- Jeff MacGregor
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New York City is all things in concentration, all things in compression, all things great and terrible and bleak, human and luminous and tedious. Horrifying. Wondrous. A miracle of compromise and selfishness, a daily blast gone off in a mushroom cloud of generosity and greed, diversity and single-mindedness and excess. New York is -- more truly than any other global city of any age -- a recurring invention of genius and madness.
Like a lot of people, I created myself here. It's my home. You fit like a puzzle piece, or you don't fit at all. And to understand New York sports and New York sports fans, it's important to understand that New York City is not just a place, it's a process.
By which I mean that whatever you love about this city or hate about this city or fear about this city will change as you walk through it. Buildings, streets, sidewalks, neighborhoods, stores, restaurants, highways, subways, parks, politicians, ideas, traditions, people rising and people falling, whole cultures collapsing while others are born, one city crumbling as another soars up out of the wreckage and the dust and the ashes. Everything giving way beneath your feet, creation and destruction seamless, violence and chaos and birth and death and order and honor and horror side by side by side, "then" and "now" and "next" swallowing their own tails, the whole place resonating like a cymbal crash.
This is what frightens the tourists, the dynamism -- not the rudeness or the pace or the smell, not the muggers or the dips or the junkies, but the live-wire juice of 10 million imaginations tearing a place apart and rebuilding it even as the gawkers and marks and out-of-town shoppers stand there with their hands on their wallets. That's not the way it works back home, where change is measured and incremental, a thing seen only from the window of a moving car, a thing doled out mostly one sensible civic project at a time.
Welcome to New York.
Adapt or die.
There was this past Thursday night, for example.
It's uptown, sunset, and I have plenty of friends and colleagues milling around the Alice Tully Hall for the National Magazine Awards. Despite what you've heard, print is not dying. It's dead. Dead, dead, dead -- and writers and photographers and editors like me are all headed for the breadlines. But on the way to the scrap heap, winning a prize might be nice; it's fun to dress up and eat hors d'oeuvres and hey, look, that guy from that one magazine who wrote that thing that time he's so short!
Downtown, same evening, more friends are orbiting the Tribeca Film Festival, party to party to party, cadging drinks and smokes and crab puffs, and the next generation of movie-business pirates are talking loud about the struggles of Miramax and the Weinsteins and the goddamn BitTorrent and those goddamn Chinese bootleggers, and hey, there's Gwyneth!
Midtown at Radio City as the sun sinks and the shadows climb the skyscrapers, other friends are down on the floor of the Radio City Music Hall, shouting into microphones and shaking their heads and waiting out the weird and anti-theatrical theater of the NFL draft.
Eighty-five blocks southeast, I'm at home watching the Devils skate their way out of the playoffs and toggling back to the melancholy draftniks whenever Martin Brodeur's attention seems to wander. Which is too often and which will kill the last chance for a New York-area team in the winter playoffs. Rangers, Nets, Islanders, Knickerbockers, Devils all done for the year, and no glory anywhere for anyone. Couple of laughingstocks in there, in fact.
With the Yankees front and center all these years, it's easy to forget how hard and how long other New York franchises have been sucking. If, for example, the Rangers maintain the same stately pace of their recent championship play, we will next see the Stanley Cup at Madison Square Garden in 2048.
The Islanders won four Cups in a row and were unstoppable from 1979 to 1984. They have been unspeakable ever since.
The Knicks are under .400 for this century.
They last won an NBA title in 1973. Even more troublesome, according to the Knickerbockers' website, their biggest courtside celebrity in April 2010 was Ethan Hawke.
The Nets were 12-70 this season. Twelve and 70. Let that sink in for a second. The Los Angeles Clippers were better. Even Ethan Hawke won't cross the Hudson for 12-70. Which stings a little more because the Nets were very good once -- and in this century.
The Jets haven't won it all since January of 1969, but lately they make losing seem fun; the Giants take the fun out of winning and are up-and-down. Lately up. (I see that the NFL teevee draft will bring to the city new names such as Jason Pierre-Paul, Linval Joseph and Vladimir Ducasse. We welcome you as pulling guards or poets, sauciers or poorly drawn characters from Ethan Hawke's next novel.)
The Mets are the Mets are the Mets are the Mets.
The Yankees make everyone in America angry, especially their fans. If the Yankees won 200 games in a year, never lost once from spring training forward, people still would be angry. Angry at the perfectionism, angry at the prices, at the pinstripes, at the moon, the stars, the Steinbrenners. Oh, how deep our terrifying feelings! (Not at all strangely, it's much easier to feel genuine affection for Los Yanquis when they're losing. When they're lukewarm. When the tabloids are all up in their business. When they're winning, it's so cold up on 161st Street that it's tough to get your arms or your heart around them.)
Remember that if you're thinking of ever coming here. Remember, please, that we consume our winners with the same vigor and the same voracious appetite that eats up our losers.
There are other great American cities in which to ply one's trade. Cities filled with great Americans. Steady-hearted Americans who will only love you.
Come to New York City. We need you. We will ruin you. We will make you immortal. We will never forget you until the very moment we forget you. We will set you ablaze in the name of saving you. The constancy of our inconstancy will enrage you.
Let us raise you up and make you a hero and carry you forever forward on the shoulders of our million little hatreds. Let our radiant love undo you. If you can make it here -- that just means we haven't got around to destroying you yet.
Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Please continue to submit your answers to his question "What are sports for?" You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New York is -- more truly than any other global city of any age -- a recurring invention of genius and madness. Jeff MacGregor provides a guide for potential visitors and transplants (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade?).