Earl Monroe is not just another New Yorker. He’s a Knick legend. The Pearl. Black Magic. His playground nickname of “Jesus” lives on in He Got Game. He’s a champion. He is still involved in promoting New York basketball (keep reading, we’ll get to The People’s Games).
But in other ways, he is just like a lot of New Yorkers — he likes what he sees with these New York Knicks. A lot.
“What’s been done this year, it’s really tremendous,” Monroe told ProBasketballTalk on Wednesday. “The Carmelo Anthony thing has been something to marvel at, but even the team as it was composed earlier in the season, with Amar’e (Stoudemire) coming in and giving this team the type of energy and leadership he has done, we were rooting for this team….
“Now that they’ve made this change we’ve got two superstars here and you can’t help but feel good about what is going to happen with this team in the future.”
The less heralded part of that deal was bringing in former NBA finals MVP Chauncey Billups, but on the court that may have had the biggest impact on the Knicks.
Monroe’s flashy game with a lot of playground in it may be different from Billups, but Monroe knows good play when he sees it. And he’s seeing it.
“If you were to say where his game is, it’s more like (Walt) Clyde’s (Frazier’s) game,” Monroe said of his backcourt teammate with the Knicks (and still team color commentator on television). “But he brings a certain amount of stability and defensive presence. He might have lost a step or half-a-step or so, but he brings that defensive intensity because he’s played in the East. And it’s a different type of basketball that’s played in the East as opposed to the West…. The offense they are running now is more of a West Coast offense so he fits right in.
The Knicks are not there — Monroe says the team needs a defensive presence inside and rebounding force to really contend in the East — but they are building. And building the right way.
And New Yorkers are latching on to and identifying with this team, like they did back in the day. The energy is there again. But they have a way to go to catch up with those legendary ‘70s teams. It’s not just the championship, it was the personalities. That time, that team is not something that can really be duplicated, Monroe said.
“It’s a different day and time,” he said. “We all lived in the city and interacted with people in the city. At the same time we were just getting out of the Vietnam War, everything was moving ahead, everybody was happy because we had a winning team in New York. When you have that kind of combination it led people to remember us for who we were.
“We had guys who represented the city itself in terms of, well, we had Dave DeBusschere who was kind of lunch pail guy, the guy who went to work with the hard hat. You had guys that represented different factions of the city. I think we’re kind of still endeared to the people who saw us because of all that.”
We’ll let you decide for yourself what part of the city Walt Frazier’s suits represent.
Monroe is still representing New York basketball. He has teamed up with The People’s Games, a sporting competition between teams from various cities in a variety of sports. It starts with basketball, where teams will be selected from tryouts in New York and Los Angeles so that the best (non-professional) players from the two cities can battle it out on the court for the honor of the city. (If you are 18 or older, current resident of city, never played professionally and want to take part click the link above to get the details.)
“That’s why I was drawn to The People’s Games, because it reminded me of being back in those older times,” Monroe said. “You were back on the playground, you were getting an education every time you went out.”
Monroe will lead the basketball tryouts, which start March 13 and will be worked down to 20 players to represent NYC. They will play the best 20 from the L.A. tryouts in May. Basketball is first but the People’s Games will branch out soon to soccer, baseball and football as well as more cities.
You can bet at those basketball tryouts in New York they will be talking about the Knicks. Because while basketball never went away on the streets of New York, it is back in the Garden. And Knicks fans like what they see. A lot.