The Knicks clinched a playoff spot after their longtime rival Boston Celtics lost in Cleveland 102-94 last Thursday (13/05)Marco/Flickr

For the past eight years, the only time that the New York Knicks and NBA playoffs have been mentioned in the same breath is at the end of a punchline. But in 2020-21, Knicks fans can finally vacate their usual post-season ridicule, as they witness their team secure a fourth-seed finish in the Eastern Conference standings. The franchise will now enter a sixteen-team playoff format, in which a total of four rounds of best-of-seven stand in between the Knicks and their first NBA title since 1973 - an unlikely outcome but still worth the mention.

The Knicks’ playoff absence came off the back of a 2012-13 postseason that saw franchise player Carmelo Anthony carry the team to their first second-round appearance since the turn of the millennium. Alongside the “Linsanity” craze, Knicks fans used to find enjoyment piling into the sold-out Madison Square Garden arena.

“The Knicks being a well-performing team satisfies more than just the fans and James Dolan’s pockets: it pleases the entire NBA organisation”

Nowadays, they are greeted by the warm welcome of a James Dolan ‘lifetime ban’. The infamous Knicks owner has long been criticised for his management of the team, dating back to the abysmal performances of the early 2000s. In 2007, then NBA Commissioner David Stern labelled Dolan’s handling of the organisation “not a model of intelligent management.” Meanwhile, Dolan has drawn criticism from fans and former players alike. In February 2015, he responded to a reproving letter from Irving Bierman, a 73-year-old, lifelong Knicks fan, with a letter of his own, calling Bierman a “sad person” and an “alcoholic maybe”, while two years later former Knicks player Charles Oakley was removed from a league game, subsequently sparking claims that Dolan “just bullies people because he has money and power.”

However, weathering this off-court media storm, the current Knicks roster has exceeded expectations. Finishing the regular season with a plus 500 record (41W, 31L), the Knicks are set to match up against an equally overachieving Atlanta Hawks side in the first round of the playoffs. Yet having missed out on landing any superstars in the recent free agency markets - notably Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and even LeBron James - many are wondering how this success has been made possible.

Despite free-agency failures, the Knicks have managed to build a solid outfit across the court. Picking up power-forward Julius Randle at the beginning of last season has proven to be a stroke of genius, as the number-seven pick in the 2014 draft is coming off the back of not only his most productive season in the league, but also the best individual Knicks season since Carmelo Anthony’s prime. Randle has been shooting career highs from both three-point range (41%) and the foul line (81%), all while leading the league in minutes played.

“The current Knicks team are generating a buzz for the future and, without getting carried away, look set to prosper both on and off the court”

Meanwhile, sophomore guard RJ Barrett has moulded himself into a reliable number-two option on a playoff team. Entering the league out of Duke University, Barrett struggled to flourish in the same way as his draft classmates Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, but under taskmaster coach Tom Thibodeau he has proven his worth in late-game situations. Scoring 75 points in 100 fourth-quarter minutes in April, with an impressive 61% field-goal percentage and a crucial 93% conversion rate from the free-throw line, Barrett is showing signs of the sought-after ‘clutch gene’ that graced the game of the late Kobe Bryant.

Putting aside this on-court success, the Knicks being a well-performing team satisfies more than just the fans and James Dolan’s pockets: it pleases the entire NBA organisation. Unlike the bitter rivalries of Premier League football, the NBA thrives on a ‘brotherhood’ image and atmosphere, giving reason to LeBron James’s recent tweet claiming that “the league is simply better off when the Knicks are winning.” Titled the “Mecca of Basketball”, the MSG arena has played host to some memorable performances from stars that do not even don a Knicks jersey; while over the last fifteen years, attendance records have sat at a staggering 99.3%, mocking the expected home turnout of 87%. Given this energetic survival of a seemingly dead franchise, both the NBA’s financial and reputational vigour is largely indebted to the New York Knicks.


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A majority of revenue generated by the NBA is classified as Basketball Related Income (BRI). Although this omits revenue sharing due to the BRI’s contribution towards calculating the league’s salary cap, the Knicks’ annual revenue stood at $421m at the end of last season (second highest in the league), despite missing out on the playoffs. Instead, the BRI takes into account broadcasting deals, ticket purchases and jersey sales. With a metro area population of 19.2m, the franchise holds the largest potential viewership numbers in the NBA, combined with $108m made from the gate receipts of a pandemic-struck 2019-20 season; the Knicks have been the NBA’s most profitable losers.

However, the franchise now finds itself in an exciting position. They have contractual control over the majority of their playoff-calibre roster moving forward, possess all of their own first-round picks in the upcoming draft and also have a projected $50m in salary cap space this offseason. The current Knicks team are generating a buzz for the future and, without getting carried away, look set to prosper both on and off the court, indicating that the NBA really is better off when the bright lights of New York become the spotlight of a winning Knicks franchise.

You can watch the New York Knicks begin their unexpected playoff adventure Sunday midnight (24/05) on Sky Sports Mix, as they take on the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.