Jesse Itzler would be rooting for the Knicks in the playoffs if they were playing any of 28 NBA teams.
"Of course," he said on Monday. "It’s in my DNA. I’d be disowned from my family and community [if I didn’t]."
He grew up in Roslyn, for one thing. For another, he wrote the "Go New York, Go New York, Go" Knicks anthem originally made famous during their mid-1990s playoff runs.
But there is a bit of a complication involving that 29th opponent, the Atlanta Hawks, whom the Knicks drew as their opening-round opponent.
Itzler lives in Atlanta now, with his wife, Sara Blakely, and four children. Oh, and he is a part owner of the Hawks.
"I’m a Knicks fan against every other opponent," he said in an interview with Newsday, "but obviously this has a different meaning for me now."
Itzler has had an eventful life path, with business ventures that include private jet and coconut water companies that were sold to bigger outfits, authoring two books, public speaking, life coaching and endurance hiking. He also is an endurance athlete himself.
There is much more to all the stories above. Itzler is an interesting, indefatigable, industrious character.
(So is Blakely. She is the founder of the apparel company Spanx. Last October, Forbes ranked her 32nd on its list of wealthiest self-made American women.)
But it all started for Itzler with that simple song, and the video that accompanied it, which energized Garden crowds of a prior generation of fans and continues to resonate – as a tune and as a milestone for Itzler, now 52.
"This song singlehandedly changed the course of my life," he said.
First, let’s take a step even further back. Itzler’s name first appeared in Newsday in a 1984 story about a break-dancing contest for which he coached one of the winners. He was 15.
By 1985 and ’86, he was turning up in high school sports stories recapping Roslyn lacrosse results.
"The big thing was to score so you could get your name in Newsday," he said.
Come the early 1990s, he was a rapper who went by "Jesse Jaymes" with a basketball-themed title for his album "Thirty Footer in Your Face."
"I was nobody and had nothing." he said. "I was literally sleeping in a crawl space of a loft and bouncing couch to couch, friend to friend."
He was paying $320 a month in rent on East 60th Street in Manhattan, near the 59th Street Bridge, and scratching out a living writing commercial jingles.
One of his clients was Nancy Grunfeld, who owned a clothing company and whose husband, Ernie, was a Knicks executive. Itzler suggested he write something for the Knicks.
It was a time when NBA teams were adding new elements to their presentations, from dancers to DJs to videos.
"Teams started to realize that, wow, the game is 48 minutes, but we have to entertain people for three hours," Itzler said. "So there was a big shift to all of this kind of entertainment.
"My idea was, can we create a song and a video that would keep the energy going during timeouts? There’s a big lull. All the energy goes high, then there’s a timeout and it goes low. So can we create something that would be participatory, and call and response?
"That’s how, ‘Say, Go New York Go’ came about. I presented it to the Knicks and said, ‘We’ve got to try it.’ They agreed to it. And it caught on immediately – immediately."
It began in 1993. Itzler attended the first game during which the video – starring players, celebrities and fans – was scheduled to be shown, unsure whether people would love it, hate it or ignore it.
"The first game, of 20,000 people at the Garden, maybe 4,000 could follow the chorus," he said. "Then the next game 6,000, and the next game the whole arena, and then radio started playing it and then Budweiser’s licensing it, the Wiz is using it, we’re giving away cassettes, the lyrics are being published in Newsday.
"Now it’s like a rallying thing for New York City, and I’m like, ‘What is going on?’ By the way, everyone thinks I’m a billionaire from that. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, no. What are you talking about?’ The Knicks have it. It’s the Knicks’ thing.
"I didn’t know anything about business then. You write a song and you sell it. You try to sell it for more than you write it for."
Itzler sold it for $4,000. But its success led to work for other NBA teams, and the NBA itself, for which he wrote the 1995 "I Love This Game" song.
"The Knicks gave me an opportunity," Itzler said. "I wrote the song on spec and played it for the Knicks and that became a calling card . . . It gave me a story. I could call people and it gave me credibility and validity. It allowed people to start to take my phone calls."
The song has been updated over the decades to reflect new players and changing times, but Itzler still enjoys hearing it.
He said it "killed" him not to be at Game 1 on Sunday night, a 107-105 Hawks victory at the Garden in which Trae Young starred – and established himself as the successor to Reggie Miller as the Garden’s prime playoff villain.
"I think he might enjoy that," Itzler said of fans targeting Young, who hit the game-winner with 0.9 seconds left.
Itzler has an event in Costa Rica during Game 2 on Wednesday, but he plans to attend Games 3 and 4 in Atlanta and (if necessary) Games 5 and 7 in New York.
"I wrote that Knicks song 30 years ago," he said. "Not a lot of songs in sports have lasted that test of time. So it’s become such a big part of the Knicks and New York. Who would have thought this would happen? It’s an amazing thing."
Itzler said he would love to see a long series, "as long as the outcome is the way that it’s designed to be," meaning a Hawks victory.
"It was just good to see the Garden back [in Game 1]," he said. "It had a ‘90s feel to it. I loved it."