New York remains in local sports rut

By Tom Allon

One of the many great things about living in New York City is the abundance of sports teams. In every major sport, New York has at least two professional teams — a luxury not afforded to smaller cities such as Cleveland, or even more cosmopolitan ones like Boston.

But despite this abundance of choices, woe is the New York sports fan in 2015. So many teams, yet so few victories. In the past year, even perennial winners like the Yankees failed to make the playoffs. All us sports fans could do was watch relatively small-market teams like Kansas City and St. Louis and Detroit and San Francisco battle it out in October for the Major League Baseball championship.

It has been a very long time since New York had such a dismal group of teams, with little hope of a major championship in the very near future. Surprisingly, one of the teams with perhaps one of the longest recent droughts — the Mets — may be on the upswing this year. With the return of superstar pitcher Matt Harvey after a year-long rehab from shoulder surgery and a young group of impressive young arms, the Mets are a bright spot on the New York sports landscape.

In the Bronx, the Yankees are coming off the first two-year stretch in a while without qualifying for the post-season. It seems like a lifetime since George M. Steinbrenner III ruled this town and went on mad shopping sprees for the best players in the game to assure the Yankees would have a strong shot each year at winning the World Series. His sons, who now run the team, are not quite as generous with the checkbook. This, compounded by the incremental retirement of the team’s core stars — the latest being surefire Hall of Famer Derek Jeter — has led to the team’s decline.

That all said, New York baseball is probably one of the brighter lights in the sports galaxy. The Mets are on the rise and the Yankees will probably always be in the playoff hunt, so hope springs eternal as winter turns to spring this year.

On the other side of the spectrum is New York’s basketball slow motion disaster. Watching the New York Knicks these days is like witnessing a car wreck — most of the time I feel like averting my eyes when I channel surf and pass a Knicks game on television. Right now, they are on track to be the worst team in basketball this year, and perhaps with the worst record in professional basketball in recent memory.

This is all happening just when the Knicks’ controversial owner finally seems to have settled on a stable team president, Phil Jackson, who has the best track record in basketball history (more championship rings than fingers). Like a builder taking over a condemned property, it appears that Jackson is planning a gut renovation of the team in the next year, and building a younger and more athletic team from the bottom up. But like most overhauls, this one could take some time and Knicks fans, who have been so hungry for a winning team for more than a decade, will have to wait much longer before they witness a competitive team playing in Madison Square Garden.

In Brooklyn, the many millions of rubles lavished on the Barclays Center and a high wattage team of stars has not led to stellar basketball either and it seems like the Nets majority owner may be shopping the franchise to take advantage of the skyrocketing prices of basketball franchises (the Los Angeles Clippers recently fetched approximately $2 billion).

It looks like basketball, once dubbed “the city game,” will not be a major tourist (or hometown) attraction in New York for the near future.

And then, of course, there are New York’s football franchises, the Giants and the Jets. The Giants, who have built a stable, solid organization (not unlike the Yankees in baseball), have had two down years after a nice stretch of playoff football and two very surprising Super Bowl wins in the past decade. Although the Giants have been disappointing these past two years, there is hope that they will emerge again very soon — as long as franchise quarterback Eli Manning can return to his glory years.

The Jets, however, are another sports gut renovation. After an entertaining stretch under the always lively head coach Rex Ryan, Gang Green has now turned over the reins to a new general manager and a new head coach and it looks like the team will go into a period of “rebuilding,” one with hopes once again of turning into a championship contender, or at least a playoff bound team in the next two to three years. The key will be to find a strong quarterback who can lead the team for at least the next five to seven years whom the general manager can build a team around.

Like many longtime (and long-suffering) fans, I realize that sports teams usually have cyclical success (it is a rare franchise, like the New England Patriots, that stays in the elite of the league for more than a decade consecutively).

But in a city like New York, with more than eight professional teams, the odds are that at least one or two of them will qualify for the playoffs each year. That is why 2014–15 is such an anomaly. It has been at least two decades (and maybe more) since New York hit such a collective sports rut.

The good news is that in sports, there’s always next year.

Tom Allon, president of City & State NY, was a Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013. Reach him at tallo‌[email protected]‌yands‌taten‌y.com.

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