and often, this being the New York Knicks. Twitter was able to gather up all the sharp jibes and easy quips directed at the legion of poor, despondent Knicks fans barely an hour after the NBA’s official free agency clock struck 6 pm on Sunday.
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, two of the gaudiest free agency prizes, had thumbed their collective nose at the $70 million in salary cap space New York had carefully hoarded away. Instead, they’d ply their trade in nearby Brooklyn, long a basketball wasteland previously owned by craven greedheads and one thirsty Russian oligarch, now transformed into a smart, feisty team that seems destined to make an appearance in the NBA Finals sooner rather than later—at least after Durant has finished rehabbing his shredded Achilles tendon.
Being a long-suffering Knicks fan myself, I joined in with the online mockery. After a lifetime of fandom, the last two decades of which have been marked by abject, often self-induced Knicks failures—and the worst record in the league—what other choices are left? Like Roger Kahn wrote in The Boys of Summer about another doomed pro sports franchise, oddly enough, one that also called Brooklyn home: “We stand naked, before an unflattering mirror, hearing hard laughter that includes our own.”
A deep, self-aware peal of laughter can make for good medicine. But if you’re looking for some real gallows humor, not long after the Instagram account belonging to Durant’s ESPN+ show blasted out a Biggie-soundtracked announcement, this little nugget of reporting was made public:
And just like that, it stopped being funny. There are two possible explanations for the behavior described in the above tweet, and both are pretty bleak: Either Knicks owner James Dolan is once again sticking his grubby fingers into the Knicks’ operational pie or he’s pitching a fit and trying to explain away his own blunders. In either scenario, a spoiled billionaire keeps making the same fumbling, relatively avoidable mistakes over and over again, and receives zero comeuppance while the rest of us end up bearing the brunt of the suffering. It feels way too similar to the real world for my liking.
But let’s take a moment to unpack the above tweet, shall we? Sure, there are plenty of reasons to doubt how effective a 32-year-old Kevin Durant might be after suffering one of the worst basketball injuries imaginable. Durant even at 80-odd percent of his athletic peak still is enough of a planet-destroying talent that a shrewd front office (like the Nets!) would slide a signed blank check over and tell him to fill in the digits. But if the Knicks’ braintrust wanted to err on the side of extreme caution, so be it.
That said, assuming the reporting is accurate, it means Dolan’s one saving grace as an owner—his willingness to spend gobs of money—has, for the moment, vanished. The spending sprees usually resulted in overrated or bungled and botched ex-stars like Eddy Curry, Amar’e Stoudemire, Stephon Marbury, and Andrea Bargnani gumming up the roster, but still. His arms were long enough to reach his ample wallet, and that in and of itself was a good thing. However, if Dolan’s installing some kind of misguided austerity policy, it means he’s meddling in the day-to-day basketball operations again, something he swore to heaven and earth he’d stay away from, ever since Phil Jackson was (briefly) put in charge.
Conversely, what if the leak is hogwash? Bear with me, but what if Dolan got mad, what with everyone chuckling and tweeting out “LOLKnicks” and decided to subvert whatever dastardly puns New York’s tabloids have planned for the back page by suggesting that actually, the Knicks weren’t that interested in Durant. They’d snubbed him, get it?
If that comes across as petty and fairly ridiculous, remember: Dolan practically guaranteed that big time free agents like Durant and Irving would be Manhattan-bound. Or as he boasted on-air to ESPN’s Michael Kay in May, agents, other stars, various men of great import had been whispering sweet nothings in his ear all season long. “I can tell you from what we've heard,” he said. “We’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.” (Of course, Dolan said this while defending his rationale for banning a fan from Madison Square Garden who had the temerity to tell Dolan he should sell the team.)
Leaning into petty and fairly ridiculous vendettas has been Dolan’s stock-in-trade. The press, in particular, has been a frequent target. One ex-Knicks beat reporter claims Dolan-run “spies” were assigned to track his every move and Dolan admitted they maintain “dossiers” on local and national reporters. Beat reporters described spending their workdays inside Madison Square Garden as similar to a “gulag,” citing Dolan’s overarching paranoia. The New York Daily News was barred from attending anodyne press conferences on three occasions this year because the paper dared to print (correctly) that the team stunk. Other Dolan-branded enemies include: beloved Knicks legend Charles Oakley, who was dragged from the arena and then hit with a lifetime ban; he has lashed out at other random fans, calling one an “asshole” and another a “drunk”; fired a Madison Square Garden security guard when she irked him; didn’t think Hurricane Sandy was a reasonable excuse for his employees to miss work; has dabbled in union busting; and he snatched away Ethan Hawke’s free season tickets because Hawke said a few unkind words. If you’re nice to Dolan, it doesn’t matter what atrocities you commit. Like President Trump, for example, who was entertained by The Rockettes, despite the dancers’ protests. Or Isiah Thomas, noted “basketball genius” per Dolan, who was found guilty of sexual harassment while serving as general manager and head coach.
So the notion that he’d get upset about a few rude tweets and feed misinformation to ESPN about the contract offer to Durant which never materialized certainly fits in neatly with Dolan’s entire body of work.
In the end, either Dolan is filling his diaper over some unfavorable media coverage, which is bound to make both smart players and smart front-office types avoid the Knicks like a plague. Or, he’s weighing in on contracts, which, as he said, he has no business doing, and also will drive away NBA talent, both on and off the court.
Comedy-wise, and definitely for anyone without a vested interest in the Knicks, this should be hilarious. Hell, you can even see a coy smile curling around the corners of Stephen A. Smith’s mouth as he works himself into a lather (while still making sure to promote his next TV appearance):
What stops me from grinning, though, is that I’d really prefer it if the teams I rooted for served as a diversion in the best sense of the word. This is not diverting. Sports can do this, you see. It can reveal the humanity of everyone involved, in addition to providing a glimpse at unreal athletic prowess and moments of incredible beauty. Even when these sentiments are mouthed by a shameless ghoul like Henry Kissinger, they remain true.
Fans of other teams occasionally get to experience all the wondrous delights sports provides. But like an idiot, I and Knicks fans everywhere have given our emotional and literal currency to a petulant, dim child who steps on the same dumb rakes over and over again all while raking in fistfuls of cash. You don’t have to look far to find other, horrific examples of this grim paradigm playing out. (And don’t get me started on Bobby Portis, because what team doesn’t need a third overpaid power forward anyways?)
Want to hear another joke? It’s a good one. Durant actually will get less than the full amount possible from the Nets, as will Irving. Unlike me, they’re smart enough to walk away from Dolan and the Knicks forever.