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Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Circus Was in New York Last Night

And the guy who had a cameo in the notorious "Stop Snitching" video was at the center of it.

Read all about it here.

This has received a lot of coverage, and it will be interesting to see how the NBA responds -- to Anthony, to Mardy Collins of the Knicks who "started it," to Knicks' Coach Isiah Thomas (it's been questioned whether he instigated Collins' act) to the players on the floor for both teams at the time, all of whom were ejected.

The Knicks were once a storied franchise that featured Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Dick Barnett, Willis Reed, Walt "Clyde" Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas, Cazzie Russell and Bill Bradley. Many Knick fans remember the teams from '70 and '73 as if it were only yesterday. Since then, they've had little to cheer about, save the Patrick Ewing years (and the one year they had a great shot at the title, 1997, it was a fight in the Eastern Finals that caused the suspensions of John Starks and Larry Johnson of the Knicks for Game 7 of that round, and the Miami Heat prevailed 4 games to 3).

So now the Knicks are in a free fall, lacking the talent, the ownership, the general management and the coaching to return to their glory days. Last night's episode was unfortunate, players lost their tempers, and a league that has been on a constant teeter-totter from negative to positive imagery found itself see-sawing back to its netherworld with this particular incident. The Nuggets played well and then their young star acted stupidly. Given the league's so-so public image and the commissioner's quest to have Stepford players and coaches, that young star will be given plenty of time to think about his sucker punch of the Knicks' Collins (who started the whole thing with his flagrant foul of Denver's J.R. Smith).

What happened to the days of Wilt and Russell, of Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson and Earl the Pearl? What happened to the days of Kareem and Magic, the days of Bird, McHale and Parish, of Moses Malone and Dr. J? Even the days of Clyde the Glide, Hakeem, Patrick, Charles and, of course, Michael Jordan? What happened to the fundamentals, the quality of the product, the character of the league?

It may be that David Stern has elevated the NBA's profile and has increased the revenues of the owners. But, long-term, has he improved the quality of the product and the prospects of the league? Has he attacked symptoms through suspensions and dress codes, as opposed to root causes, such as the lack of fundamentals and of "quality" basketball? How strong is the NBA, merchandise aside?

Of course, we cannot say that last night's episode marks the end of the NBA as we know it. That would be unfair, and it's been two years since the awful Indiana-Detroit brawl. So it's not as if everyday players are trying to start a combined rugby match/Ultimate Fighting Match right after every jump ball. And it's not as though the players don't want to win and don't try hard. Most want to win very much and play hard and hurt.

But something is missing. Something is wrong.

And, thus far, the bright, articulate and successful David Stern either hasn't been able to see it or he hasn't been able to fix it.

And if he cannot, who can?


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