A Love Letter to the 2023-24 New York Knicks, Who Played Until the Wheels Fell Off

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Let’s start with an acknowledgment: I am not from New York. I would never claim to be from New York. I am also not a Knicks fan in a real, meaningful way. (The NBA team I grew up rooting for was stolen by the Starbucks corporation. Long story.) But I do live here now, and during their improbably successful season, it was physically impossible for me not to fall in love with this Knicks team. When I found myself leaping off the couch to scream at the TV during the 76ers series—both to berate Joel Embiid and everything he stands for (or should I say, falls for), but also to offer the blue and orange some encouragement—I realized that I’d been infected by the Knicks bug. Against my better judgment, I found myself hopeful, smitten, and above all else, overjoyed that this motley crew ended up in my life.

While the Knicks’ season ended on Sunday with a fairly lifeless Game 7 loss to the Indiana Pacers, the vibes never went full funeral. Those who were with them since October fully understood that this version of the Knicks was a MASH unit, trying to win a playoff series without four key players. When a fifth—bulldog point guard Jalen Brunson, the team’s unquestioned leader and best player—suffered a fractured hand during the game, it was officially over, a fitting sendoff for a group that was running on fumes.

That doesn’t make anything they did along the way any less impressive, though. Posting their best regular-season record since the 2012-13 campaign, defeating a regional rival and new Knick heel Embiid in the first round, and taking the younger and healthier Pacers to the brink was all extremely good shit. Then there was the manner in which they did it: crashing the boards with borderline dangerous tenacity, making seemingly every big three when they needed them the most, refusing to be punked by anybody. As any sports fan knows, some teams are objectively good but subjectively annoying as all hell. Corny, even. These Knicks were not that at all.

That starts at the top. With all due respect to Carmelo Anthony, Stephon Marbury, and Amar’e Stoudemire, Brunson is the best player the Knicks have had since Patrick Ewing. He’s beyond skilled, of course, but his intangibles are also through the roof. The accountability after losses, the humility after wins, and the immeasurable amount of dog in him has already placed the diminutive lefty in the upper echelon of Knick beloveds. A cool 28 points per game—which bumped up to 32.6 in the postseason—a first All-Star berth, and an effortless cool ensured that Brunson won over the notoriously hard to please Madison Square Garden crowd. His playoff production was literally Michael Jordan-esque. Nothing but respect for New York’s fat-headed king.

His teammates deserve a triple scoop of praise as well. What can you say about Josh Hart? There were four different instances during the playoffs where Hart played the entire game. In one of those, he had 21 points and 15 rebounds. In the first two games of the Indiana series, he managed to go 17-for-25 from the field while shouldering a workload that would put most people in the hospital, not touching the bench a single time. Being that consummate glue guy while also proving time and time again that he’s the funniest person on the team makes Hart a perfect cult hero. Speaking of which—what a showing by Donte DiVincenzo. As his teammates were dropping like flies on Sunday, the sharpshooter went for 39 points, setting a Knick single-season playoff record by cashing nine threes. With his crisp hairline, goatee, and pugnacious spirit, DiVincenzo possesses qualities that so many New Yorkers either already have or want to embody. New York City salutes you, buddy, while the hoop heads appreciate the fact that you’re under contract for the next three seasons.

Special shoutouts are also in order for role players Isaiah Hartenstein and Deuce McBride. Heading into the season, both players were expected to play minor parts, but they ended up being invaluable members of the rotation, and for much different reasons. Hartenstein never met a rebound he couldn’t corral; McBride would occasionally become the best shooter on the entire planet. Not many teams could realistically ask their backup center to snag four offensive rebounds per game in the playoffs, a Herculean feat Hartenstein came a few decimal points from achieving. Thank you for your service, king. (Please do not leave this summer in free agency.) The Knicks would also not have won the Philly matchup if not for McBride shooting 43% from deep, a truly wild outcome for a second-round pick who scored two points a night as a rookie just two years ago. That first MSG chorus of Deuuuuuce next season is going to hit like a hurricane. Let’s also hear it for Tom Thibodeau, the head coach who has never once smiled, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. The Knickerbockers getting as far as they did is a huge testament to Thibs. Learning that he used to be really hot was also a fun part of these playoffs.

Call him Muad’Deuce.

All in all, this was just a fun time to be a Knick fan, no matter the fever of your fandom. I’ll spare you the diatribe about how fun it is to live in New York when the Knicks are good. I’ll just note that all the talk about how enrapturing it is to be part of something that the whole city gets behind is very real. Hating the mayor, complaining about the subway, and getting at least slightly invested in a Knick playoff run are core NYC duties, even if you’re like me and hail from the other side of the country. Watching bars that previously had made no indication that they were interested in sports suddenly hang up Knick flags, take the TV’s off mute, and then immediately get overwhelmed when people flocked there to watch the games was adorable. But there’s also something very touching about being in those packed bars—sandwiched between lifelong fans and people getting an explanation on White Donte in real time—listening to everyone hoot and holler when the ball went in the net.

Sports are supposed to be fun. Watching a band of underdogs come together to win 50 games, make a real go at the Conference Finals, and galvanize the biggest city in America was more fun than I could have imagined. The fact that it also took a historic offensive outpouring from the Pacers—shooting 67% from the field in a Game 7 is Twilight Zone territory—is a bit of a salve as well. The only way to kill the 2023-24 Knicks was to do something unprecedented, a word that can also describe the emotions I felt as these dudes filled the supersonic hole in my basketball fandom.

Thank you, New York Knicks. You all deserve to sleep for 96 hours straight. See you next year.

Originally Appeared on GQ