Written by, Jeff Stevens
After a tumultuous week for the NBA, that saw a relationship with China seemingly break down, you would think that was the only subject the national sports media would focus on, then KD happened. Kevin Durant, the man coveted by the entire sport entering free agency (even with an achillies injury) was asked why no stars have decided to accept the challenge of playing the world’s most famous arena. As die hard Knicks fans, you all know by now what he said, and you also know the great responses from the current roster of the orange and blue. History has not been kind to basketball’s mecca, and it’s only been made worse watching the little brother in one of our own boroughs rise from the ashes of the worst trade in NBA history. The Knicks haven’t contended in a very long time now, which makes you wonder, does Durant have a point?
There are obvious answers to this conveyed by the national media, which apparently is an adamant “yes.” The facts are the facts. The Knicks haven’t made it past the second round in two decades, and the last time they reached the NBA Finals was exactly twenty years ago this past June. In that time the Knicks have had countless horrible trades and free agency signings, twelve head coaches, not to mention, enough drama to be their own reality series. James Dolan has been a nightmare of an owner for the team publicity-wise, and the last rookie to get an extension from the team was Charlie Ward. Every Knicks fan knows this information. On paper, it makes too much sense, especially if you’ve grown up not remembering the bruising, hard-nosed teams of the 90’s. A time where only Michael Jordan got in the way of New York and a title.
So are the Knicks uncool to younger star players? Fans don’t see it that way. New York City is still considered by most players to be basketball’s epicenter. The Knicks themselves are the sport’s most valuable franchise at a value of around $4 billion. Despite not having a “star” on their squad, they were in the top five for ticket pre-sales this season, home and away. Clearly despite the on court failures and behind the scenes drama, the brand of the Knicks has endured.
It’s odd for the most popular team to not attract a star, but for some reason the Knicks are the only team in sports at their market value that just can’t seem to pull it off. So why is a brand so popular and recognizable consistently failing at recruiting these players? Well think of Madison Square Garden as the good old days of the dunk contest. Years ago, superstars like Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Julius Erving, Kobe Bryant, all competed. The popularity of those superstars made the dunk contest an absolute spectacle. But at some point in our generation, the superstar athlete didn’t want to participate anymore, but why? Branding. The simple fact is no one, not even yours truly, ever wants to find themselves on social media becoming a joke to everyone else, something that negatively effects their own persona, or in athlete’s case, their brand. This is why we don’t see players with a seismic effect on the league, like LeBron James, take part in the dunk contest anymore, because one slip up on a stage where everyone expects you to create magic, and your brand is all of a sudden a joke.
So yes, Madison Square Garden is different to any arena in the league. It’s a stage that every player in the NBA lives to play on, but at this point, only as a visitor. That’s why right now, it is the Mecca and only the Mecca of basketball. The bright lights of Broadway are just too grand for today’s superstar. The reward of being a Knick, much like winning the dunk contest, significantly out-weighs the risk, but the risk for players seems to be too high for them to take a chance at restoring one of basketballs most recognized teams to their former glory. So Durant and other stars may have different feelings about the Knicks and what they mean to the league, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t cool, they just aren’t cool to them.
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