With 40 seconds remaining in the first quarter during Monday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Knicks proved that they are back.
Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks’ 19-year-old rookie, went to retrieve the ball to inbound it and just like The Sandlot, there was a monstrous beast guarding it. Unlike most sensible people, Ntilikina didn’t immediately turn tail and run. Instead, in his 11th NBA game, he shoved LeBron James. When James didn’t move, Ntilikina bumped him again, sending Madison Square Garden into a frenzy and prompting the arrival of Enes Kanter, who went chest-to-chest with James mouthing: “Don’t mess with my guy.”
It was the second time that day Kanter rallied to his rookie’s defense.
Prior to Monday’s game, James indirectly put down Ntilikina by saying the Knicks should have drafted Dennis Smith Jr.
“I don’t care who, I just cannot let anyone disrespect my family like that, because when I play for an organization, I see my teammates and that organization as like a family,” Kanter said.
Chants of “Frank-ie” filled Madison Square Garden after the altercation. It was the loudest MSG had probably been since the height on Linsanity. For the first time in a long time, the Knicks are a team New York can rally behind; they’re an upstart, the underdog and full of young talent that won’t back down under any means.
Ntilikina could have played the “respect” card and just ignored James’ comments. Instead, like a true son of New York, he took James’ comments to heart and let him know he wont stand for anyone, future Hall-of-Famer or not, devaluating what he is worth to a team. Ntilikina’s defiance would be heartening enough. Even better for Knicks fans is that he has the talent to back it up.
Ntilikina’s offense has been slow to round into form, but he’s already an above average defender. The 6’ 5” guard seems to have a sixth sense for where the ball is going to go, currently leading the league in steals per 100 possessions. The offense will come; he already has a grasp on the more difficult aspect of the game. We all know Kristaps Porzingis is having a great season, but the Latvian big man is making history almost nightly. His 300 points in the Knicks’ first 10 games are the most in the franchises’ storied history.
The Knicks of the 90’s might not have won any championships, but they defended Madison Square Garden like it was their own home. Patrick Ewing was as tough as they come. John Starks was an elite trash talker. Charles Oakley was more likely to set you up on a date with his mom than let you get a free lane to the basket.
Very few teams embody a city more than those Knicks teams of the 90’s embody New York. They were loud, proud and in your face about it. These present day Knicks can follow in their footsteps. Taking pride in yourself and your teammates is how you turn around a franchise that has only won a single playoff series this millennium.
The Knicks ended up losing Monday’s game against the Cavs but that hardly matters.
What matters is that LeBron felt compelled to post on Instagram the following day, declaring himself King of New York.
The Knicks are no longer an afterthought. A game at Madison Square is a date circled on the calendar. Not because it’s an easy win, but because New York once again has a young and hungry team that will go down swinging.
The Knicks are back on their way to where they belong—exchanging words, shoves and elbows with the league’s best.
Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.