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Donnie Walsh refutes report, says 'I'm not leaving'

Donnie Walsh with Amare Stoudemire, Jim Dolan and

Donnie Walsh with Amare Stoudemire, Jim Dolan and Mike D'Antoni. Credit: AP

 Donnie Walsh woke up this morning not only with the understanding that, after two years of work, his effort was not enough to land LeBron James. He also heard that there was a report he would next step down -- for reasons related to his health and failing on LeBron.

He met both with his usual sense of humor mixed with apathy.

"I'm sure there are guys around me that are predicting my death, right?" he said. "I'm not there yet."

Walsh, 69, looked exhausted on Thursday at the Amar'e Stoudemire press conference. Some might say he looked a bit defeated with the perception -- and reports -- suggesting that LeBron would not be choosing the Knicks. It was easy to predict his demise just by looking at him.

And when it was revealed that Isiah Thomas was involved in the LeBron James process, it looked as if Walsh was cast aside. When Walsh was getting frustrated with non-answers from LeBron's camp amid rumors (and reports) about James decision, Thomas offered to go to Cleveland to talk to members of James' inner-circle to see what he could find out. Walsh had some deals on the table -- such as David Lee's sign-and-trade that went down last night and sent Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike and Ronny Turiaf to the Knicks -- and didn't want to lose out because he was waiting on James.

Make no mistake, Isiah would have been lauded as the hero if he somehow got James to New York. It's obvious the franchise has been looking to find ways to rehabilitate his image in New York. This move, no matter how innocent, was alarming for Knicks fans.

Walsh has had to deal with health issues throughout his tenure as Knicks president. Shortly after he took the job in April 2008, he was diagnosed with throat cancer and had a piece of his tongue removed. Last season he started developing a hip problem that caused him pain when he got up and down out of chairs and he would often wait for reporters to disperse before he would rise from his seat, just so no one saw the amount of pain he was in.

In June it was discovered that he had bone spurs in his upper spine that were impinging on a nerve, which caused radiating pain and required immediate attention. He had surgery just before the NBA draft -- the spurs were removed and doctors performed a cervical fusion -- and the recovery process included time in a wheelchair.

"I'm only in the wheelchair for the meantime so I don't fall and undo the operation," Walsh said, "that's it."

Walsh tried to hide this on draft night, when he addressed the media sitting in a regular chair in a conference room, rather than the usual routine of him coming to the press room and standing in front of a backdrop. Walsh was already in place before members of the media entered the room and he transfered back to the wheelchair after the media left.

But word got out that Walsh was using a wheelchair and rival teams in the hunt for LeBron attempted to spread rumors that Walsh's appearance in the wheelchair tainted the Knicks' image in James' eyes. It is true, however, that James was surprised to see Walsh in a wheelchair, he showed immediate concern for the Knicks president, who quickly said, "It's just precautionary, I'll be out of it in a week." Spoken like a typical paternal figure who doesn't want his kids to worry about him.

At the end of the meeting, James business partner, Maverick Carter, exchanged good-byes with the Knicks contingent. When he reached Walsh, he said, "Just a week, Donnie?" Walsh replied, "Only a week, Mav."

As of today, eight days after that meeting, Walsh is still using the chair.

But he wasn't using it as an excuse. Walsh would love nothing more than to retire to his Indiana home with his wife and dogs and just relax. He has one year left on his contract and, with James no longer a possibility, still a great deal of work is left to be done in rebuilding the Knicks. Why not pass it on to a younger guy? There are plenty to choose from, such as Chris Mullin, who has been for some time now believed to be the heir apparent, or Allan Houston, who has shown great polish as a front man over the last few weeks, or even Kevin Pritchard, who rebuilt the Portland Trail Blazers and is suddenly a free agent. Even Rod Thorn is available.

But Walsh insists he's not done, nor does he want to be done.

"I'm not leaving now," he said. "The biggest thing about all of this is that I want to get the Knicks back up. That's it. That's why I'm here and that's what keeps me going."

If anything, Walsh is setting a standard for this franchise by showing the kind of toughness, determination and loyalty the Knicks need to find in players.

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