In some ways, the Knicks and Yankees are very much alike. Both franchises have long been run by families that believe you have to spend to win, and have attacked the free agent and trade markets with zeal. Both have therefore been subjected to various luxury tax and revenue sharing plans that are aimed at their ability to spend at a much higher level than other clubs. Finally, both play in recently built or refurbished spaces that allow them to charge their fans exorbitant fees to enjoy the gameday experience.
However, when it comes to the most important elements, these two franchises could not be more dissimilar. The Knicks were, for a very long time, the worst run franchise in the NBA and possibly all of sports. The GM tenures of Scott Layden and Isaiah Thomas were riddled with terrible trades for aging and overrated stars, long term contracts given to injury risks, poor drafting, scandals, and worst of all, interminable losing. The Knicks were a punchline for over a decade, so much so that many Knick fans have been wary to jump back on board now that the team seems headed in the right direction.
Conversely, much like DJ Kahled and Tim Tebow, all the Yankees do is win. Over the last 13 years, the Yankees have been run shrewdly by Brian Cashman, and with a major assist from the Steinbrenner wallet have continued to build the legacy of the winningest franchise in sports. They have numerous marketable stars and fan favorites, and have also added a solid farm system to provide the franchise with exciting young talent. They have long provided a striking contrast to the Knicks, throwing the Dolans’ failures into stark relief.
This contrast also manifests itself in how fans react and relate to the two clubs. One thing that constant winning does is breed the expectation of success from fans. We no longer hope that the Yankees can contend, but expect it, and we have not experienced an expectation-free season since 1996. We get a bit confused and upset when the Yankees claim they want to cut payroll, as they have set a certain standard and we fear that they may no longer be able to meet it. This kind of attitude lends a certain tension to each season, as high expectations also leads to a greater fear of failure. I know I am not the only one who feels a modicum of relief mingled with the joy I experience when the Yankees clinch a playoff spot or win a playoff series.
Conversely, the Knicks enter the upcoming season with a different sort of expectation. They finally put the club in the capable hands of Donnie Walsh, and he has handed things off to Glenn Grunwald, who also seems to know what he is doing. The team finally looks ready to contend, but it is hard to tell at this point whether we can expect a deep playoff run or whether they are built to win one round and then bow out. When they lost in last year’s first round, most Knicks fans shrugged it off and looked excitedly to the future. There is a great level of mystery to their upcoming season, and any success will likely be met with the pure, unbridled joy reserved for a team and a franchise that has long suffered as a laughingstock and a perennial loser.
That sense of pure joy is somewhat missing from Yankee fandom. With frequent winning comes a greater fear of failure, and that greater fear of failure will by nature cause some measure of relief to be part of the emotions we feel when the club comes out on top. There is nothing we can do about it, and I would definitely rather have the frequent winning rather than that emotion in the long run. But I look with a bit of jealousy at my 12-year old self and wish there was some way I could recapture that joy I felt in 1996.