The Knicks had Madison Square Garden Chairman James Dolan in his usual seat on the baseline Friday. And the presence in the seat next to him of Steve Stoute, brought on to assist with the rebranding of the struggling franchise, as well as Leon Rose being in place a few rows back at center court, could not silence the growing dissatisfaction from the home crowd.
So on that night the Knicks opted to have the game operations crew try to drown out with volume the chants of, “Sell the team,” which have become a regular occurrence as another season winds down with the usual pieces in place. David Fizdale and Steve Mills have been removed, adding to the long line of discarded coaches and executives. The losses are heading toward at least 50 again. The team is 19-44 record after the one-sided loss to the Thunder Friday.
It was a comical response — the speakers blasting out loud music and every timeout filled with whatever noise-making exercise the game ops folks had at their fingertips. The Knicks have long boasted that their fans are the smartest in the world and they are, both smart enough to know what they are seeing on the court and smart enough to know what the team is trying to do to silence them.
There are eight home games remaining beginning with Sunday night against Detroit and Dolan should not be surprised to hear those chants rising from the crowd every game. It’s become as much a thing at the Garden of late as the mega T-shirt cannons. Fans have been escorted out by security at times, held and questioned and even told to stay away from the arena.
So how does it stop? When does it stop?
The Knicks named Rose as team president Monday and the team responded with one of the best performances of the season, beating the Houston Rockets that night. But that game was accompanied by the video of Spike Lee screaming with security, then followed the next day by Lee on ESPN’s First Take, calling out the owner. Wednesday it was Charles Oakley taking his turn to voice his grievances.
The Knicks put out a heavy-handed response to Lee’s complaints Tuesday, calling his claims, “Laughable.” And it’s hard to listen to Lee and not wonder just what he was trying to achieve with his strange war against the team he loves, arguing for the use of an employee entrance — one that the media uses, too, and it is not exactly a tree-lined street to the palace gates. But it’s harder to understand why the Knicks would not let it go. The petty squabbles are not just seen by fans watching television, but also by players. It’s why Chris Paul, the president of the players association who Thursday had been the subject of rumors that Rose might try to bring him to New York, adorned his sneakers Friday night with the message, “Do the right thing.”
“My man, Spike,” Paul said. “I’ve known Spike for a while, man. Shoot, I had talked to Spike a couple of days ago, actually looking forward to him being here at the game to watch me play, because I hadn’t played here in two years. Yeah, I haven’t played here. Fifteen years I’ve been in the league I might have played here like eight times or something. I usually always miss this game, so I’m excited to see Spike and I didn’t see him.”
Paul has worked with Stoute before, combining for the popular State Farm Insurance commercials. But he had no answers of how Stoute can fix the image of the Knicks. And while he expressed great admiration for Rose, who was his agent and a friend, he wouldn’t guess how Rose can get things done here in his new role.
“I don’t know. I’m a player,” Paul said. “Obviously, I know sort of how the league goes. I don’t know anything about the team or anything like that. All I can do is root for him from afar and control what I can control — my team.”
While Paul arrived at Madison Square Garden accompanied by rumors that Rose, his longtime agent and friend, could push for a trade to bring him to New York, it was the first rumbling of Rose doing something to change the tone for the Knicks. His arrival as team president was an interesting bit of relief to fans frustrated by the 20-years of bad basketball that have taken over the Garden. However, he has remained silent — sending out a letter to season ticket holders that seemed tinged with the same PR wording that letters from Mills had delivered. He has yet to speak publicly, not stepping forward with any reassurances for fans that it won’t be the same old thing.
And with that silence, the fans have answered. There have been recurring cries from the crowd and fans willing to take the repercussions — being escorted out. After all, when the home team is down 30 it’s usually time to head for the exits anyway.