Over the previous six seasons, the New York Knicks had been unable to earn more than 32 wins in a year. Their highest winning percentage was 39%. They did not make the playoffs once. They were expected to win around 23 games this year.
Right now, with a month left in the season, New York’s beloved team has already eclipsed that 32-win marker. Coming off a nine-game win streak, the team is sitting well above a 50% winning percentage. They are fourth in the Eastern Conference, the best they have been since the 2013 season.
Julius Randle is a lock to win Most Improved Player. Some analysts might give him a Most Valuable Player (MVP) vote or two. Tom Thibodeau is in the running for Coach of the Year. Immanuel Quickley might get a Rookie of the Year vote. They are one of the best defensive teams in the league. How did all of this happen?
The quick and easy answer is Thibodeau, and that answer certainly isn’t wrong. However, there are other people who deserve credit too. Derrick Rose’s arrival has done wonders for the offense. The development of Randle, RJ Barrett and the young players on the roster has been crucial. But regardless of who gets all of the attention, one thing is clear: The Knicks are back, baby.
As obnoxious as us Knicks fans can be at times, many other basketball fans have been enjoying watching the Knicks return to success. LeBron James said it best: “The league is simply better off when the Knicks are winning.” Over a year ago, when the Knicks were still terrible, he said something similar: “Our beautiful league is always more beautiful when the Knicks matter and the Garden is jumping.” And he’s right; the Knicks being good is great for fans of all teams.
Firstly, let’s be honest; unless you are an especially combative Nets fan or just a jerk, no one enjoyed watching the Knicks turn into a dumpster fire for nearly a decade. Watching teams like the Knicks, the Kings, the Timberwolves and the Pistons repeatedly waste talent and miss the playoffs is just painful. While it can be equally painful to watch the Golden State Warriors plow through the playoffs four times in five years, at least it was fun to watch them play. Knicks games during that time were only watchable thanks to the smooth combo of Clyde Frazier and Mike Breen in the commentating booth.
Another thing that makes the Knicks’ success beneficial for other fanbases is Madison Square Garden (MSG), the mecca of basketball. Some of the greatest games in history have taken place in MSG. LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Kobe Bryant have all had 50+ point performances in the Garden over the past decade or so. Unfortunately, most of those games have been against a limp Knicks team unable to do anything to challenge them. When the Knicks are good, everyone gets to watch competitive games in the “World’s Most Famous Arena.” While it’s fun to watch LeBron score 50, imagine how much more fun it would be if the game were close, too.
Financially, this is obviously a huge win for the league. The Knicks fanbase is probably the second largest in the NBA behind only the Los Angeles Lakers — if they are even behind them. People tune into Knicks games when they are good. It can even be argued that the NBA gets more media attention when the Knicks are good. As of writing this, two out of the first 10 ESPN NBA headlines are Knicks-related. That’s 20%, and the Knicks didn’t even play last night. More money flows into the NBA when the Knicks are good, and a decent portion of that wealth certainly makes its way to the other 29 teams as well.
The NBA is better when there is as much competition as possible, and right now, the Knicks are contributing to that. If the playoffs started today, the Knicks would be a top-four team and thus have home-court advantage, a feat unimaginable only a year ago. Regardless of how the playoff race shakes out, the Knicks can realistically make it to the second round of the playoffs. That’s at least eight extra Knicks games, and you can bet every TV in New York will be tuned into those games.
Ideally, the Knicks could go even farther than that. Ideally, the Knicks can advance to the third round. Ideally, the Knicks can win it all. Ideally, Randle is the Finals MVP. Am I getting ahead of myself? After being a loyal fan for the past decade and a half, I think I deserve a little imaginative indulgence. After all, the Knicks are back, baby.