Knicks 'zzone

Newsday's Al Iannazzone takes you inside the Knicks.

Stars seem hesitant to take on Boo York City

 Maybe Ron Artest was onto something when in November he told a few of us Knicks writers that star players are "scared" to play in New York because of the unrelenting media crush and demanding fan base. The challenge here certainly appears overwhelming and so with the chance that it could fail, the inclination is to take the safe route, which, if you listen to the prevailing rumors, appears to be what the top players in this free agency class will do.

Let's face it, there is a great risk to come to New York and dare to try to win in the face of so much intense scrutiny. That's something Knicks fans need to understand. And that is just as much a part of the thought process as the basketball side of it, which suggests the Knicks don't have enough pieces to challenge for a championship.

Maybe this class of free agents just don't have the kind of personality it takes to want this challenge. Quite frankly, there are far more divas than gladiators on that list.

If you listen to people who say they have an ear to the wall of LeBron's inner-circle, they'll tell you James favors the Bulls because that team provides a quicker chance to get a 'chip with Derrick Rose already on the roster.

And if you listen to people close to Bosh, they'll tell you he's all but decided Miami is the place for him because his buddy Dwyane Wade is there and the trendy, exclusive South Beach location is far more amenable to the type of lifestyle he prefers.

In fact, check out his comments to Fixer pals Brandon Tierney and Jody MacDonald on ESPN Radio last week, when Bosh gave reasons why he wouldn't be comfortable in New York:

"It's a lot of people," Bosh said. "I'm from the South, I'm a country guy, if you will. So that would be something that I'd have to adjust to. And being tall and standing out with all the attention that brings, that can be -- a lot of people can be frustrating at times."

At 26 years old, is CB still not comfortable with being 6-10? Someone should have pointed out last week, when he was clubbing in lower Manhattan, that there are plenty of skyscrapers in this town to keep him from feeling like he towers over everyone and everything.

It's a very naive perspective, really. Does he really believe that he wouldn't be able to go anywhere without being annoyed by people in this city that is loaded with celebrities and millionaires? 

But perhaps that is something that should concern the Knicks. Is Bosh saying he wants to be able to hit the night scene and not be noticed? Yes, good luck with that in South Beach. Oh, wait, that's right, the Miami media admittedly looks the other way.

I don't believe this kind of thing concerns LeBron, but I do believe his image-conscious inner-circle doesn't like the idea of the potential for paparazzi-like coverage and intense scrutiny from game-to-game. LeBron has it cozy in Cleveland, there's no question about it. With the Knicks, I'll be the first to admit that on this beat, God forbid the Knicks lost their first game of the season because some people would be gleefully sharpening their pencils just to stick it into his back.

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"They're scared because you know how crazy it is in New York in the media," Artest said that day in November. "When you have a bad game, once that pressure gets to you..."

It's easy to point to the Yankees, clearly the most heavily covered sports team not just in New York, but in the country, and say that Derek Jeter has somehow survived 15 years (and dated several supermodels and celebrities) without a scratch. And that A-Rod routinely takes a pounding but doesn't bat an eye. But baseball is a much different animal because there is no salary cap, so the richest teams can pay the most and the top players come here for the money and the opportunity to win championships because they know the Yankees will always spend big to build a winner.

If the MLB rules were the same in the NBA, there'd be no competing with the Knicks. But because the NBA's CBA has heavy restrictions on max contracts, that levels the playing field. And while the Knicks have the cachet of New York and the Garden, they also have the concern about heavy media coverage. [Bloghost note: LeBron's people have to know that there is a way to survive the tabloid cesspool, which once even tried to swallow up the affable Mike Piazza. Do it the Tiger Woods way.]

But, really, what the Knicks need is their own Mark Messier. They need a willing hero. Someone who will pull on the jersey and point to the "New York" across his chest like John Starks used to and roar. They need one to emerge as a homegrown talent, like Patrick Ewing, who took so much abuse from the fan base but yet considered the franchise as his own. They need to find the kind of players who aren't afraid of the challenge but instead want the challenge. Like Messier, you've got to want to take a bite out of The Apple, because there would be nothing sweeter, no greater spectacle, than winning here.

Win four in Chicago and you're still not Michael. Win one in New York and you're instantly on the beloved Mt. Rushmore, with Broadway Joe, Tom Terrific and the Messiah. Those guys still don't ever need to make reservations for dinner in this city.

But, Fixers, as this free agency process gets underway, we have to understand that this kind of thing can't be manufactured. You have to be a certain type of person to want this. For instance, it came together for the Celtics pretty quickly, when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce. The Celtics were a dead-in-the-water franchise before the moves of 2007, but adding those two pieces brought back the Celtic Pride. It helped that KG was an emotional leader type who embraced the Green and thrived on the energy of a championship-starved city.

Unfortunately, this class of free agents doesn't seem to contain that type of personality. 

Tags: NBA , Knicks , LeBron James , Chris Bosh , Ron Artest , Dwyane Wade , Patrick Ewing , Derek Jeter , A-Rod , Kevin Garnett , Ray Allen , Paul Pierce , Mark Messier

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