Knicks 2000, This Is Our Year

17 Dec
“Well it’s the Knicks, back in the mix, representing all New York City kids,
Like tricks, last year we done, Eastern Conference champs, and you’re about to see it again like a rerun
But this new season we’re about to enter, the Knicks taking no shorts, like winter,
So put your hands in the air and cheer:  Knicks 2000, this is our year!”
—-“Go New York, Go New York, Go”-New York Knicks Theme Song- 1999-2000

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQ59Wg5h2aY

These days, something as simple as watching a Knicks game on TV can send my mind and emotions into frenzy.  And that is exactly what happened on the evening of December 6th as I watched the team that has alternately exhilarated and tormented our family for the past 20+ years completely dismantle LeBron James and the defending NBA champion Miami Heat under a barrage of threes from both unlikely sources (Raymond Felton-6 threes) and more likely suspects (Steve Novak-4 threes).  In Miami.  For the second time this year.  It was almost too good to be true.

I was joyous as I watched this beautiful blend of youngish old players and really old players whip passes around the perimeter for wide open threes, while Felton kept the defense honest by periodically driving the lane.  I texted frantically with Brett at Villanova.  It took every ounce of strength I had to refrain from texting Drew at Widener, but he had two finals the next morning, and if he was watching the game instead of studying, I didn’t want to know.  And through it all, my head nearly exploded from the pulsating lyrics of the old Knicks rap-style theme song that I couldn’t get out of my mind: “Knicks 2000, THIS IS OUR YEAR…GO NEW YORK, GO NEW YORK, GO….”

Why 2000?  It’s because , in the aftermath of the Cinderella season of 1998-1999 when the Knicks sprinted to the NBA finals as the 8th seed in the East, only to go out meekly against the Spurs in 5 games, the Garden played that song before every game and during many timeouts the following season, which was so full of hope.   But it later became a sarcastic rallying cry for Jeff and the rest of our family as the Knicks’ fortunes plummeted over the course of the next decade.  We’d be at a Knicks game in, say 2005, and if they were doing well that day, Jeff would turn to me and say, “Heyyyy, Knicks 2000, this is our year!”

That Knicks 2000 season (1999-2000) wasn’t their year to go all the way, as the theme song so hopefully suggested, but even so, it was another highly successful one for the Knicks. They finished third in the East with a 50-32 record before losing to Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals.  Back then, the Garden was still a great place to be, and when Jeff turned 13 on March 2nd, 2000, I thought it would be fun to take him to a game for his birthday and to have the Garden post birthday wishes to him on the scoreboard. He loved it, and the snapshot of that scoreboard message remained on Jeff’s bookshelf in his room for the rest of his life, and it remains there today.

2012-08-20_19

The frenzy that took over my mind during the Heat game stemmed from the fact that the Knicks were such an integral part of Jeff’s life from the time he was about 3 years old until, almost literally, the day he died.  I took him to his first game in 1991 when he was 3 ½, and when Jeff and I stumbled upon Charles Oakley and John Starks signing autographs shortly thereafter in what is now the Target strip mall in Mount Kisco, Jeff was hooked for life as a die-hard Knicks fan.  Always armed with a camera back in those days, I was fortunate to be able to take photos of Jeff with these Knick stars.

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2012-12-09_1

The decade of the 1990’s was a golden era for Knicks basketball, including two trips to the finals in ’94 and ’99.  They had a Hall of Fame center (Patrick Ewing) and coach (Pat Riley), and the Garden was absolutely electric in those days.  And as a family, we took full advantage and went to dozens of games over that decade and enjoyed every minute of them.

2012-12-16_1

I wish I could adequately describe the scene in our home on June 22nd, 1994 when the Knicks played the Rockets in Game 7 of the NBA finals.  The championship was at stake, and Jeff, Drew and I were pumped up for the game.  Carey was seven months pregnant with Brett, who was already enormous and very active, and would arrive two months later as our largest baby at 9 lbs, 2 oz.  Jeff wanted us all to watch together in our bedroom, which would have been fine, except that the two of us became increasingly agitated as John Starks proceeded to shoot 2 for 18 from the field and essentially cost the Knicks what would have been their first title in 21 years.

Apparently our screams were not pleasing to fetus Brett, and he too became agitated inside of Carey, and before long she was rubbing her stomach trying to calm him down while rightfully requesting that we tone it down a notch.  Drew, true to his easygoing nature, remained calm and amused through it all.  He was three at the time.  I actually don’t think it was our screaming that bothered Brett.  I think he too was furious at Starks for his performance.

 I’m actually quite thankful that Jeff grew up during that exciting and successful time, because when things turned south with the advent of the new century, he did not take it well.  Jeff was appalled at the blundering moves of Knicks’ President Isiah Thomas from the time he signed on in December 2003.  I, however, thought it was important back then to stay optimistic about the Knicks’ prospects, especially with young Brett, since I didn’t want him to jump ship and root for another team like the Nets, who were going through their own mini-golden era at the time.  But Jeff had no tolerance for my unfounded optimism, and he was intent on setting the record straight.  And so, on February 23rd, 2006, he sent me two links to extremely derogatory articles about the Knicks as part of the following email.  In the subject line, he wrote “Reality”.

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And just in case that wasn’t enough to convince me that the Knicks’ future was bleak, the very next day he sent me the following email for good measure, with two more articles:

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Throughout that decade, Jeff remained incredulous at the egregious things that regularly occurred in the sports world.  The Knicks’ woes were always part of his hit list.  On November 14, 2007, Jeff sent me an email from London where he was doing his semester abroad.  It was a classic Jeff Klein sports rant that belongs in the email Hall of Fame.  Not surprisingly, it included scathing criticism of the Knicks’ then current situation.  And Jeff included a sarcastic variation of the “Knicks 2000, this is our year” rally cry.

DSC01642

The cruelest irony of all is that the Knicks that Jeff loved so much were a big part of his final days, and events related to them may have been the final straw that broke his spirit for good.

When Jeff was really down at the end of October 2010, I figured the best way to snap him out of his funk would be to go to the Knicks season home opener on Saturday night, October 30th against Portland.  All five of us were excited to start the new season at a game together.  Jeff also had a Halloween party that night in the Village, so it was perfect.  He’d come to the game with us, and we’d drive him downtown to his party afterward.

How could he not be excited about a Knicks game with his family and a Halloween party with his best friends after, right?  He even wore his policeman’s costume to the game.  To top it off, as I was driving us into the city that night, Jeff received an email informing him of his excellent LSAT score, and he was visibly proud of it.  I looked at his smiling face in the rearview mirror as he told us, and I was certain that things were clearly turning around in the right direction.

Except for the fact that the Knicks lost that night, everything else worked according to plan.  Jeff partied in the city, slept there and came home the next morning.  He was then all set to go to his next Knicks game on November 2nd with Brooke and Julie, using tickets from our half season plan that we buy every year.  Jeff was clearly excited to take them to their first NBA game and had planned to meet Brooke at the train station in Chappaqua to take the 4:40 train into the city, where they would meet up with Julie.

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But as I’ve shared here several times before, that game was called off when asbestos was found falling from the ceiling in the Garden that afternoon before the 7:30 tip-off.  Jeff was crushed and, given his state of mind at the time, seemed to place a much deeper meaning on what happened than was appropriate.  I explained that to him and offered him a choice of other sets of tickets for upcoming games over the next week or two.  Jeff said he would think about it but never got back to me on that.

On the night of November 8th, 2010, after having watched most of Monday Night Football with Jeff and while giving him a big hug goodnight, I told him the Knicks were playing the Bucks the next night and suggested that if he was around, maybe we could watch the game together.  He said, “Sure, sounds good,” and at that moment, I am 100% certain that he was not planning to end his life the next day.  But something snapped the next afternoon, and I never saw him again.

Of all the feelings and emotions that I’ve experienced over the past two years, the one that has surprised me the most has been the extent to which I fantasize about Jeff and about how I could have prevented this tragedy.  In my first post of this year (“Starting A New Year By Seeking A Do-Over Of The Past”, January 10, 2012, https://kleinsaucer.wordpress.com/2012/01/10/starting-a-new-year-by-seeking-a-do-over-of-the-past/), I shared some of those fantasies. I have fantasized in detail about how I could have come home early from work that day and found Jeff before he pulled out of the garage.  I would have then taken him over to Michaels, our favorite local sports bar, to watch the Knicks game over dinner and drinks.  I have further dreamed about how different the November 10th newspaper articles could have been if I had done that.

Mock newspaper headline

 However, now that I’ve finally come to grips with the fact that the outcome can’t be changed, I instead fantasize that maybe someday God will let Jeff come home for one weekend, just a Friday night to Sunday night, so we can hold him just one more time and to try to achieve some understanding of how things could have gone so wrong.  Drew and Brett could come home from school for that weekend to see him, and we’d all stay inside the entire time to preserve the secrecy of Jeff’s visit.  Maybe if Jeff can make this happen, we can all watch one more Knicks game on TV together.

In the meantime, while I wait patiently for that fantasy weekend with Jeff, the 2012-13 Knicks continue to sit in first place in the East and are playing like the true TEAM that Jeff had longed to see since Knicks 2000.  Say what you will about them being too old or that they shoot too many threes to sustain this success.  Neither concern is valid.  Thanks to modern fitness technology, 35-40 year old professional athletes today can perform at a much higher level than those of yesteryear, and as long as the Knicks’ marksmen don’t force up their threes, they will continue to make around 40%, which is a recipe for success in the NBA.

While I don’t think Knicks 2013 will be the season in which they win it all, I do think they will get to the finals.  And along the way, they will continue to thrill their fans, including Jeff, with their unselfish team play.  In fact, upon further reflection since my last post, I think that Jeff’s thumbs-up gesture to me above the clouds in Turks and Caicos may have been as much about how the Knicks are playing as anything else.  After all, they were a huge part of his life until the very end, and so there’s no reason to think that they aren’t just as important to him where he is now.  And Jeff was equally important to the Knicks, and in a loving gesture facilitated by his friend Evan Sahr just weeks after he died, they posted this message on their scoreboard.

jeff memorial scoreboard

I have already begun to share some great Knicks moments with Drew and Brett during their Christmas breaks from school.  Drew and I went to that amazing game against the Lakers last week, and he, Brett and I are going to the Nets game together on Wednesday.  I remain a blessed man.

Since December 6th, though, I still have not been able to get that pulsating music out of my head.  Go New York, Go New York, Go. But it just hit me that this vintage Knicks theme song is one of my connections to Jeff, and I never want it to go away.  So let the music play, and let the Knicks continue to roll.  For me, this is about more than just sports.  This is about my family continuing to find ways to fight back from the depths after the grave injustice that we suffered, and doing so in part by bonding together around a team that has been such an integral part of our lives for over two decades.  These Knicks have provided energy toward our healing process, just as the Giants did earlier this year.  And who knows how many other families in the hurricane-ravaged tri-state area feel just the same way for their own very personal reasons?

So please, when you watch or read about the Knicks, think of Jeff.  Remember his passion for the team and for basketball played the right way, and on his behalf, put your hands in the air and cheer.

Knicks 2000, forever our year.

-Rich Klein

 

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2 Responses to “Knicks 2000, This Is Our Year”

  1. Lydia evans December 17, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

    I wonder if everyone else is as struck by the remarkable relationship you have had with all of your sons as I am. Although your time with Jeff was sadly truncated, I think you shared more fun and richness in your relationship than most experience in many decades together. No wonder he is still finding ways to give you a thumbs up! Xx Lydia

    • kleinsaucer December 17, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

      Thank you for those beautiful words, Lydia. I’m so thankful that I saved all the emails, texts, videos, photos, etc that keep him alive for me. It was great to see you and Arnie on Saturday. Such a great time ! Rich

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