One-part levity, one-part nostalgia-ridden despair, let’s go through some of the most absurd moments in Knicks franchise history.
I wanted to rank these. I really did. Lists are always better when they’re ranked. But it just can’t be done.
The New York Knicks have been through more absurd, make-you-reconsider-whether-Simulation-Theory-might-actually-have-some-merit moments than any other franchise in American sports history, which makes it nearly impossible to rank them in any logical order. That’s the Knicks—they don’t just defy logic, they seem to act in spite of it.
That’s why so many Knicks fans are nervous right now, with their promising young core and a shockingly level-headed (thus far) front office. Absurdity isn’t unusual for the Knicks; normalcy is. Ever since we said goodbye to the Patrick Ewing/Pat Riley era, the Knicks have been the NBA’s oddest franchise in the league, and it’s a fragile proposition to think anything will be different. But here we are, nearing the road back after a long and arduous night lost in the woods.
While we’re all furiously knocking on wood for the good vibes to continue in New York, let’s take a look back at the the Knicks at their most preposterous.
In no particular order, here are the Most Absurd Moments in Knicks History.
Bulls block Charles Smith four straight times (1993 Eastern Conference Finals)
Maybe the single most gut-wrenching moment in Knicks history.
With the series tied 2-2 and the Knicks down 95-94, they draw up a play for superstar Patrick Ewing. John Starks takes a few meandering dribbles towards the right block, where Ewing sets a screen for him. The Bulls are ready and hedge the pick, betting Starks won’t drive right (he doesn’t).
Starks dumps the ball off to Ewing, who is guarded closely by Antonio Blakeney. Ewing (as he should) takes it right at Blakeney, dropping his shoulder straight into the Bulls’ forward’s chest. Blakeney kind of pulls the rug out from under Ewing though, and Ewing loses his footing, plowing over Blakeney. Ewing 100 percent gets called for an offensive foul for this in today’s NBA, by the way. Before he plummets to the hardwood floor, Ewing shuffles the ball off to Charles Smith.
Smith catches it clean. Four feet from the basket, with a chance to take a commanding 3-2 lead over maybe the greatest NBA team ever with just one layup. Knicks fans know the rest. Smith gets blocked four consecutive times—once by Horace Grant, once by Michael Jordan, twice by Scottie Pippen—and the Bulls recover the ball. B.J. Armstrong lays it in on the other end, time expires, and the series is essentially over.
Much of the blame rests on Smith here, but underlying his gaffe is the incredible focus, timing, and will of Chicago’s defense. Nobody is scoring against that level of talent and determination. Ewing might be able to draw a foul, but that’s about all I think anyone can accomplish against those three swarming weak side defenders.
The Knicks do recover the next year, beating the Bulls in seven en route to the Finals, where they were defeated by Hakeem Olajuwon’s Rockets.
Okay, let’s get weird.
Stephon Marbury was supposed to be “The One”—the Knicks version of Neo from The Matrix. Marbury was the mythological “New York Point God” prototype. Born and raised in Coney Island, Brooklyn, he was dubbed “Starbury” from a young age due to his preternatural talent on the courts. And he played exactly how you’d expect a young man from Coney Island to play: relentless, flashy, and ferocious.
After a few forgettable years in Minnesota, “Starbury” justified his nickname after the Timberwolves traded him to New Jersey. He became an All-Star and an All-NBA player but was traded to the Phoenix Suns for Jason Kidd because, well, the Nets sucked. Despite having to adjust to a new team, Marbury continued to play at a high level, turning in an All-NBA season.
On January 5, 2004, Stephon Marbury was traded to the New York Knicks.
If you feel a little queasy right now, you’re not alone. This was supposed to be a match made in heaven. Marbury was a bona fide star and had wanted to come home and play for the ‘Bockers, whom he idolized, all his life. It was like Make-a-Wish, but instead of a sick child getting their wish, it was a top-tier NBA scorer.
Marbury’s star burned out long before it could even reach the supernova stage we all predicted for him. The summer prior to putting on a Knicks jersey for the first time, Marbury headlined the infamous 2004 USA Olympics team that became the first Olympic roster with NBA players on it to take home anything less than a gold medal. It was eerily indicative of the way Marbury’s Knicks tenure would go. He would become an icon for all the wrong reasons.
Upon landing in New York, Marbury predictably clashed with head coach Larry Brown, notorious for his discordance with brash, scoring point guards. Brown was canned, though, which leads us to one of the great all-time NBA “What If’s?”
What if the Knicks hire a coach other than Isiah Thomas in ’05?
Isiah Thomas is taken off of his role as Knicks GM/President of Basketball Operations to coach a Marbury-led team. This ends in catastrophe. Thomas and Marbury fight constantly, and not in the productive, healthy way star athlete/coach pairings generally do. Thomas plans on benching Marbury, who finds out through sources within the team, and responds by getting an allegedly unnecessary, season-ending ankle surgery to basically hold out from the team. New York turns on its hometown kid at this point, interpreting the ankle thing as Marbury quitting on the team, which is fair to a degree but downplays Thomas’s role in the disaster. To make things worse, Marbury’s signature shoe—remember the $15 Starburys? I freaking loved these shoes when I was a kid—tanked after a few months of good PR, and his father passed away amidst this Knicks spiral. I doubt even the most composed athletes could keep their head on straight if they experienced a season this bad. Marbury, it’s safe to say, was not the most composed athlete.
Then he does the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.
Eating Vaseline to cure a sore throat, while ugly-crying to ’90s Slow Jamz-style R&B. This happens in 2009, when it’s clear Marbury’s NBA career is over. He later admitted in 2015 that he was clinically depressed and had suicidal thoughts at the time. His wife Latasha remembers that during Marbury’s breakdown, he would “stay in bed all day eating Fruity Pebbles,” according to an interview she gave with Sports Illustrated.
Things got better for Marbury. He went to China, where he now calls home, and became the “Chinese Michael Jordan.” They even erected a statue for him in Beijing. “The last couple of years as opposed to the last 10 years is completely different,” Marbury told The Undefeated last year.
Still, questions abound regarding what could have been, had Marbury’s time in New York been a little bit different:
- What if Marbury gets a more lenient, player-friendly coach like Ty Lue? What if that coach caters more to both his basketball and mental-health needs to help him maximize his potential?
- What if the NBA had the burgeoning mental-health protocol back then that they have today? Would Marbury have received the help he needed?
- If both of those things happen, and the Knicks are constructed a little better on the court around Marbury, does he go down as an all-time Knicks great? He definitely does, right? This alternate-reality Marbury Knicks era probably doesn’t win a title, but they make at least one deep playoff push where he gives everything he has and New York loves him forever for it, right?
I repeat: one of the great NBA “What-If’s?”
I’m just going to leave this here.
This, too …
Andrea Bargnani tore a ligament in his elbow on this play and missed the rest of that season. In related news, the Knicks paid him more than $20 million over the two seasons he played there.
J.R. Smith unties shoelaces
The most creative dirty player of all time, don’t @ me.
Hands down, the most important moment in the (very sparse) history of Asian-American sports.
Still, maybe the strangest aspect of Lin’s iconic, out-of-nowhere ascent in 2012, is how little anyone really knows about him. In the time since the “Linsanity” phenomenon, Lin’s status as a pillar of Asian-American identity has kept its significance within the community, but his own personality has simultaneously gone the opposite way, from broad to very niche. Lin as a player represents all Asian-Americans, but Lin as a man really only resonates with highly devout Christian Asian-Americans.
He’s a simple man, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Browse Lin’s Twitter page, and you’ll see humble, gracious, brief Christian musings mixed in with general basketball fandom. That’s literally all we know about “Jeremy Lin the person.” He loves God and he loves basketball, in that order. Which makes Linsanity even more bizarre in hindsight.
It’d be one thing if Lin was a superstar persona hiding in plain sight due to bias against Asians in athletics. Deep down, I think that’s what a lot of Asian-Americans (myself included) wanted him to be, and a lot of us assumed that an electrifying persona would follow closely behind Lin’s electrifying play over those few weeks. But that’s not who he is. Jeremy Lin is as “regular” a “dude” as it gets.
So it’s more than a little weird to me, or at least unlikely, that one of the most regular dudes in today’s frenzied, clout-chasing NBA was the sole recipient of the fastest influx of basketball clout ever.
Spike Lee vs. Reggie Miller
Look, everyone roasts Spike Lee over this, and they’re not wrong to do so. He should probably have kept his mouth shut, but if you watch the tape, you’ll see that it wasn’t totally his fault that Reggie Miller had his best game ever.
It’s 30 percent Spike’s fault, and the rest falls on the Knicks’ absolutely horrendous team defense. They went into the fourth quarter up 70-58 (which Kevin Harlan hilariously describes as a “very high point total,” even though that looks like the second leg of a back-to-back in today’s NBA).
Before Spike even starts talking junk, the Knicks do some crazy dumb stuff on defense, which I will now list:
- John Starks opens the quarter by losing Reggie on a screen. Reggie cuts up to the three-point line, catches the rock cleanly, and cans a deep ball. Not sure why Starks isn’t just playing straight-up “deny” defense against one of the best shooters ever.
- Reggie gets open again on a set out-of-bounds baseline play. Starks gets screened again here, but I blame Herb Anderson, who doesn’t jump out for a contest and just watches Reggie (again, one of the best shooters of all time) hit another three.
- The entire Knicks team loses sight of Reggie to collapse the paint on…LaSalle Thompson. Reggie runs out to the left corner and bags another wide-open three (actually a long two, his foot was on the line).
AT THIS POINT, Spike and Reggie start jawing. By then it’s already too late for anything Spike says to matter! I agree he shouldn’t have kept goading, but an all-time great offensive player was already red hot! Cut Spike a little slack, please.
Eddy Curry is sued for ‘whipping it out’ by his former limo driver
In January 2009, when the entire Knicks team was crumbling around Stephon Marbury and Isiah Thomas, a story emerges that Eddy Curry’s former limo driver, Dave Kuchinsky, is filing sexual harassment claims and alleging that Curry owes Kuchinsky nearly $100,000 in payments.
The case is so ridiculous, I won’t even attempt to narrate it. Here are some of the most salacious details:
- Kuchinsky claims Curry owed him $68,000 in back wages as well as another $25,000 for charges Curry made on Kuchinsky’s credit card.
- Kuchinsky described two incidents in which he says Curry undressed his privates and made supposed sexual advancements:
- According to Kuchinsky, Curry repeatedly approached the driver with his unit out, telling him, “Look at me, Dave, look,” and “Come and touch it, Dave.”
- Kuchinsky also claimed Curry made him perform “humiliating tasks outside the scope of his enjoyment” such as “cleaning up and removing ejaculate-filled towels so that Curry’s wife would not see them.”
- When he declined such tasks, Kuchinsky alleges that Curry called him a “f***ing Jew,” “cracker,” “white devil,” and other slurs.
- Kuchinsky also said Curry would point a fully-loaded gun at Kuchinsky to stop him from whining about such treatment.
Curry obviously denied everything, and for good reason. A few more case details make it more than dubious Kuchinsky is telling the full truth:
- Kuchinsky only came out with these accusations after Curry had already fired him.
- A few weeks after Kuchinsky was let go by Curry, he called Curry’s lawyer Kelly Saindon, apparently very upset about his termination. He made no mention of these supposed sexual harassment or gun violence incidents to Saindon at the time, when it would have been fresh on his mind and of great leverage to him.
- Kuchinsky had been convicted of multiple felonies, including a three-year sentence for burglary in 1992.
During the case, Curry bemoaned the whole ordeal, telling the NY Times, “I guess it’s just a prime example of you got to watch who you have around you, because this is a guy who I really thought was my friend.”
James Dolan gives Charles Oakley the boot
Tell me if a sequence of events like this has ever happened to another American sports franchise:
- A legendary player, almost universally beloved by the franchise’s fans, gets physically dragged out of his seat, handcuffed at a home game, and detained by security officers and policemen. At the arena he once called home.
- In protest, he bellows out to shocked bystanders around him that this is the conniving work of the franchise’s petty, conniving owner!
- Said legend sues the owner and the team’s proprietary company.
- Why all the bad blood between the owner and this player? Apparently, the player said something to media 15 years ago that the owner took such offense to he won’t even acknowledge the player’s existence when in his presence.
- Again, legendary player.
- Also, the player literally doesn’t even know what he said and had been trying to make amends with the owner for years.
I really, really doubt that has happened to any other team ever. Only in New York.