"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Mr. Magic

Knick fans have been called the most loyal of all New York sporting fans. The fact that the Garden still draws crowds with the organization in its current state (i.e. shambles) says something about the Knick faithful. Maybe the rattle-your-jewelry crowd just needs a place to keep warm. I don’t know how anyone but a complete boob or a die-hard fan could go to the Garden to watch this horrid excuse for a team. The call for Isiah Thomas’ job has reached new heights in recent days (despite the fact the Knicks actually won a game last night). But I’m afraid that with Jim Dolan running the team, Thomas is only part of the problem. Still, he can’t split soon enough for most of us who care even a little. The sooner we’re rid of this snake-oil salesman the better.

Which brings me to another bit from an old Sport magazine that I ran across recently, circa 1976. From a cover story on Earl Monroe (the original “Magic” though he’s of course better known as “Pearl”) by Woody Allen:

My impressions of Monroe [when he played for Balitmore]? I immediately ranked him with Willie Mays and Sugar Ray Robinson as athletes who went beyond the level of sports as sport into the realm of sports as art. Seemingly awkward and yet breathtakingly graceful…

Then in 1971 he got traded to the Knicks…Could he play alongside Walt Frazier? Frazier was then the premier all-around guard in basketball and had set standards so high that years later when he might be off his game a fraction and could no longer single-handedly win games, the fans could not deal with it and turned on him. I found this unforgivable and it certainly says something about the myth of the New York sports fan.

Woody reluctantly went to talk to Monroe at the players’ upper west side apartment. When he arrived, Woody was greeted by Pearl’s girlfriend (“My God, she’s packed into those jeans with an ice cream scoop.”) Monroe was out running errands, so Woody and the girlfriend chatted…for a few hours. Monroe never showed up, and finally Woody excused himself.

I back out the door, dumbling and apologizing, for what, I don’t know. Then, walking home this sunny, Saturday afternoon, I think to myself, how wonderful. This great athlete is so unconcerned about the usual nonsense of social protocol. Unimpressed by me, a cover interview, and all the attendant fuss and adulation that so many people strive for, he simply fails to show up. Probably off playing tennis or fooling with his new Mercedes.

Whatever he was doing, I admired him for his total unconcern…That night, Earl scored 28 points and had eight misses against Washington; the next day he tossed in 31 points against the same team.

I thought about how Sport’s editors had relayed Monroe’s enthusiasm about the prospect of our interview. I thought, too, that if I had missed an interview I’d be consumed with guilt. But that’s me and I’m not a guy who can ask for a ball with the team down by a point, two seconds left on the clock, and, with two players hacking at my body and shiedling my vision, score from the corner. If I misse the basket and lose the game for my team, I commit suicide. For Monroe, well, he’s as nonchalant about that tension-strung situation as he is about keeping appointments. That’s why I’d tense up and blow clutch shots, while Monroe’s seem to drop through the hoop like magic.

Boy, the Knicks sure could use some magic these days. But even Houdini would have his hands full making this bunch disappear.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver