Lord Jim (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday February 6, 2007 10:55AM; Updated: Friday February 9, 2007 3:14PM
But in a sense the details aren't important. What's most telling is the endgame, and what it says to anyone who wants to work in Dolan's world. At his final meeting with Brown, on June 22, Dolan still hoped to salvage things. He walked in with a piece of paper listing Brown's transgressions and ways he could correct them. But, Dolan said last June, Brown "would not acknowledge that there was a problem." Brown, who is now a vice president of the Philadelphia 76ers, declined to comment, but his agent, Joe Glass, said, "You do not admit to anything you haven't done. It's a chapter best forgotten. Thank God we can move on to freer, fresher air."
But for a recovering addict, saved by a process requiring the daily acknowledgment of his problem, what could be worse than Brown's lack of contrition? Brown's pride clashed with Dolan's one big thing, and the relationship died. The fact is, three men were responsible for the Knicks' troubles -- Dolan, Thomas and Brown -- and for Knicks fans the jury is still out on two of them. The one with the Hall of Fame résumé, the knack for turning around the worst of teams, is gone.
Where has the magic gone?
It's hard, these lean days, to feel any magic at Madison Square Garden. Banners and announcements still batter visitors with the idea that it's the world's most famous arena, but the building is 39 years old -- and looks and smells like it.
The concrete floors are often filthy, even before the fans roll in, and in certain places there is the faint but unmistakable stench of an unflushed toilet. In recent years the NBA rated a Knicks game experience near the bottom in terms of "satisfaction," though how much that has to do with the team and how much with the joyless environment isn't clear.
Dolan wants to renovate or to move to a new Garden nearby and says he hopes to know which in the next six months. So with the future looking like years of construction dust piled atop years of neglect, the only thing left, it seems, is to dwell on the past. For months MSG Network has been counting down its 50 Greatest Moments from the Garden's history, and on Jan. 18 it took a few thousand season-ticket holders, sponsors and VIPs back to the glory days at a party announcing the top five moments. There, outside the MSG Theatre, was a tableau designed to take any New York fan's breath away: 1970 Knicks gods Walt Frazier and Willis Reed chatting; boxer Joe Frazier gabbing about his epic '71 win over Muhammad Ali; Messier, Adam Graves and Mike Richter reliving the '94 Stanley Cup run. Then everyone poured inside to watch the countdown, and Walt led the crowd in singing Happy Birthday to Mess.
The first discordant note came in the buildup to the number 1 moment: Reed's dramatic Game 7 walk on court during the '70 Finals. Suddenly there was Marv Albert's voice -- the exile returns, if only in spirit -- calling out in horror when Reed went down in Game 5: "Willis is hurt!" The second note came when Mike Bair, president of MSG Network, tried to thank Jim Dolan from the stage just after host Al Trautwig had told the crowd that they gave "this round piece of concrete its soul." The soul spoke, filling the room with boos. Dolan wasn't there. But the noise rang in the ears of all his loyal lieutenants, Mills and Bair and the rest of the managers who hadn't left in the long executive exodus.
Whether goodwill can ever be recovered, whether the Garden will ever again feel like it did in 1970 or '73 or '94, is impossible to say. Dolan's recent bid to take Cablevision private led to rumblings about the possible sale of the Garden and the teams, but it's not a scenario he'll talk about. "I don't think about selling," Dolan says.
There are those who think he never will. "He wants to be known as a sports/show business maestro, and he knows that if Cablevision ever sold the Garden, he would go back to being 'Jim Dolan, the cable guy's son,'" says one former Garden executive. "The Garden gives him a chance, with the teams and Radio City and the Rockettes, to be somebody completely different."
For Knicks fans, though, there is one glint of hope. And Thomas brought it to them. He's the one, after all, who in October 2005 gambled a slew of first-round draft picks -- including this year's possible lottery pick -- on Eddy Curry, the 6'11" center who has had episodes of irregular heartbeat. Thomas is the one who this season persuaded Marbury to accept second billing, began running the offense through Curry and stayed patient through a rough start to see the 24-year-old underachiever emerge as a strong low-post threat. "It's like the game has really slowed down for me," says Curry, who was averaging 19.5 points a game through Monday. "I'm not forcing anything. I used to look up at the scoreboard and think, Man, this the second quarter, I've got two points and two rebounds, I've got to make something happen. But I always knew if I could stay consistent, things would change."
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