Cracked Dunks On The NBA: Why Careers Die On The New York Knicks
Welcome to Cracked’s Silly History of the NBA. This week, we’ll be exploring the oddities and eccentricities surrounding some of the most talented and richest people to regularly wear tank tops to work. We promise to solve no GOAT debates or write anything of consequence beyond fun and goofy stories about putting a ball through a modified peach basket. Lace up a pair of Jordans, put on a '90s throwback Penny Hardaway pinstripe jersey, and start counting to 21. Check out parts one, two, and three here.
TL;dr: billionaire greed and incompetence, but read anyway. I want this to be a safe space for Knicks fans but also a safe space to make fun of the Knicks. We can’t move on unless we agree the worst bad guy in all of this is New York Knicks owner James Dolan. Agree?
The New York Knicks are one-part sports franchise and one-part infinite money machine. They are located in the NBA’s largest media market and are owned by a man so wealthy people have to pretend to like his white boy blues band.
They play in maybe the only NBA arena respected as a tourist destination, a place often called “the Mecca of Basketball.” They have a vocal, passionate, and knowledgeable fan base full of lovable/sports-hateable characters like Spike Lee, Michael Rapaport, and that guy from The Mindy Project. All of this is why the next sentence is extremely funny: the New York Knickerbockers have been universe-shatteringly bad for the entire 21st century.
Let’s go ahead and address my Chicago anti-Knicks bias by saying you cannot refute the fact that the Knicks have sucked. And believe me, it took a long time for me to get sick of schadenfreude. I root against the Knicks but damn, do I feel bad for not only Knicks fans but every single player and person who comes across James Dolan’s gluttonous gravitational suction path. Not only have the Knicks totally sucked, but they’ve also been mired in off-court scandals so numerous and detailed I’ll just link to some Wikipedias to get you started (actually addressing them would have us stuck in this intro all day). Anucha Browne Sanders. James Dolan. JD & the Straight Shot. Charles Oakley. This somehow-not-an-Onion-headline.
Besides off-court problems, the on-court product has been career-destroyingly bad for some players. Today, I’m making a starting 5 of star players who had their lives ruined by the MSG magic but not before shouting out some guys who spent their NBA golden years with Ben Stiller’s happy Gilmore nurse.
But First: A Brief List of Legends Who Had Horrible Twilight Years in New York
Steve Francis. Penny Hardaway. Tracy McGrady. Rasheed Wallace. Joakim Noah. Dikembe Mutombo. Glen Rice. Chauncey Billups. Mike Bibby. Baron Davis. All guys that you’re better off totally memory-holing that blue-and-orange Jersey from their Basketball Reference page. Salute to you, dudes. And 21 gun salute to the following:
Center: Eddy Curry
This spot easily could’ve gone to Jerome James, the benchwarmer who had one good playoff series (“good” here meaning 12 points and 6 rebounds, the basketball equivalent of crunching uncooked ramen noodles after closing down a 4 a.m. bar) and was rewarded with a 5-year, $30 million dollar contract to warm the bench in New York. Imagine you were at a restaurant, choking. Some hero performs the Heimlich and saves your life. You say, “thanks for saving my life, you’re my new primary care doctor!” Your hero replies, “that’s an insane leap of logic. I’m Doug from Scrubs. I’ve killed so many people as a resident that I became a pathologist. Don’t make me your primary care provider.” That’s Jerome James on the Knicks.
But no, the worst center to have his career fade into nothingness in New York was Eddy Curry. The Knicks traded for Curry in 2005 because he was a talented offensive player coming off a promising first few seasons. How could such a hotshot young star be as available as Eddy Curry? Because the team he was currently signed to, the Chicago Bulls, discovered Curry had a congenital heart condition and was uninsurable. The Bulls didn’t want to play Curry because they were afraid he’d die on the court. The Knicks parted with the draft picks that became Joakim Noah and LaMarcus Aldridge to get a guy with an irregular heartbeat. I’m sure it brings Knicks fans no pleasure to think about how Noah and Aldridge are the perfect offense/defense, high post/low post combo to succeed as big men in the NBA in the early 2010s. It brings me no pleasure as a Bulls fan to think about how the Bulls traded LaMarcus for Tyrus Thomas.
Curry had one and a half decent seasons in New York before injuries and assorted BS made Curry a lumbering, unplayable monster on the Knicks’ bench. In a column that takes place at a topless pool and is a stunningly gross re-read in 2022, Ringer CEO Bill Simmons describes being briefly convinced by Isiah Thomas saying he paired Eddy Curry with Zach Randolph to “get bigger” and “pound people down low.” Simmons thinks for a minute and says you don’t get bigger with “two headcase fat asses who can’t defend anyone or protect the rim and are prohibitively expensive.” Not the words I’d use, but an accurate description of Curry and Randolph at the time. Randolph would go on to find redemption in Memphis as the offensive wrecking ball of the Grit Grind Era Grizzlies, thank the basketball gods. Poor Curry got shipped to Minnesota.
Power Forward: Amare Stoudemire
Almost everything about the Knicks is tragic, but Amare Stoudemire’s story might be one of the biggest basketball bummers. Amare had spent his career catching alley-oops from Steve Nash in Phoenix, the NBA version of being a Roman emperor and having grapes dropped in your mouth by naked servants all day. Still, ease breeds hunger; competitors want to be challenged. Sometimes the bass player wants to shred a guitar solo, you know? So as Nash was getting ready for a brief LA stopover on his road to Canadian soccer pastures, Amare signed a $100 million deal and announced, “The Knicks Are Back.”
For a brief shining moment, they were. Amare’s Knicks began 2010-11 strong, with Amare looking ready to ascend from Robin to Nightwing. He got in touch with Judaism and took wine baths, but the problem was Amare’s knees were like many an NYC subway car at that point: flimsy and probably leaking fluid somewhere. And since Amare was having such a good and fun season, coach Mike D’Antoni kinda ended up running him into the ground.
By the time the Knicks had traded for a superstar in Carmelo Anthony—seemingly cementing a championship core—it was clear Amare’s legs would never be the same. You know how a black t-shirt fades to gray over time, and you don’t notice it because it’s your favorite shirt, then one day you see it next to a fresh black shirt and realize your favorite shirt needs to be Old Yellered? That’s Amare Stoudemire on the Knicks.
Small Forward: Carmelo Anthony
A fortunate late-career redemption arc in Portland means Carmelo Anthony’s career didn’t die in New York, so that’s lucky. But Anthony was nearly out of the league by the time he left the Knicks, playing some purgatorial lost years in Oklahoma and Houston as if there were anti-aging answers to be found in the Dust Bowl. If a team and their superstar are a “marriage,” Carmelo and the Knicks was like the end of Ethan Frome: everyone wishes they were dead, no one can help each other, and the main character has a permanent limp.
This is the second-most frustrating team/player pairing of the 21st century, behind only Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of America. Carmelo wanted to go to New York. He craved the bright lights and the pressure to bring glory to Madison Square Garden. His wife was a TV star and built for the Big Apple lifestyle people write show tunes about. Everyone in the NBA absolutely knew Carmelo would leave the Denver Nuggets to sign with the Knicks in the summer of 2011, it was a foregone conclusion. So why did James Dolan get rid of five starter-quality players in a massively complicated multi-team deal just to bring Anthony over in February of 2011?
The trade gutted the Knicks’ depth and happened to coincide with Stoudemire’s knees spectralizing. Thanks to piss poor management and his own stubborn refusal not to be on a banana boat in the offseason …
… one of the best scorers in league history spent his prime years on the NBA equivalent of the X-Men franchise when he should’ve been in the MCU. It was genuinely depressing to watch.
Shooting Guard: Allan Houston
It might be surprising to put a guy who is a Knicks special assistant manager on this list, but the way Houston’s career ended could have only happened on a team where James Dolan signs off on things. Houston was the second-best player of the Patrick Ewing era (search your feelings, John Starks fans, you know it to be true). He was a key part of the 1999 Finals team, packing a potent offensive punch with badass braid-haver and coach-choker Latrell Sprewell (the third-coolest Knick of all time behind Oak and Clyde Frazier). Because Allan Houston was so good, the Knicks gave him a big ol’ $100 million contract and more or less anointed him the face of the franchise post-Patrick Ewing.
Next face of the franchise? Nah, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, try contract albatross. Houston got hit with a string of injuries that turned his knees into decoration, and didn’t play a ton of that $100 million contract. Houston missed all of the other franchise savior Stephon Marbury’s first season and a bunch of his second. All those years riding the bench, wasted contract money eating into the Knicks’ salary cap space, not helping the team get anything resembling good.
Houston’s contract got so bad the league included an amnesty clause in the 2005 collective bargaining agreement. It was colloquially known as the Allan Houston Rule. The Knicks did not use the Allan Houston Amnesty on Allan Houston. When you get a rule named after you for how badly your contract affected your team, you make a list like this.
Funnily enough, Houston still works in the Knicks’ front office. Maybe Madison Square Garden is less like Mecca and more like purgatory, in that some people get trapped there for a miserable, Sisyphean existence marked by false hope and jeering BING BONG guys furious you missed the playoffs again.
Point Guard: Stephon Marbury
Stephon Marbury began his career as one of the shockingly few good players to play with Kevin Garnett in Minnesota until he wondered why he was spending seven years in Minnesota. The Coney Island native eventually found his way home to MSG, where he hoped to be the Next Great New York Point Guard. Paired with coach/executive/other legendary point guard Isiah Thomas, the Thomas/Starbury era was less “the beginning of a beautiful friendship” and more like taking the wrong turn at the fork in the road and finding yourself at a cabin filled with inbred, chainsaw-wielding maniacs. Starbury effectively wiped out any connection to the beloved '90s Knicks simply by being traded there, with Heisman-Winner-Not-Kobe-Fighter Charlie Ward leaving the team in the process.
The worst moment of the years where the Knicks were ruled by the toxic triumvirate of Dolan-Isiah-Starbury was the Anuncha Brown Sanders lawsuit. Brown Sanders successfully sued Thomas and the whole MSG corporation for sexual harassment after they fired her for reporting an incident. She won an $11 million settlement and raised the alarm that, hey, maybe these fells running the Knicks were less good fellas and more like Goodfellas, careless and stupid and greedy and sexist. Marbury eventually had a breakdown, live-streaming his life 24 hours a day before Twitch, Tik Tok, and even Facebook Live were even a thing. He ate Vaseline and probably could have really benefited from therapy.
He seems to have found peace in China, because literally halfway around the world is how far you have to go to wash the Jimmy Dolan stink off you.
Yes, all of this comes back to James Dolan. He is the lone constant in all of the Knicks’ horrible decisions over the years. The offenses are so numerous that this column is running around 2,000 words, and I’ve still left more out than I’ve put in. Every individual actor makes their own choices, of course, but culture starts at the top, and Dolan’s Knicks have always resembled him: a false sense of entitlement, undeserving of the attention they command, unpleasant to be around, and a vacuous energy suck that represents the bloat of a dying capitalist empire who thinks it will always be the best despite all evidence to support that not being the case. Basketball is beautiful; James Dolan is the anti-basketball. Knicks fans, if you made it this far, let me offer you a Chicago handshake to drown your sorrows.
Chris Corlew can shoot from three and handle some playmaking duties, but will absolutely not get back on defense. He is one half of b and the nothingness and co-hosts The Line Break Podcast. Send him DeMar DeRozan highlight videos on Twitter.
Top image: New York Knicks, Brocreative/Shutterstock