Head coach David Fizdale has tasked NBA greats and Knicks legends to inspire and motivate his young squad. It’s a refreshing, new perspective of inward reflection for the franchise.
David Fizdale, the Knicks’ first-year head coach, is attempting to erode the stench of the last 20 years of regrettable Knicks history with the aura of the first, much more Mecca-worthy, 53 years.
Knick legend by Knick legend, Fizdale is relentlessly blitzing New York’s recent association with dysfunction, with a loud reminder of a long and storied, pre-dysfunction, pre-Dolan heyday. Orchestrated by Fizdale, so far Walt Frazier, Patrick Ewing, and Bill Bradley—three of the greatest Knicks of all time—have visited this season’s young roster.
Greats like former Knick Rasheed Wallace and 11-time All-Star Chris Bosh—both NBA champions—have also spent time around the team. All of these visits, primarily, are to help nurture and develop the youngsters comprising the promising but raw nucleus of the current team. Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Kristaps Porzingis, Mitchell Robinson, and others can only benefit from exposure to these decorated former players, Knicks and non-Knicks alike.
It’s a smart move by Fizdale to expose this young group to fresh perspectives, from players who have been there and done that in New York City, and in the league generally. Having Rasheed Wallace spend time with Robinson, for example, pushes the young center with a voice other than Fizdale’s early in a season in which the rookie will make lots of mistakes, and hear about it from his head coach.
For another rookie, Kevin Knox, to get advice from Knick legend Bill Bradley—an integral cog in New York’s championship teams of 1970 and 1973—is invaluable. Bradley, Fizdale said, focused on “what it actually means to be a Knick, the tradition the comes with that; what you mean to your community and what the right to vote means,” per Newsday.
Kevin Knox is participating in shooting drills and other non-contact activity in practice. He won’t play vs. Indiana. Here, Knox talks about his ankle injury and the message that Bill Bradley delivered to he and his teammates during Bradley’s visit at practice: pic.twitter.com/ZF0hqVZXyE
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 31, 2018
Maybe Walt Frazier has helped former players out in the past, but if he was ever brought in specifically to talk to the guys before, we never heard about it. Which is pretty strange—he’s sitting right there. He’s not inconspicuous; there are 45 eye-popping colors on his tie alone! It’s not rocket science. Asking one of the best defensive point guards of all time, who struggled in his rookie season, to have a chat with Ntilikina, a young defensive point guard who struggled in his rookie season, is a no-brainer.
It’s not rocket science to connect Porzingis, who is one year out from potentially re-signing with the Knicks, and has nothing but time on his hands whilst rehabbing a torn ACL in his left knee, to Patrick Ewing, with whom the young Latvian stands to have a lot in common. Let Pat tell KP how it feels to lead the Knicks deep into the playoffs, to play a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden, to win in the Mecca.
Development aside, from a fan’s perspective, there is a sense of a wrong being righted here. The version of the Knicks we’ve suffered through for the last 20 years is so far removed from the nostalgic, 20th century version that preceded it that the two have been severed from one another. Those Knicks and these Knicks, have, for 20 years, been separated by how utterly opposite their fortunes were. This separation left the dysfunction, drama, and depressing basketball of the last two decades to run rampant. These negative associations were allowed to become the identity of a franchise that is so much more than the doldrums of its last two decades.
The Knicks are more than that. This is the dormant truth that Fizdale’s parade of franchise greats this season has awoken, highlighted, and shouted about. It’s about time the organization flaunted a history it had, if not forgotten, underutilized.
It’s not rocket science to remind everyone—fans, players, the NBA generally—that the DNA of this franchise is not the DNA of whoever signs the paychecks. Fizdale’s attention to franchise history is refreshing—and long overdue. It helps the Knicks of a bright future resonate with the Knicks of a bright past. And as a fan, this just feels nice.
It’s a small thing; a small and symbolic act, rather than a statistical thing. Culture is a tired buzzword, but part of cultivating culture is engaging with tradition. Such engagement has been notable by its absence the last 20 years, but Fizdale is bringing it back with a vengeance. Our history is an asset. Fiz knows this. When he filled the head coaching vacancy in New York last May, he justified it with three words.
“It’s the Knicks.”
So far Fizdale has done a great job of re-acquainting everyone—officially—with the people who make the last word of that sentence an appropriately positive one.