"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Abandoning Ship

When is it okay to abandon your team?

I ask, of course, because of the Knicks.

Photo from the Daily News

I’m not really asking for myself, because I’m not a real Knicks fan. Baseball is my sport. In basketball, I’ve always been rather free with my affections. As a kid I watched the Bulls, because they were on TV a lot and because Michael Jordan. Then in the Patrick Ewing era I liked the Knicks, because I loved everything having to do with New York City. After the Yankees started winning so much I started to feel guilty about it and in the winter of 1999 adopted the Nets, who had always previously sucked, but they disappointed me by (briefly) not sucking during the Jason Kidd years. I moved to Brooklyn after college and went back to the Knicks. So I’m no model fan anyway, and I almost never go to games at Madison Square Garden, because I can’t afford it. But I still think in general terms it’s an interesting question.

Probably most of us would agree that you never bail on a team just because they’re lousy. I mean, you can, of course, but it’s unseemly. You stick it out — that’s a central tenant of what it means to be a fan. But players can be replaced or traded, and general managers can be fired. What about when the team’s ownership is inept, malignant, self-destructive, obnoxious and too flush with inherited billions to ever, ever be forced to sell? This weekend came the news, or at least the very strong rumors, that James Dolan is taking over and (probably – safe bet) bungling the Carmelo Anthony negotiations. And that Isiah Thomas is “consulting” or “advising” (when asked, he refused to say) and calling the shots and not ruling out a return to a prominent role with the Knicks.

I’m not a lifelong die-hard Knicks rooter like so many New Yorkers, and right now I’m glad. Because if Isiah Thomas returns to any kind of meaningful role with the team, I’m done with this team. How many times does he have to demonstrate that, although he was a great player, he is an abysmal coach and GM? (To say nothing of his unfortunate tendencies towards sexual harassment). How can James Dolan possibly be both that oblivious and that contemptuous of Knicks fans? And since he clearly is, why would we ever expect him to change at this point?

The Nets are moving fifteen minutes from my apartment in a year and a half. They have returned to their usual suckiness, and I hate the way they bullied and bribed that new stadium through. And yet. You can say what you want about Jay-Z – but, damn it, he would never in a million years put up with this Isiah Thomas crap.

Anyway, I’m curious to hear your thoughts. When is it okay to ditch your team? If you’re a Knicks fan, do you have a breaking point – and if so, have you reached it yet? If not, what would it take?


1 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 21, 2011 9:36 am

I'm of the mind that if you are a die-hard you can never ditch your team. I mean, consider what George did to the Yanks by 89-90. That was even lower than Dolen. I was disallusioned, I was detached but I never chose to root for another team.

But then again, I also don't think there is just one kind of fan. There is the Roger Angell brand, the kind who has loyalties to several organizations but otherwise drifts, and then there is the Mike and the Mad Dog die-hards who think you need to, well, die-hard with your given teams.

I'm a fair-weather Knicks fan myself. They are always my team of choice but I don't feel so much pain when they are awful. Emma, you've got an out though cause you are from Jersey--although the Nets are originally from Long Island--and they are moving to BK.

Thing is, if you jump ship now, are you allowed, in good conscience to ever come back with Dolen owning the team?

2 TheGreenMan   ~  Feb 21, 2011 9:53 am

Yeah, I agree with Alex. You don't abandon ship if you are a die-hard.

But I had been a casual fan of the Philadelphia Eagles my whole life (long story), and I had no problem dropping them when they signed Michael Vick. The only time I watched them this past season is when they played the Giants...rooting on the G-men against them. And I HATE the Giants (long story).

But I can't think of a situation that would make me abandon the Yankees.

3 wsporter   ~  Feb 21, 2011 10:23 am

I wasn't a fair weather fan when I was a kid. I was terribly upset when we traded Walt Belamy for some bum named Debusschere. Couldn't believe it when the center from my favorite college team was drafted number 1 by my team. Having said that I'm a hell of a lot less interested in the Knicks than I used to be. The Isiah Thomas mess did a lot of that for me. I'm not sure now if any of that stuff about Thomas running the Carmelo show is accurate or not (my sense is that he has Dolan's ear but not the rest of him). My sense is Dolan is a fabulously wealthy man who really has never had to struggle to find his next meal or pay for a guitar lesson. He doesn't know what it's like to skip a haircut because he couldn't afford it this week. He's never had to be "smart" in order to "eat". I don't think he understands how we regulate our lives and how we fit all this "stuff' into our existence. He doesn't get that, he never will and we need to adjust our expectations of him in that regard I think. If we're looking for him to be the reformed and chastened version of George Steinbrenner I think we're in for a long run of disappointment. It's not that he doesn't care about what we think about Isiah. He just thinks he knows better because, well, he "knows" he is better than the rest of us.

As often happens the great ones have said it best in the past. In this case F. S. Fitz:

"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different."

4 RIYank   ~  Feb 21, 2011 10:30 am


I will always be a Knicks fan. But for I don't know how long now, I've been keeping my fandom on the back burner. I don't think about basketball. It's too painful. They don't just suck (actually they don't suck this year at all), they have been such a horrid organization I can't bear to watch them or read about them.

5 Sliced Bread   ~  Feb 21, 2011 10:34 am

I think it's okay to abandon your team when your team abandons you, moves out of town, out of state, off your coast, that sort of thing.

6 hiscross   ~  Feb 21, 2011 11:05 am

It's baseketball, who cares? Baseball has started, move forward.

7 RagingTartabull   ~  Feb 21, 2011 11:18 am

you can conceivably do it, but I never would. Nobody wants to be the NY Rangers fan who threw in the towel after 1993, or the Red Sox fan who finally jumped ship after Aaron Boone. The possibility of "The Big Payoff" at the end is what keeps us coming back.

as for Melo, I'm of the mind that if you can trade a rental-PG (who I happen to love) and two guys who are going to be completely expendable (Galo, WC) for a Top 10 player to match up with the superstar you already have, you do it. I would love to think that a team like the '70 Knicks could win in today's league, but truth is this is a star driven league where you win with 3 big guys and a bunch of filler. It sucks, but thats what it is. So I probably make the play for Melo.

and as for Zeke, its a total joke. But I still say a lot of this has been pumped up because it makes for good copy. Isola has been driving this angle since day one, and its a matter of record that he's had an axe to (rightfully) grind with MSG since Dolan tried getting him thrown off the beat.

8 Bluenatic   ~  Feb 21, 2011 11:24 am

The Islanders have sunk to such pathetic depths both on and off the ice that I'm almost hoping they move, so I can stop caring about them. That said, John Mara could knock on my door tomorrow, punch me in the face and call me a kike and I'd still root my ass off for him Giants every Sunday. I'll never get out of that relationship alive.

9 Emma Span   ~  Feb 21, 2011 11:33 am

[7] I'm getting this stuff from Wojnarowski and Howard Beck, though, two guys I trust.

There is an argument to be made for getting Melo, absolutely. But the Knicks had ALL the leverage here and Dolan seems to be blowing it. That's not even the issue, though, it's (potentially - hasn't happened yet) bringing back Thomas after Donnie Walsh spent YEARS trying to undo his many completely inexplicable, ludicrous moves... gah!

I agree, though, that the idea that one day it'll all be worth it is what keeps so many people with their teams. If you leave them and then come back just when they win, that's hardly be satisfying.

10 Emma Span   ~  Feb 21, 2011 11:33 am

[8] Ha!

11 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 21, 2011 11:41 am

6) in New York, plenty of people.

12 Mattpat11   ~  Feb 21, 2011 11:50 am

I'm a non basketball fan who has always had a particular dislike of the Knicks. Its a team and organization that really hasn't done shit in generations, but from ownership on down, has always acted like they're the Yankees of the league. Just a thoroughly unlikeable organization for most of my life time, I've enjoyed their recent follies.

13 RagingTartabull   ~  Feb 21, 2011 12:10 pm

Knicks fan David Duchovny on why the Knicks (and Yankees too) matter


14 jorgie juiced one   ~  Feb 21, 2011 12:11 pm

Emma, this Knicks situation is definitely frustrating. Frankly, I don't get this whole Dolan-Isaiah thing. It seems weird.

After Steinbrenner horribly and unjustly dismissed Buck following the great 95 series with the Mariners, I vowed to stop rooting for the Yankees. I recall the day after his dismissal, there was an entire day of calls to this effect on WFAN, with proclamations of season ticket cancellations, etc. Anyway, I quickly realized that I couldn't follow through on my "vow." Who was I going to root for anyway? Besides, rooting for a team isn't something you can just turn on and off. I hate to get all philosophical, but our wills don't work that way anyway. They are subject to forces that act on them.

I think it can be said that a person who cares enough to be upset at his team, so that he promises to "divorce" them, also probably cares too much to follow through on his promise.

I am a Yankees fan. They are a part of who I am in a way my other teams aren't (Knicks, Giants - not that I'm going to or can stopping rooting for them any time soon). Anyway, I'm kind of glad that my whole promise to stop rooting for the Yankees thing in 95 didn't come to fruition (as I said, who was I kdding anyway), since they seemed to have done pretty well since then.

15 Ken Arneson   ~  Feb 21, 2011 12:17 pm

I'm not a Knicks fan, but I am a Golden State Warriors fan, so I know what it's like to have your basketball team crushed by decades of incompetent ownership and management. In retrospect, I should have abandoned ship around 1980 after the Warriors traded Robert Parish and Kevin McHale in return for J.B. Carroll and Rickey Brown. That's the kind of trade that takes 40 years to recover from. The good news: only 10 years to go!

Like Alex, I haven't stopped rooting for my team, I just stopped paying attention. I wake up from time to time when something competent happens. But in the end, it just killed my interest in the NBA as a whole.

It's too hard to win a championship without an inner-circle hall-of-famer on your team. And there are only a handful of them at any time, so you need to get lucky and win the right lottery in the right year, or you're stuck. Even if you have competent management, like the Mavericks, you can get stuck in a slightly-above-average mode for a long, long time unless you luck into a great player.

Another reason I prefer baseball. There are dozens of ways to build a championship team. In the NBA, there's really only one or two.

16 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 21, 2011 12:28 pm

You all must know by now how I feel about this, so let me say that Like Sliced says, if you're team abandons you (Brooklyn, Baltimore, etc.), you have every right to cut ties with them completely. This is not marriage or blood relations. And, if your team is owned and operated by a vicious troll with a public appearance schedule similar to herpes, There is a breaking point.

That said, I believe I also made this argument before and I can't believe I said it then either, but you can't compare Steinbrenner with Dolan under this circumstance. For one thing, George had a previous background owning and operating a (basketball!) franchise and won a championship with that team (The Cleveland Pipers, ABL 1961), something Dolan cannot claim under either circumstance. George also had a coaching history in college football, also nothing that Dolan can claim in any respect. Most significantly, George had a strong work ethic that paid off for just about every company he owned or was involved with; even when the ABL failed in 1962, he managed to pay off his creditors within a few years, and he also turned a failing company his family purchased and made it profitable during an economic downturn before buying it outright himself. All of that before he even owned the Yankees.

Dolan? It's highly doubtful that work ethic made him the CEO of Cablevision. There is nothing to indicate that he has any experience or even that much interest in sports to begin with and if his record with the Knicks and Rangers is any indication, if his sole or predominant business was as owner and operator of a sports franchise, he would have failed miserably and likely gone out of business, if not into bankruptcy, and George would probably have been running both teams after buying them up. In Isiah, Dolan has found his equal; a like mind for business and a cognizant dissonance with regard to their self-image, public image and abilities. I guess Isiah completes Dolan, for what that's worth...

By most indications, with what these two men were given by their fathers, George turned a successful business into an empire, while Dolan has squandered away much of the pride from two important city franchises if not their monetary value (which is hard to say he had any direct effect on to begin with.) Neither of these two are personalities I would admire, but for what they've done for their sport, I'd study George and get a degree, while with Dolan I'd organize a book burning. They do not compare except in controversy, and even then George outclasses Dolan. Hmph and phooey...

17 Emma Span   ~  Feb 21, 2011 2:09 pm

[16] Amen. And I love "a vicious troll with a public appearance schedule similar to herpes." The line, I mean, not the troll. At least Steinbrenner always answered questions and clearly gave a damn. And didn't force his employees to go watch his crappy band play.

[15] Ken, I pretty much agree with you, but it's not even the losing that bothers me. I don't need the Knicks to win a championship, although of course that would be, you know, nice. It's the combination of staggeringly obnoxious behavior AND complete ineptitude on the part of the ownership... for example, many Mets fans are frustrated with the Wilpons, for good reason. But I would take the Wilpons in a heartbeat over James Dolan. At least you can usually sort of see what they're trying to do, even when it's not a smart move, and they obviously care about what the fans think and want to do right by the franchise, although they don't always manage it. Dolan's behavior is spoiled, classless, unaccountable, and because the Knicks make up only a tiny fraction of the mega-empire he inherited, unlikely to ever change. GRRR.

18 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 21, 2011 2:50 pm

Charlie Pierce writes....

"Far be it from This Blog to tell commissioners how to run their sports, but it feels that the NBA would be better served if David Stern took a break from fanciful talk of contraction, and from fashionable union-busting, to call James Dolan in and tell him that Isiah Thomas is no longer welcome in the league, thank you. (He only has 11.6 million reasons to do so.) It's odd how commissioners lose their lunches over players who misbehave in bars, but suddenly start singing soprano when the plutocrats run their teams into the ground, or hand them over to manifest incompetents whose reputations for sleazebaggery are hallowed by legal judgments."

19 joejoejoe   ~  Feb 21, 2011 3:00 pm

I've abandoned being a fan of UConn men's basketball. After the Yankees, it was something I grew up with predating the Big East. It's just that the team has transformed into something vulgar. I remember Jim Calhoun giving John Calipari a morality lecture when he left UMass. Now I think Calipari is considerably more ethical than Calhoun, which is saying something if you know Calipari's record. Calhoun is the highest paid employee of the state of Connecticut and gets vulgar when asked about other state workers getting furloughed in hard times. He fancies himself a teacher but he can't control his temper or abide by the rules. He runs a crooked program. College basketball in itself is based on the corrupt notion of essentially free labor that provides coaches, athletic directors, and university presidents power and money.

The Knicks look pretty good by comparison. At least they are honest about it all being about the money.

20 Ken Arneson   ~  Feb 21, 2011 7:49 pm

[18] One of sports biggest problems is the number of owners who mistakenly think their wealth is more a function of skill and willpower than of luck.

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