Skip to main content

Why is New York still considered the capital of the NBA?

Photo by Anthony Rosset on Unsplash

In strictly a basketball context, it’s head-scratching knowing that New York is considered the “capital” of the NBA, especially with the New York Knicks disappointing.

The big picture: Since last winning a championship in 1973, the Knicks have had an overwhelming amount of failure this millennium in Madison Square Garden, reaching the NBA Playoffs six times in the last 19 years.

They Reminisce Over You“: Starting out as the New York Knickerbockers, the Knicks had a fairly successful start to their NBA life. As one of the first teams to be created in the BAA (now the NBA), the Knicks saw success that would allude them until the late 1980s.

The early days in New York:

  • Made the playoffs 18 times in 27 seasons, from 1947 to 1973.
  • Had a winning record 17 times during that same period of time.
  • Reached at least the division semifinals 15 times.
  • Went to finals six times and won the NBA Championship twice (1970, 1973) in that span.

These are considered the early glory days of the Knicks as the team saw the most prosperity even though there was a span from 1957 to 1966 where they only made the playoffs once (1959). Despite the fact that from 1974 to 1987, the Knicks made the playoffs six times, a new era of Knicks basketball was about to be unveiled.

N.Y. State of Mind“: The late 80s through the 90s was the peak for the gritty Knicks teams — they made the playoffs every year from 1988 to 1999 and challenged Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls for Eastern Conference supremacy, thanks to Patrick Ewing and his exploits.

Stats during the Knicks’ streak:

  • Averaged 47.6 wins during that span.
  • Made the Eastern Conference Semifinals seven times.
  • Went as far as the NBA Finals twice (1994, 1999) and currently the only eighth seed to make it to the NBA Finals (1999).
  • Only two losing seasons (1988, 1991) but still good enough to be the eighth seed both times.

Under Hall of Fame head coach Pat Riley, that was when the Knicks saw the most progress. Though Riley was only the coach for four seasons, the Knicks reached at least the conference semifinals every year and won 60 games — the most since 1970, during his second season.

With the team firmly in the midst of something good, something was about to happen that would bring the Knicks into basketball obscurity, at least with regards to championship aspirations.

New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down“: In 1999, James Dolan, son of Cablevision founder Charles Dolan, was given a larger part in running and supervising Knicks and other New York sports teams in the MSG Network. Although the Knicks were somewhat successful in his first few years at the helm, what would follow could be considered where the Knicks started to fall off.

Dolan’s decision-making:

  • The Knicks have made the playoffs six times in almost 20 years.
  • Had 14 different head coaches.
  • Averaged 33.6 wins since 2000.
  • Last playoff appearance was in 2013, when they lost in six games against the Indiana Pacers in the semifinals.
  • Gave Carmelo Anthony an almost immovable contract and hired Phil Jackson as team president, both to disastrous results.

The Knicks’ futility all starts at the top with Dolan. Though he has stated that he is not involved with basketball decisions and that he will not sell the team, the team’s lack of direction and subsequent futility can only be directed at Dolan and the air of fruitlessness that surround the Knicks.

Where does New York go from here? While there are many rumors surrounding Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving potentially going to New York, the Knicks’ lack of success in the last 20 years makes it difficult to envision a marquee free agent going there.

Couple that with the fact the Knicks traded away their former centerpiece in Kristaps Porzingis in hopes of attracting said free agents makes that task all the more arduous.

Although New York is known as the “media capital of the world” by virtue of having CNN, NBC, CBS, the New York Times and others headquartered there, none of that helps validate the claim that New York is the “capital” of the NBA.

In terms of a championship-hungry basketball player, the media could be last thing they care about. What’s more, the New York media has been known to be very predatory, as noted by Charles Barkley.

So that begs the question: apart from money and media coverage, why would any player want to give up the opportunity to potentially contend on another team to play for the middling Knicks?

Stars of the street: Even though the Knicks are a rudder-less ship in the ocean, the one thing New Yorkers can take solace in is that they have had many incredible and interesting talents reach the NBA due to the immense size of the city: New York City is the most populous city in the US with over 8.1 million people.

These players didn’t come out of nowhere though, as many of them made their way to the NBA by way of playing in some of the most famous streetball courts in the world such as the Cage, Dyckman Park and of course, Rucker Park. In the latter’s case, that is where NBA legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius Erving once played.

A number of New York natives played in the NBA:

  • Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)
  • Rafer Alston
  • Kenny Anderson
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • Andre Drummond
  • Julius Erving
  • World B. Free
  • Rudy Gay
  • Tobias Harris
  • Mark Jackson
  • Bernard King
  • Stephon Marbury
  • Chris Mullin
  • Metta World Peace (Ron Artest)
  • God Shammgod
  • Lance Stephenson
  • Kemba Walker

There are many, many more players that are from New York who may have had success elsewhere and not just in the NBA. If anything, the New York streetball scene and the plethora of unearthed talent there is the only thing keeping New York basketball afloat.

The bottom line: With so much dysfunction starting from the top in Dolan to the lack of tangible success in recent years, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep calling New York and Madison Square Garden the “capital” of the NBA — at least not professionally.

Unless the Knicks are able to draft Zion Williamson and begin a dynasty that lasts two decades, it’s time to start calling other cities, like San Antonio, the “capital” of professional basketball.

More About: