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Listen in. Listen close. Do you hear it? Can you hear them?
Listen closer. There they are. Knicks fans. For weeks, for months, they have been reluctant to say anything out loud — or too loud, anyway — because they know the secular sporting gods that adjudicate such matters have sensitive antennae. They deplore hubris. They detest overconfidence. They love making you think you’re the jinx.
So Knicks fans have mostly kept it to themselves. A furtive text thread. Whispers around the water cooler. They have felt all the while like grizzlies rising from hibernation, wanting to roar what’s been on their mind all this time.
“The Knicks are … fun.”
“The Knicks play hard … every … night …”
“The Knicks are … good?”
“The Knicks are GOOD!”
It’s OK. Really. Honestly. You can say it because it is true. It is now six straight wins for the Knicks. It’s 31-27 in a season when every alleged expert thought 22 wins was the ceiling. You can say all of these things out loud now — and even if things begin to slip starting Tuesday against the Hornets at the Garden, you needn’t worry. It isn’t your fault.
You aren’t the jinx. The Knicks are good. They are for real.
“I haven’t had this feeling in a long time, this kind of winning streak,’’ Derrick Rose said Sunday afternoon after he’d helped fuel win No. 6 in a row, 122-112, over the Pelicans. “That’s what this team is all about — when one person goes, the next person steps up.”
Knicks fans feel you, Derrick. It’s been a long time for them, too, with too many starts and stops, too many false idols, so much horrific basketball. But they are alive now.
You don’t hear a lot of chirping — Knicks fans are too smart for that. There are still holes on the roster. It’s hard to envision a likely postseason matchup outside the play-in series the Knicks would be favored in. But that’s all right. That’s OK. It is officially late April and there are still important games to be contested at the Garden. That’s a fine place to begin.
“They’re awfully resilient as a group,” coach Tom Thibodeau said, and he was referring to his players. But he could easily have been talking about the legions behind them. This is morning for them, after so many raging seasons of despair.
There is Thibodeau, the coach who waited his whole career for this job and now is in it for the long haul. There are two extraordinary players whose staggering ongoing improvements — Julius Randle, RJ Barrett — are constant reminders of what is still possible in basketball at the intersection of individual commitment and coaching gravitas.
There is a coming series of winnable games at the Garden, which are crucial because of the slate of difficult ones to follow. For now, the Knicks are in top-six position; maybe it’s too much to ask they stay there, but even the play-in tournament for this team, at this point in their development, will carry value.
In so many essential ways, this season mimics 1967-68, which was a fundamental chapter in the evolution of the championship Knicks. In that year, it took one solitary move — hiring Red Holzman — to halt a cycle of losing that had reached eight straight seasons. Willis Reed had a Julius Randle breakout-style All-Star year.
And Clyde Frazier set a template that Barrett would follow some 53 years later. Frazier, like Barrett, had limped into the league. But it wasn’t until a change of leadership — Holzman in 1967, Thibodeau in 2020 — that the player began to roar. In the last game ever played at the Old Garden, Feb. 10, 1968, Frazier played his best game as a pro — 23 points, 15 rebounds, 15 assists — and gave voice to the hope always attached to a gifted young star.
“Maybe they’ll remember me for this night,” he said then. “All I know is, I finally believe I can play in this league.”
Those Knicks had growing pains ahead — two disappointing playoff years — and still required a game-changing transaction — Dave DeBusschere in, Butch Komives and Walt Bellamy out — before they were fully transformed. These Knicks will welcome those growing pains this spring, even next spring, and will certainly need whatever seminal, DeBusscherian move Leon Rose has in mind down the road. All of that will be necessary for this journey to have a satisfying destination.
But the start? That’s already a hit. Listen in. Listen close. Knicks fans have shaken off their cynicism and have learned to fall in love again, roared back to full voice. If that’s not a wonderful sidekick to spring, what is?
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