Knicks fans cheer during the second half in Game 6...

Knicks fans cheer during the second half in Game 6 of an NBA first-round playoff series against the 76ers on Thursday in Philadelphia. Credit: AP/Matt Slocum

The Knicks finally have done it. They’ve made it fun to be a Knicks fan again.

They didn’t do it with T-shirt cannons, Kiss-Cam videos or meet-and-greet ticket packages featuring players from 25 years ago.

They did it the old-fashioned way: by putting together a team that not only is good but is entertaining to watch and incredibly likable. In fact, the Knicks are so likable that they are luring back fans who swore to never fully give their heart to the team again.

When the Knicks host the Indiana Pacers on Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, it will mark the second straight year that they have made it to the second round of the playoffs.

How big a deal is this? Consider that the Knicks have not gotten this far in two consecutive seasons since the 1999 and 2000 playoffs. In the 24 years since 2000, the franchise has had nine general managers, 15 coaches (including interims), seven winning seasons and a boatload of dysfunction.

Brian Koppelman, the writer/director/producer best known for the movie “Rounders” and the TV show “Billions,” grew up in Westbury and Roslyn Harbor and first fell in love with the Knicks when his father took him to see a playoff game in 1970. He bought season tickets when he moved to the city in 1988 but found it increasingly hard to support his team after the turn of the century. When the Knicks didn’t re-sign Jeremy Lin, he decided he had had enough.

“I tried quitting the Knicks for about a year after they let Jeremy leave, but the connection is too deep, even after all the botched and disgraced years and moves,” Koppelman said. “This team, built by Leon and Wes, coached by Thibs and exemplified by the brilliance and heart of Jalen and the Villanova squad, makes me remember all the good reasons I have always loved and needed this team.”

Leon and Wes are Knicks president Leon Rose and executive vice president William Wesley. Thibs is coach Tom Thibodeau. Jalen and the Villanova squad, of course, are point guard Jalen Brunson and his former college teammates, Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart.

Initially, the building of this team looked like something that was destined to fail in that ever-so-painful Knicks way.

First came the hiring of Rose, a high-powered agent who had never run a team. Rose signed Brunson, who happens to be his godchild, to a four-year, $104 million free-agent contract that at the time looked like a massive overpay but now is the deal of the century. He later traded for Hart and signed DiVincenzo as a free agent.

It’s exceedingly rare for three college teammates to win an NCAA championship together and then reunite on an NBA team. It’s even rarer for all three to become starters, clinch a No. 2 seed and then close out a series the way they did in Game 6 in the first round against Philadelphia.

Playing without All-Star teammate Julius Randle, who suffered a dislocated shoulder on Jan. 27 and eventually had season-ending surgery, the Knicks not only beat a team that on paper had superior talent but closed out the series in a way that delighted old fans and may have made some new ones. Brunson scored at least 40 points for the third straight game, Hart drilled the tiebreaking three-pointer with 25.6 seconds remaining and DiVincenzo hit two free throws with 11.1 seconds left as the Knicks won Game 6 in Philadelphia, 118-115.

Brunson is the ultimate underdog/fan magnet. He’s short for his profession, can barely dunk, wasn’t drafted until the second round and didn’t start as a rookie. Yet in two years, he’s proved himself to be the team’s best floor leader since Walt Frazier.

No one could have predicted that in his second year with the Knicks, he would be the league’s fourth-leading scorer. And no one could have predicted that he would have the kind of series he had against Philadelphia. He became the second player to register at least 35 points and 10 assists three times in a series, joining Oscar Robertson (1962), and averaged 41.8 points and 10.3 assists in the last four games.

The way Brunson is leading the team not only has delighted current Knicks fans but has made some strange new ones. Even a player from another team in the Eastern Conference playoffs seemed to be elbowing his way onto the Knicks’ bandwagon. The Cavaliers’ Emoni Bates retweeted a post on X that pictured Brunson, Hart and DiVincenzo from both their days in Villanova and Thursday’s game with the caption “how could you not like this team.”

how could you not like this team

— Hoops (@HoopMixOnly) May 3, 2024

It’s tough not to.

Just ask Chris Delgado, a Knicks fan who grew up in Deer Park and Manhattan and now lives in Los Angeles. With all the dysfunction of the last decade, Delgado admits he was so frustrated with the team’s management that he basically “went into hibernation” for a while. Now he’s so far back into the team that he is launching a podcast called “Geriatknicks” that is aimed at people who started their fandom in the Rick Pitino/Pat Riley era.

“For me, what changed is Jalen. He’s what cleaned everything up there,” Delgado said. “ . . . It’s just so weird as a Knicks fan. There’s all this positive stuff happening.”

Yes, for the first time in decades, there is.


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