Steve Kerr and Bob Myers were hundreds of miles away from each other, yet bolted upright in bed late Tuesday, slathered in sweat and dread for very different reasons from the same source.
The New York Knickerbockers.
For Kerr, it was the horror of what could have been three years ago if he had decided to sign on to Phil Jackson’s paint factory fire instead of going west and landing in the middle of the next budding dynasty in NBA history. Of course, he wouldn’t have hurt his back jumping up to complain about a call in the 2015 Finals because the Knicks wouldn’t have gone to the Finals, but that’s too parallel universe for me.
For Myers, it was a different problem, specifically whether or to become the first general manager in modern sports history to be perpetually unaccessible by phone, simply out of fear of getting That Call from James Dolan and being offered three times his current salary and the title of Vice-Emperor.
Because that’s the only thing the Knicks have, and the only thing the Knicks have ever had – pots of money to work in the belly of the cultural beast.
And New York money has always had a way of turning heads, as though money in any other part of the country is somehow pegged to the Canadian dollar. It’s what Dolan sells when he chases a candidate – the chance to conquer the unconquerable – and there’s always some sap, er, candidate willing to buy in.
But Kerr, tempted by Jackson’s magical rhetoric, resisted because he saw better opportunities elsewhere – and because failing with the Knicks is a fast pass back to the second analyst’s chair at TNT.
And Myers will almost surely be asked by Dolan (or one of his gremlins) to abandon his current role as Executive of the Year to get obscenely wealthier and try to clear the wreckage and point the franchise in a recognizable direction.
That, despite the fact that the Knicks have historically been more rumor than fact. They have made the playoffs less often by percentage than any original franchise other than Philadelphia/San Francisco/Golden State and Rochester/Cincinnati/Kansas City/Omaha/Sacramento. They’ve won four fewer division titles than the Miami Heat despite having 42 more cracks at it. They’ve been a formidable foe only intermittently, and if they didn’t have the illusory advantage of hiding behind Madison Square Garden, they’d be about as nationally relevant as the Kings. They probably would have been relocated a couple of times by now and be working out of Las Vegas by now.
In short, the Knicks are smoke and mirrors in a velvet floor-length coat, have been that almost their entire history, and the fact that Jackson drove them deeper into the earth’s crust and with more willful orneriness only makes their historical irrelevance more irksome.
(And yes, the Warriors were in an even more parlous historical state than the Knicks were before 2015, so it isn’t like their history is some glorious medley that makes all who hear it break out in dance. They’re the hot item on the menu now, true, but as a historical artifact they are aggressively meh).
But Dolan has his own bent memory, and he will know that he lost out on Kerr. So why wouldn’t he smooth-talk Myers (and if you’ve heard Dolan’s voice, you know what a stretch that is) with the two things that prop up the Knicks as a concept – more money than Belgium, and the self-obsessed myth of New York? If he doesn’t, it would border on corporate malfeasance.
Now maybe talking to Myers will bring back horrible memories of the Don Nelson Era, which was better than the Jackson Era only in that it came undone quicker and was fixed faster. But Dolan has never learned from his past mistakes because of his unerring gift for making them the mistakes of others, and he will chase the hottest new name with the biggest bag of cash and the most fevered line of arglebargle.
And maybe Myers sees the money Jerry West is getting to be a more powerful consigliere in Los Angeles than he was in Oakland, and says, “This is the window, right here.”
And that’s why he woke up with such a start when his subconscious heard the word that Jackson was being binned. He suspected that phone call from the DolanCave would come, and he knew either that he would have to throw his phone in the toilet, or get used to saying things like, “Yes, honey, I know you sound like my wife, but how do I know you’re really you and not someone from the Knicks” or “I don’t care if he’s offering me Kristaps Porzingis for Kevon Looney. Tell him I’m not in for him, ever.”
Such are the perils of life on top. The bottom is always a phone call away. Ask Phil Jackson. Ask the triangle offense. Ask Carmelo Anthony.
Hell, just ask the Knicks about being the Knicks. Who would know better?