LONDON — The Knicks trudged to the bus Thursday after their latest invented method of losing, having crossed the Atlantic Ocean to drop a game on a buzzer-beating goaltending call. Earlier, however, they made an effort to thank London for its hospitality and put their best face forward.
Oddly, one of the most visible faces for the team on the trip, which served as an NBA public relations junket, was Latrell Sprewell. Long in exile from the franchise after very public rifts with ownership, Sprewell — whose career was sprinkled with controversial episodes — represented the Knicks at clinics with local children and sat courtside with Earl Monroe, John Starks and Charles Smith.
“Absolutely, it feels good,” Sprewell said after working with children from Newham who participate in Jr. NBA Basketball England Leagues. “New York is like a second home to me. To be able to come back and interact with the guys and be around old friends, old teammates, it’s definitely a great feeling. I’m grateful for it.”
His return to good graces came when the team needed a change of tone after the Charles Oakley incident. Sprewell and a handful of former players now serve as ambassadors after Oakley was dragged out of Madison Square Garden in February 2017.
Sprewell has remained a part of the organization since and likely will have a more prominent role.
“If they ask me, I’m definitely open to it, for sure,” he said. “Anything I can do to have these guys get better, I’m willing to do that for sure.”
“I had him up [here] one day and then we’re going to start; this is the new cycle of bringing guys in,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “We had Allan [Houston] working with the guys the other day on getting open and creating space for shots. It [also] was pretty cool, on the trip, [when] Pearl [Monroe] got to spend some time with Emmanuel [Mudiay], got to talk to Emmanuel. We’ve been dying to get Pearl with some of these guys. Then obviously Spree. Different guys like that, we’re going to have working with guys like [them], especially our big wings.”
Sprewell, who was part of the last Knicks squad to make the NBA Finals in 1999, said he has hope that the Knicks will build something even if it looks grim right now. They have lost five straight, 13 of 14 and 18 of 20 to drop to 10-34.
“It’s always tough when you’re not winning,” he said. “But the guys play hard, they come out and compete. They’re practicing hard. That’s what you have to do when things aren’t going well. You got to keep plugging at it, trying to get better every day.
“[Fizdale] is a player’s coach. Even watching him from afar when he was at Memphis, all the guys loved him. It seems the same way here. He has a great relationship with the guys. That’s very important when you’re losing and trying to develop the type of chemistry and getting guys on the same page. You got to get them to believe in you and what you’re trying to teach them. He definitely has that.”
Though Sprewell may help, it is on Fizdale to try to do what no one has done in the last 20 years: Change the franchise from dysfunctional to a legitimate contender. Since coach Jeff Van Gundy departed early in the 2001-02 season, the team has made the playoffs only four times and lost in the first round in three of those years.
“It’s just tough when you’re not winning,” Sprewell said. “Jeff did a great job with us. The coaches that have been here since then put in 100 percent to make the team the best they can. But sometimes it doesn’t work out. It’s been a run we obviously don’t want but it will turn at some point — hopefully, sooner than later.”