Monday, March 06, 2006

Fan For Hire

I'm a pretty big sports fan, as you might have gathered form some previous posts. I grew up when the "Big 4" professional sports consisted of Baseball, Football, Basketball and Hockey. Today, in terms of fan base, you'd have to bump hockey in favor of NASCAR, as the NHL seemingly has gone out of its way to alienate its fan base (canceling a season after recklessly expanding might be a factor). I've tried to see what all the fuss was about regarding stock car racing, and could now be considered a very casual fan. Very casual.

For baseketball, the choice for my favorite team was simple : the New York Knickerbockers. Not only were they a great team during my youth, they were local. Tons of media coverage, and interesting, talented players like Clyde Frazier, helped make rooting for them a joy. Like any good team, they endured their share of hard times, but I always stuck with them. When they hit the jackpot in 1985 by winning the Patrick Ewing lottery, I was pumped. The glory would return to the Garden!

Well, there were a few close calls, most notably the '94 Finals where the Knicks took a 3-2 lead to Houston and lost both games, and the title, but they never did win another championship. An underdog run to the Finals in '99 didn't hurt as much, as they were simply not as good as the Spurs, who took the crown in five games. Still, they were always competitive and in the playoff mix every year. One could make a rather convincing argument that being an elite team during the same time as the Jordan Bulls was an impossible hill to climb. For the Knicks, it certainly was.

Despite the recent years of poor play, I continued to stick by my team. It's what you're supposed to do, right? After Isiah Thomas was hired to be the General Manager in the aftermath of the awful Scott Layden regime, I was taken aback slightly. I had always despised Thomas, both as a player with Pistons, then as an executive who buried the CBA. Still, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, what with the bountiful resources the Garden would provide him. I figured it could be an interesting mix.

Well, two plus years in, it has become an absolute disaster. Thomas continues to make player moves which boggle the mind, taking on enormous salaries nobody else wants, which in turn destroys any flexibility the could have regarding the salary cap. Hiring Larry Brown at $10M per was also suspect. Brown, a noted carpetbagger who can't seem to stay in one place for more than 2-3 years, was never going to win with the roster he inherited. The soloution from GM Isiah? Throw more bad money after mediocrity, and ask the Genius Coach to somehow make it all work. The moves were puzzling to any observer, and the NBA beat writers struggled to figure out if perhaps there was some grand plan Thomas was cooking up, and that somehow all of the moves would make sense later. We're still waiting, Zeke.

The last straw, for me anyway, came a few weeks back when Thomas dumped a hefty expiring contract (Penny Hardaway) along with a decent young player (Trevor Ariza) for Steve Francis. Um, Isiah, you already have a selfish, overpaid point guard, correct? You are aware that during the game, only one ball is in play at a time, yes? Oh, did I mention that the Knicks currently have the ugly combination of the highest payroll, and the worst record in the laague? That is truly a remarkable accomplishment, but hey, at least we'd get the best odds to win the Draft Lottery, right? Um, no. Thomas decided, in all his wisdom, to send the pick to the Bulls in the Eddie Curry deal, and not have the pick lottery protected. Thus, when this season ends with New York likely grabbing one of the Top 3 choices in the '06 Draft, the Chicago Bulls will have the honor of selecting the player. Unbelievable.

After that, I took a step I had never undertaken in the course of my fandom: I was walking away from one of my teams. My plan was rather simple. I would contact as many teams as I could via their web sites on nba.com, sending an email to the fan relations/marketing division expressing my sudden availability as a fan. I though about eBay, but couldn't decide how to make it work, since money would have to change hands and I didn't think any team would be that desperate. (Although I imagine Isiah might toss me a contract, but he's out of the running here).

I ended up contacting 19 teams (thus far), with the message below:

I am a lifelong New York Knicks fan. Well, I was, but no longer can tolerate the inept management and general joke the once proud franchise has become. Therefore, I am putting my loyalty up for grabs. Every team inthe NBA NOT residing in Madison Square Garden will receive correspondence from me, and the franchise which provides the best response will gain a new fan forlife...as long as it doesn't hire Isiah Thomas at any point in time, in which case all bets are off.
Respectfully,
Me

This was risky, in that there are several franchises I absolutely can't stand (Lakers, Bulls, Celtics), but bound myself to my word: best response gets my rooting interest. Imagine my surprise when the first response I received, a few minutes after hitting send, was from the Boston Celtics. Gulp. Turned out to be an auto-reply. Phew.

So far, I've received 6 responses, some of them awesome. Minnesota offered gear, and tickets if I could schlep my butt to Minneapolis (in February/March?). Utah did as well.

I will set a deadline of March 15 for all responses, and will adhere to the terms of the deal. Admittedly, I'm awaiting a response from Mark Cuban, who I think would like nothing better than to stick it to the Knicks by publicly taking one of their fans. Nothing yet from Mark. I'll keep you all posted as this all plays out.

I think I should also be looking at the team structure as part of the equation. For example, how is the team currently managed? What is the cap situation? Roster balanced with good young guys and decent veterans, who could conceivably make a run in the post-season? That kind of stuff. Should be fun!
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