Since I graduated from Law School, took and passed the Bar, I now have commutes free and clear to actually read for pleasure (as opposed to reading for school) and I finally have gotten around the starting The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons.
I am only 150 pages or so in but the first chapter gave me flashes and revelations about the Knicks.
The story starts with Simmons at a pool with a few friends in Vegas, when Gus Johnson saw the Sports Guy and asked to introduce him to none other than our good friend Isiah Thomas. Simmons had spent thousands of words eviscerating Isiah Thomas, and Simmons was understandably nervous to meet Isiah, who actually threatened Simmons in the media.
But one thing stood out about Isiah, his mention of "The Secret" when he was a player in the 1989 Finals. Isiah Thomas said to the media, on the secret to winning basketball: "It's not about physical skills. Goes far beyond that...The art of winning is complicated by statistics, which for us becomes money. Well you gotta find away around that...We got 12 guys who are totally committed to winning basketball...Lots of times, on our team, you can't tell who the best player in the game was. Because everyone did something good. That's what makes us good. The other team has to worry about stopping eight or nine people instead of two or three. It's the only way to win...That's the way the game was invented."
Notice, however, that Isiah never says what the secret is. In that long quote (and it's much longer in the book) - it's never clear what the secret is. So Simmons asked Isiah what the secret is.
Isiah smirks and responds: The secret of basketball is that it's not about basketball.
Read that again. The secret of basketball is that it's not about basketball.
Isiah went on to explain that Dennis Rodman needed more minutes, only Adrian Dantley refused to give it to him. When his minutes were threatened, Dantley got in a tiff. Dantley was traded midseason for Mark Aguirre, and the minutes were split in a much better and efficient manner. And the Pistons won the title in 1989.
Further, Simmons recalled a time when Isiah watched 1988 NBA Finals on an old NBA Show on ESPN where Dan Patrick would interview key players. As the minutes ticked down and a hobbled Isiah tried to will his team to victory on one leg to no avail, the show went back live to Isiah and Patrick...and Isiah was crying. He had never seen the video, never watched his team. And 11 years later it brought tears to his eyes.
And this is where I started thinking.
I met Charles Smith not long ago - I told him he got fouled in 1993. It was one of my first memories as a Knicks fan, as a 6 year old crying because the Knicks lost to the Bulls. Smith looked up at me with a half-forced smile and said "I know. I'm sorry." I'm sorry.
Would Carmelo ever cry after watching a close loss so close to glory? Would Amare apologize to a fan 16 years after a pivotal play didn't go his way, through no fault of his own?
This game isn't about basketball - sure talent often wins out - but it's about having guys committed to playing. And that's where the Carmelo trade and the constant turnover hurts. And that's why these ridiculous trades that are bantered about on this board make me want to lose my lunch as a fan.
Being a team, being committed to one another, that's what this game is about. Not about jersey sales. Not about "star power". Not about expecting teams with insane turnover to gel immediately.
Having 12 guys committed to the game, but more importanly committed and caring about EACH OTHER, is most important. I've seen trades looking for turnover AGAIN. To me, this just starts the process over again - and to me this makes us fans look like we are more out of touch with what is winning basketball.
What we need might be a coaching change, but what we need more is for the roster to stay closer to the same than to different. If we have 12 guys on the roster, as opposed to having 1 team, we are doomed as a team no matter who is the coach. And if we have turnover again, we are doomed to repeat and look back on these days with a lack of fondness similar to the way we look at the Curry-Marbury years.
It's not about basketball. It's about everyone buying in and wanting to win not for themselves or their brand. But for each other. Trading guys all over again makes this impossible.
Look at a team like Denver - no "star" so to speak but a solid 12-man team that grinds you out. They have 12 guys committed to playing winning basketball, 12 guys that love to play the game, love to practice, love to work hard. On paper, the Nuggets are nowhere near as talented as many teams out west. But the game isn't played on paper. It isn't played with names. It isn't a fantasy league.
It's a team game. And the only way to win is as a team. It's not about basketball, it's about the guys. It's about getting them to care so much that 11 years later footage of a loss brings tears to their eyes. It's about getting them to care so much that 15 years later they still feel regret for a 15-second span in a game.
Dolan's constant meddling, constant desire to blow up the team over the head of Donnie Walsh who actually built a squad that was competitive and gelling, and what is likely to be a disaster of a trade.
But "fixing" that trade by blowing this team up again really fixes nothing. It only leaves us further in a quagmire. It leaves us where Isiah as a GM differed so markedly from Isiah as a player (which, as pointed out, is not uncommon - guys who get the secret as a player do not often get the secret as a GM).
It's not about basketball.