Feinstein: I Don't Feel Bad For Knicks Missing Out On Zion

The Knicks didn't land Zion Williamson in the NBA Draft Lottery. John Feinstein, a native New Yorker, finds this hilarious

John Feinstein
May 15, 2019 - 11:27 am
Zion Williamson Duke NCAA Tournament NBA Draft Lottery

USA Today Images


The PGA Championship is being held this week at Bethpage Black, a truly wonderful golf course smack in the middle of Long Island.
Which means the entire week is a trip down memory lane for me—a number of memory lanes—starting with the traffic-jammed lanes of the Long Island Expressway each morning.
Boy does THAT bring back memories.
More pleasantly, though, I revert to my boyhood whenever I’m here, whether in Manhattan, where I actually grew up, or out east anywhere close to Shelter Island, where I spent my summers as a kid.
It’s funny, because I’ve lived my entire adult life in the Washington D.C. area but I’m still a New Yorker at heart. I can go confrontational in a heartbeat—although I try very hard to take deep breaths and remind myself of what my mother—a New Yorker almost her entire life—used to say: “Is it really worth it?”
I’m still a fan—when I’m not working—of the Mets, Jets and Islanders. Also Columbia. I’ve written often about the fact that when you do what I do for a living, you tend to view sports in a different way. I don’t really “root for laundry,” as Jerry Seinfeld once said; I root for (or against) people based on my experiences with them.
Which is why, you may have noticed, the Knicks don’t appear on my list of teams. Don’t get me wrong, I was a FANATIC Knicks fan as a kid. Somewhere, in a box I’ll probably never find, I know I have the autographs of everyone who played for the Knicks from the late 1960s until 1974—when I left New York for college.
I mean everyone, from Willis Reed, Walter Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, Dick Barnett and Earl Monroe to Nate (the Skate—even though Marv Albert called him the Snake) Bowman, John Warren, Bill Hosket and Donnie May. I have a May autograph from his Dayton days and his Knicks days.
I don’t think I missed a Knicks playoff game in Madison Square Garden between 1969 and 1973. Those were the glory years, and they coincided with me being old enough to ride the subway to the Garden and pay $3 for a student ticket to sit in the blue seats.
I was in section 406 on May 8, 1970—for the famous “Willis Reed” game when he limped onto the court for Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Lakers, hit the first two shots of the game and never scored again. Walt Frazier had 36 points and 19 assists that night. My buddies and I always carried at least one transistor radio with us into the building so we could listen to Marv.
The sound was scratchy, but I remember getting chills as DeBusschere held the ball over his head while time ran out and Marv screamed, “It is bedlam in the Garden!” The final was 113-99. No, I didn’t have to look it up.
I began to go south with the Knicks when Pat Riley became the coach. Don’t get me wrong, Riley was a great coach. But I couldn’t stand the clutch-and-grab style his teams played. Plus, I had gone to dinner with Riley one night in 1984 when he was riding high with the Lakers. He was friends with Dick Stockton—who was doing the NBA on CBS back then. Stockton’s (then) wife, Lesley Visser invited me to join she and Stockton and Riley and the great Bud Collins at dinner. This was during the U.S. Open tennis tournament.
I’ve told the story often, but it bears repeating because it says so much about Riley. The subject of that year’s Olympics came up and I made the comment that the Portland Trail Blazers would go down in history as the team that once took LaRue Martin with the first pick AND as the team that drafted Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan.
Riley looked at me like I was too stupid to live. “You see,” he explained as if talking to a two-year-old about why he shouldn’t put things in is mouth, “this is the problem with the media. You don’t understand basketball. Dean (Smith) always lists his players taller than they are. Jordan’s listed at 6-6, but he’s really only 6-4 and ½.”
“I don’t care if Jordan is FIVE four and ½,” I answered. “He’s absolutely great and he’s going to dominate your league.”      
Now thoroughly disgusted, no doubt not only with my lack of basketball knowledge, but with the fact that I would TALK BACK TO HIM, Riley said, “You know something, you’re young and you’re loud.”
THAT I didn’t argue with. Nowadays, I’m just loud.
I tell that story not to prove that I knew something about basketball back then—a year later I said that Mark Price was an overrated little white boy who’d never be an NBA starter; he was only an All-Star five times—but to illustrate who Riley was. And, for the record, I have no doubt he knows a LOT more basketball than I do. But his arrogance was, to put it mildly, off-putting.
This is the same guy who FAXED his resignation to the Knicks when he fled New York for big money in Miami.
Years later, just when I thought it might be safe to root for the Knicks again, Jim Dolan took over the team. I don’t know Jim Dolan—thank goodness—but everything I’ve ever heard about him reminds me of Dan Snyder, the owner of Washington’s NFL football team, who I do have the misfortune to know.
And so, as the Knicks have stumbled and bumbled their way to being horrible in recent years, I’ve watched with amusement more than anything.
I do feel bad for boyhood friends—and my brother—who still care about the team, but I just can’t bring myself to care that much.
Which is why, I found myself laughing this morning as I sat bumper-to-bumper on the LIE listening to WFAN as one long-suffering Knicks fan after another called in to bemoan Tuesday’s NBA lottery—specifically, the Knicks NOT getting the first pick, which would have meant Zion Williamson coming to the Knicks.
Even Pat Riley would have made that pick.
Now, the Knicks, with the third pick, will get either Ja Morant or R.J. Barrett, both good players, but not franchise-changers.
Of course on Fantasy Island, where most sports fans live, Kevin Durant is coming to the Knicks. Or Anthony Davis, either in a trade (for whom now?) or next year in free agency. I remember a few years ago in Washington, when Wizards fans kept giving Durant standing ovations, thinking that would somehow entice him to come to Washington.
How’d that work out?
Williamson has the potential to be a great player, but if you watched the god-awful ESPN lottery show—always just about the worst 30 minutes of television every year—you would have thought that he had already surpassed Jordan (who did turn out to be better than Bowie) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, and Oscar Robertson COMBINED.
Which explains a lot about the nationwide groans everywhere but in New Orleans, but especially in New York, where I think a lot of people felt the Knicks were destined to get Williamson, the way they were destined to get Patrick Ewing in 1985. The Knicks even sent Ewing—who last I looked is the coach at Georgetown—as their “representative,” almost as if they knew something.
They didn’t.
Maybe Durant will end up with the Knicks and he and Morant or Barrett can be the building blocks in a new beginning for the Knicks. After all, it’s only been 46 years since they won their last title and I had the autographs of everyone on that team—including John Gianelli.
If the Knicks ever rise again, I might write about them. I might even come to like the players on the team and might find my way back to wanting to see them do well. Then again, Dolan will probably still be the owner.
Maybe I can pay more attention to the Nets. After all, I knew Kenny Atkinson when he played in college and Brooklyn IS New York.
Sort of.
John Feinstein’s most recent book is, “The Prodigy,” a novel about a 17-year-old who has a chance to win the Masters but must deal with agents, equipment reps and his father, all of whom want to turn him into a human ATM machine. His most recent work of fiction was, “Quarterback—Inside The Most Important Position in the National Football League,” which spent two months on the New York Times bestseller list. John’s website is: JFeinsteinbooks.com