Last Night Was a Turning Point for the New York Knicks

First true home playoff crowd since 2013. Covid restrictions finally lifted and at last a packed house. Not a mask in sight–at least in the crowd.

The atmosphere was surreal last night at Madison Square Garden. It was an absolute madhouse. It didn’t feel like a normal playoff game, it was even crazier than that because of the fact that stadiums have been largely empty for the past year. It was more like a WWE crowd than an NBA crowd. Madison Square Garden was truly an incredible scene for anyone that watched the game last night—I can’t even imagine what it would’ve been like to be there in person.

Not only were those fans euphoric because the Knicks are finally good again, it was also a “Covid is over!!!” party. Now while it looked like a full house, apparently it was 15,000 fans instead of the full 18,500 that can fit in the Garden. That’s okay; sold out arenas will be back soon enough.

I’ll be honest: there was a point last year during Covid where I feared that even after the country reopened, it would be years before sports arenas would start selling out again. I really did believe that for a while.

But now we see that’s not true, thankfully. As soon as these arenas are allowed to sell out, they will. People want to get back in the stands–badly. They are desperate to get out and live their lives like normal once again.

Players want fans back in the stands, too. If the past year has taught us anything about sports, it’s that the fans really and truly do matter so much. Sports just aren’t anywhere near as fun without raucous crowds. While the bubble was memorable and had some great moments, and while the 2020 NFL season was still great to watch, sports in 2020 and the early portion of 2021 have just been missing that crowd energy.

I’m not even a Knicks fan and this moment gave me chills:

Last night, at long last, we got the energy back. The vibrance that we took for granted for so long is finally returning to American sports arenas. It feels like the world is alive again.

It also felt like a real turning point for the New York Knicks as a basketball organization. Outside of a few brief years where they were decent with Melo in 2012 and 2013, the Knicks have been a dormant basketball team for most of the past 20 years. The premier team in America’s biggest city has been a laughingstock, and it has been bad for the game of basketball, really. The NBA is just better when the Knicks are good.

And it’s even better that the Knicks are a gritty, hard-nosed team, matching the personality of their gritty, grindy, hardass of a coach, Tom Thibodeau. Culturally, they’re a perfect fit for their loud, hairy, vulgar fans.

Watching the Knicks come back and win in front of that crowd last night, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that the New York Knicks are back.

We all know they can’t win a championship this year. Hell, they might not even win this series against Atlanta.

But that’s not the point here. It feels like a turning point for the Knicks. For the first time in a very long time, it feels like they actually have a bright future; like they can be good not just now, but going forward, too. Julius Randle is only 26, they’ve got the young and promising RJ Barrett who they drafted #3 overall in 2019. They have rookie Immanuel Quickly, rookie Obi Toppin. And it looks like the 32-year-old Derrick Rose has completely reinvented himself and found a new basketball mojo. Nerlens Noel looks like he’s finally found the right fit in the NBA.

Again, the Knicks aren’t ready to win a championship. They cannot do it with this group of players. They definitely need a true superstar in order to have any hope at contending for a title.

But now it feels like they could actually land one in free agency. It feels like the Knicks are a franchise that star free agents would actually want to play for.

Other than Melo, no star players have shown any real interest in playing for the Knicks over the past 10+ years. In a star-driven league, the Knicks have been continually spurned by high-profile stars looking for new teams. They were just so dysfunctional for so long–star free agents don’t want to deal with that. They wanted no part of it.

Remember in 2010 when people thought LeBron could go to the Knicks? Nope. And in 2018, when he went to the Lakers, LeBron again said no to the Knicks.

Remember 2019, when Knicks fans thought they could get KD and Kyrie–plus Zion Williamson in the draft if they secured the #1 overall pick?

It’s been one free agency disappointment after another for Knicks fans.

But now? I could see big-time players wanting to go play for the Knicks. If the Mavs manage to finish off the Clippers, watch the rumors of Kawhi or Paul George to the Knicks spread like wildfire. Paul George could get traded if the Clippers decide to blow it all up, and Kawhi has the player option to leave the Clippers after this season.

There’s always been the allure of the Big Apple and the most famous arena in the NBA, and on top of that free agents have the opportunity to go down in history as the guy who brought the Knicks back to prominence. Nobody has been up to the task as of yet, but that could change soon.

The 2021 free agent class isn’t great, especially considering the top two guys–Kawhi and CP3–have player options and could opt to remain with their respective franchises:

But the 2022 free agent class is stacked:

It’s hard to see any of the Brooklyn Big Three jumping ship to the Knicks.

But beyond them, you have Bradley Beal, Steph Curry, Kawhi, Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook–if the Knicks can get any of those guys, they’d be formidable.

Of course they also have to re-sign Julius Randle, but I think that’s likely to happen. I can’t see Randle wanting to leave–or the Knicks not wanting him back. He’s been instrumental in reviving the franchise.

The main thing is, now that the Knicks are showing signs of life, they become an incredibly attractive option for star free agents. Who wouldn’t want to go down in NBA history as the guy who brought the Knicks back? Who wouldn’t want to play in front of that crowd?

Last night it felt like the Knicks franchise roared back to life after a 20+ year coma.

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