So it’s come down to this.
The Knicks ran a promo before Thursday night’s game offering a free scoop of ice cream at a Madison Square Garden concession stand for any fan who could produce an All-Star ballot showing a vote for Julius Randle.
As hard as it is to resist the three words "free ice cream," it doesn’t seem likely that the fans will be voting Randle back to the All-Star Game this season.
Randle’s woes at Madison Square Garden continued Thursday night as he scored four points and shot 1-for-9 in an ugly, boo-laden 102-91 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Randle did not leave the bench in the fourth quarter and the Knicks suffered their third straight loss.
Randle’s frustration bubbled over at the end of a particularly poor first half. After missing his first six shots of the game, he finally hit one with two-tenths of a second left in the half, putting back his own missed layup.
Randle, who was upset about a non-call on an earlier play, roared and stomped toward the officials after the bucket and was called for a technical foul. Evan Fournier saved Randle from getting a second technical and an ejection as he attempted to guide him away from the officials and toward the locker room. Randle angrily pushed Fournier’s arm away before leaving the court.
Randle did not speak with reporters after the game. Taj Gibson said he is not concerned about Randle getting frustrated.
"We understand when you are in an intense battle out there and you fight for everything and you’re going hard, you are going to lose your temper from time to time," Gibson said. " . . . I’m not worried about Julius."
Still, it was painful to watch, especially for those who remember what a feel-good story Randle was last season when he led the Knicks to their first playoff appearance in eight years.
The fans and the media couldn’t get enough of him and his photogenic family. Randle was voted the league’s Most Improved Player after helping to lead the Knicks to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. He fell so in love with New York that he agreed to a contract extension that will keep him a Knick for four years beyond this one.
No one could imagine then that Randle would struggle like this — both on the court and in his relationship with fans.
Randle has failed to live up to the expectations he set last year in the regular season, and the painful reality has settled in that he isn’t the big-time player the Knicks thought they were going to be able to build around.
First there was his disappearance in the playoff series against Atlanta. Then there are his frequent disappearances this season; he entered Thursday averaging five fewer points than the 24.1 he averaged last season. His three-point shooting percentage had dropped from 41.1 to 31.1.
Things really got nasty during a thrilling last-second win over the Celtics on Jan. 6. During the game, Randle made a thumbs-down gesture toward Knicks fans. Afterward, he used profane language to explain to reporters that the gesture was made to shut the fans up.
Randle has since apologized to fans on Instagram, and the league fined him $25,000 for use of profane language. Yet the dysfunction has continued.
Randle was booed off the floor after scoring only two points on Jan. 11 and was booed sporadically in the Knicks’ two losses at home after that.
The truth is that both Randle and the Knicks overachieved last season, and now both the player and the team are victims of the high hopes they helped build.
Randle plays with emotion. That more than anything may be what got him into trouble with the fans. It can’t be easy to be booed when you know that your 5-year-old son is watching from courtside.After all the love he got last season, one can see he might not understand how things could flip so quickly.
When you play well, fans in New York love you and celebrate you like no other. And when you don’t, they’re going to let you know. Just ask Patrick Ewing or Carmelo Anthony or even Bronx-born teammate Kemba Walker.
Yes, it takes thick skin to play here. But on the flip side, Knicks fans are a forgiving bunch. Who among us hasn’t ripped off a profanity or two when things aren’t going our way? The key is what happens next.
No, Randle is not the perennial All-Star fans dreamed he would be when he was having a magnificent regular season last year, but he’s a better player than he has shown in the first half of this season.
A string of 20-plus games and a couple of big wins could go a long way toward patching things up.
And a thumbs-up to the fans wouldn’t hurt.