The half-billion dollar jalopy known as the New York Knicks has been trying to call itself a race car again for a long, long time. (Its last championship was 40 years ago.) The oft-derided Knick owner-tinkerers have kept on adding parts and paint–some new, some vintage, some famous, some obscure–but no matter: mediocrity remained the Knick bailiwick. Even the flirtation with sensation last year called Jeremy Lin ended with the Linsanity shipped down to Houston. But something seems to be rumbling this year in Madison Square Garden, nonetheless. A coach with a scowl, shoulders and gravitas–Mike Woodson is the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to meet in a New York alley–has the team in surprisingly fine form early, and New York is plenty grateful for the post-hurricane positive.
The season is only two games old. But the first victory was a 20-point punishment of the defending champion Miami Heat, an organization run with mastery by the same Pat Riley who coached the Knicks the last time they were consistently formidable–and who left New York without showing sufficient respect, many fans believed. The Heat win was satisfying for another reason too: Knick superstar Carmelo Anthony is supposed to be on the same level as Heat MVP LeBron James. Few are, but Anthony’s consideration at this level is genuine–and he showed why. (Their resumes have much in common, though unlike James, Anthony spent a year at college before going pro, promptly winning the NCAA Championship.) Anthony could be inspired by James’ having won his first NBA ring last season. Or perhaps New York has heard there is another team in town, with the migrated Nets trying to steal some of New York’s hoops ardor for their groovy new Brooklyn arena. Or it’s Woodson’s insistence on defensive effort and efficiency. On Sunday the Knicks beat Philadelphia to go 2-0 and shine a little sports light in the city on a cancelled marathon day. It’s just two games, of course: they have their own marathon yet to run.