When the New York Knicks are not the center of attention, the city’s original home team always finds its way into the conversation. Two championships between 1970 and 1973 let the team sit at the winner’s table with other storied franchises. Forty years later, since the city brought home the brass, the Knicks would be remembered for their magical seasons of mortality, that tragically end in failure.
Despite their shortcomings, the Knicks enjoy a sterling record in pop culture, specifically in music where they are immortalized as the people’s champion. The theme behind the reining anthem by World’s Fair, a six-man group from Queens, N.Y. pays homage to the Knicks of yore on “’96 Knicks.” The song samples the drama of the Knicks 1996 playoff run, led by Knick legend, Patrick Ewing. World’s Fair members Cody B. Ware, Jeff Donna, Nasty Nigel and Prince SAMO rap their verses and the chorus like underdogs with a chip on their shoulder; similar to the ’96 Knicks who fought tooth and nail against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The album’s single is one of the many bruisers from their debut album, Bastards of the Party (Fool’s Gold Records). Their confidence comes out swinging on the chorus, channeling a raucous chant, reminiscent of 50 Cent’s “What Up Gangsta.” Their white-knuckle rap continues on standout selections such as “Heathrow,” “Nem Diggas,” and the album’s title track. The Knicks Wall caught up with World’s Fair’s Lansky Jones to talk about the group’s passion for their hometown heroes, the significance of the team’s ethnically diverse roster, and the future of the 2013-14 season. It’s off the books this year.
The Knicks recruited a larger and more ethnically diverse lineup this year. Do you feel like there is a greater representation of where New York is now culturally?
Lansky Jones: I do. We already had Argentina, but now both Italy and Slovenia are represented on the team. Unfortunately, we did lose our Chinese representative last year; and with Jeremy Lin’s departure there are definitely fewer Asian fans at the Garden, which is a huge loss for Queens especially.
What was your opinion of Linsanity a few seasons ago? How were you affected by his impact?
LJ: Linsanity was an awesome sort of “season within a season,” and Lin’s story transcended sports and captured the entire season really. It was an otherwise depressing season. That period was incredibly fun to follow as a New Yorker, not just cause of Lin but also guys like Jared Jeffries, Iman Shumpert, and Tyson Chandler.
Will you miss Shumpert’s flattop?
LJ: I won’t. It’s a sign of his growth as a player. As many have said, I feel that this will be a breakthrough year for Shump.
What do you think of the new citrus/orange alternate uniforms?
LJ: I like it. It’s an interesting take on the Knicks uniform. It’s very difficult working with the orange and blue color scheme. I tend to appreciate the more classic ‘80s and ‘90s takes on the uniforms.
Who do you think should be the Knicks second scoring option? Why?
LJ: Shumpert, showed a much improved jump shot last year and had the athleticism to get to the rim whenever he wants to, and the strength to finish.
Knicks were 54-28 last season. What’s your projection for their record this season?
LJ: It’s hard to say. It relies heavily on Bargnani’s game and Stoudemire’s health. We also need “Defensive Player of the Year” Chandler and not 2013 postseason Chandler who looked more like Ronny Turiaf against (Jamaica, Queens born) Roy Hibbert. With the Eastern Conference a bit more competitive this year, I’d say a realistic record would look something like 47-25.
Who has been the most impressive of the newly acquired players?
LJ: In the preseason MWP [Metta World Peace] looks to be in great shape, and the Knicks will need his defense on the perimeter.
What are the biggest improvements you’re looking to see this season on the court?
LJ: Individually, Tyson Chandler needs to be better than he was in the playoffs last year. Also, Iman Shumpert now more than a full year removed from his ACL tear could be the Knicks number two option. Overall, hopefully the defense is improved.
How important is it for the Knicks to have native New Yorkers in the lineup, or a player with family ties to NY?
LJ: I feel the natives will play with more fire in their belly. They are winning for their hometown, and I know it would ignite a fire inside of me. I love seeing Metta play for us; he’s wanted to for such a long time. He really brings that Queensbridge grit to the court; his whole style has always been that way. I love seeing that. MWP knows what he’s fighting for–his hometown. I feel it will give him a new set of legs. When Melo [Carmelo Anthony] came to the city I felt a similar feeling, but not as much as I do with MWP.
LJ: I would go with the ’92-’93 Knicks starters, as they had an INCREDIBLE record that year, but that lineup just didn’t have as much character as the ’96-’97 Knicks team. It was the grittiest and most well-versed of them all: you had the definitive leader and face of NY in Patrick Ewing, who is probably the greatest Knick of all time; Allan Houston, who was a pure shooter at the 2; Grand-mama [Larry Johnson] and Oak Tree [Charles Oakley] to add onto the Knicks gully factor. This was a defensive team. Then there was the icing on the cake–Chris Childs. I don’t think anyone can forget when Chris Childs hit Kobe Bryant with that two-piece biscuit.
What Knick parties the hardest?
LJ: Well this is pretty much a rhetorical question. I’d have to say J.R. Smith, though I haven’t partied with any of them, so I wouldn’t know!
Who is the greatest Queens native to suit up for NYK?
LJ: Has to be Mark Jackson no?
Why does your album start with “96 Knicks”? The album has bangers, but what was the significance of this move?
LJ: It sets the tone of it all. No matter what type of records we present throughout the album, we are NEW YORKERS from the cradle to the grave. The song is the embodiment of “regional” New York rap. We bring this to the table before all else, and invite all NYC artists to reinvigorate the city with us. Every time I chant that chorus on stage, I feel like Melo at the Garden.
One of the most direct connections between the Knicks and World’s Fair is Madison Square Garden, also known as the World’s Most Famous Arena. Tell me about some of your most sentimental moments at MSG.
LJ: I vaguely remember my first time at the Garden. I must have been about six or seven, and my mom’s friend took me to see the Ringling Brothers circus (he later became my stepfather). At the time he had a good job, and his boss would hook him up with suite tickets. For those who don’t know, suite tickets mean you’re getting free food for the entire night. I was a fat kid. Put two-and-two together.
Apart from that, he’d later bring me to Knicks games from time to time. This was during the Ewing-era Knicks of the mid/late ‘90s, so of course looking back these memories mean a lot to me.
“’96 Knicks” came out in the thick of last year’s playoff run. Describe the moments that led up to making the record, and your thoughts on releasing it during such a historic season.
LJ: New Yorkers were finally getting that good feeling back again. It was reminiscent of a greater era when we were serious contenders; at least as serious as we could be during Jordan’s reign. Let’s fast-forward from 1996 into 2012, March 27th to be exact. It was on this day we released Children of the Night’s (COTN’s) Queens…Revisited project, which featured a song called “’86 Mets.” “’96” was originally intended to be somewhat of a spin-off record; it just so happened that the Knicks were KILLING around the time we recorded the record. It was just a feel-good time for the city. The song is reminiscent of the golden days, sonically. There are so many layers to “’96 Knicks” and its release. At the end of the day it just felt right.
Could the ‘96 lineup of Charlie Ward, Allan Houston, Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and Larry Johnson win the championship today?
LJ: If an aging Dirk Nowitzki could outperform a young and ambitious LeBron James three seasons ago, I’m sure as hell Patrick Ewing could too with his old ass.