Commentary

Knicks a team of stars and ... pinstripes?

"We want Paul!" chant is further evidence of Yankee-fication of NYC's NBA franchise

Updated: March 3, 2011, 8:30 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

It was perfect that New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul pulled into New York on Wednesday night, just nine days after the Knicks finally finished the trade for his pal, Carmelo Anthony.

Once Paul nominated himself and Anthony for the Knicks' shopping list last summer with his much-ballyhooed toast at Anthony's wedding about joining Amare Stoudemire some day, Paul has had as much to do with the Yankee-fication of the Knicks now as anyone. So he deserved a firsthand look at what started.

Or how Knicks fans have turned into millions of little Steinbrenners ever since.

[+] EnlargeChris Paul and Carmelo Anthony
AP Photo/Mary AltafferWill Chris Paul and Melo be teammates in 2012-13? Knicks fans might just demand it.

You know what I mean.

The Knicks went out and happily overpaid Stoudemire in July just to chase away any fool notion that Stoudemire might've had about staying in Phoenix when LeBron wasn't coming to New York.

Then the Knicks doggedly pursued Anthony these past eight months, finally getting their man after persevering through what felt like rolling plagues of drought, famine, pestilence, too much MeloDrama, virulent rumors of the usual Knicks' front-office discord, and a new twist -- the occasionally odd antics of New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokorov, who was quickly starting to look like the Wilpon in this rivalry until he landed Deron Williams.

Paul wasn't a huge presence in the Knicks' 107-88 romp over slumping New Orleans on Wednesday night. He made only two of seven shots, passed for 10 assists and insisted afterward that he didn't notice the late-game chants of "We want Paul!" or his nickname, "CP3!"

"Man, I didn't hear that," he said. "I was looking at the scoreboard."

Then, after a sigh, "That [2012] is a long way off."

Still, Paul didn't deny he's paid attention to what's going on in New York.

In the mere nine days since Anthony and Chauncey Billups came from Denver to team up with Stoudemire -- so it was written by Paul, so it was done! -- expectations for the retooled Knicks have been off the hook. There's been overheated talk about the Knicks roaring all the way to the Eastern Conference finals -- right now! -- even though they've barely had a practice to learn the playbook. There have been Boss-like mandates issued that nothing less than a Knicks championship -- soon -- will do.

All that's missing at the World's Most Famous Arena right now to make the Yankee-fication of the Knicks complete is Kate Smith belting out "God Bless America" between the third and fourth quarters, and a Gehrig-esque sign for the players to tap on the way out their locker room door that says, "Thank God for making me a Knick."

Knicks fans don't want to hear that any player -- including Paul -- is beyond their team's reach. They just say get the guy. Whatever it takes. Whatever it costs.

But Paul, unlike a lot of players who come to the Garden determined to put on a show, didn't look like a guy auditioning for a job Wednesday night. He and the Hornets probably caught a break, too, when the Knicks lost Tuesday in Orlando to dip to 2-2 with the new guys rather than 3-1. Otherwise, the atmosphere they walked into would've been more charged than it was.

It's been often said that the Yankees are treated as if their schedule is made up of 162 individual seasons, not games. The five games that Anthony has been in New York have had that life-or-death feel, too. There was euphoria in Carmelo's debut a week ago when he poured in 11 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter and the Knicks held off the Milwaukee Bucks, a lot of despair and hair-pulling when they somehow lost their next game to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers, then ecstasy when the Knicks pulled into Miami on Sunday and knocked off the Heat on national TV.

LeBron Who?

A little reality -- if not a lot -- creeped back in Tuesday night when Orlando center Dwight Howard torched the Knicks for 30 points in the Magic's comeback victory. The loss reminded Knicks followers that the club still sorely lack a rugged center/rebounder/interior defender type.

Oh.

That.

It's been huge fun to see basketball alive again in New York and the Garden rocking after a decade of watching the Knicks stumble around in the dark. They haven't won a playoff game since 2001 and now New Yorkers are shouting from the rooftops that they're going all the way, baby! Get the tickertape ready. Book the Canyon of Heroes parade.

If much of this sounds familiar, it should. It happens every year from April to October in the Bronx to Jeter and A-Rod and Mariano. But even the Yanks are getting a bit of a break this spring. General manager Brian Cashman's comment that the Red Sox are better than the Yankees right now has actually registered with fans.

The Knicks have tried telling people they're a work in progress, too.

Forgive the Knicks if they feel like nobody's listening.

Paul is the next big-game target. Before Wednesday's game, Hornets coach Monty Williams didn't want to talk about the specter of his team perhaps going through some MeloDrama (Chris-o-rama? Paul-a-palooza?) of its own next season when the clock on Paul's expiring contract really begins to tick down.

How has Williams dealt with such speculation about his franchise player?

"I don't," he shot back.

Williams then made a joke about perhaps printing up a script for reporters so that every time they ask him about Paul leaving from now on, "I can just hold it up and say, 'Read this.'"

"It's a non-issue," he insisted.

That's not true. Williams just has to say that.

Paul is his franchise player. The Hornets were just nominated as a possible target for contraction by NBA commissioner David Stern two weekends ago at the All-Star Game. Meanwhile, Forbes magazine recently rated the Knicks the most valuable franchise in the NBA, same as a certain New York team is No. 1 in baseball.

Paul is on the Knicks' radar, all right.

And now -- much like the Yankees' chase of Cliff Lee -- neither the Knicks nor their fans are likely to give up chasing, wanting, waiting for Paul until someone comes along between now and 2012 and pries him out of Knicks owner James Dolan's cold, clammy, cash-filled hands.

Meaning?

The Yankee-fication of the Knicks isn't likely to end anytime soon.

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