Sports and Revolution: Trust the N.Y. Knicks Black Braintrust

Hey Knicks haters, Knicks doubters, Knicks fellow sufferers AKA fans. We have had plenty to feel bad about over the decades. But don’t be a loser. For once we are winning. President Steve Mills, GM Scott Perry, Coach David Fizdale (Fremont High), Craig Robinson, vice-president of player development—(and yes, Michelle Obama’s brother) and Alan Houston, GM of the Westchester Knicks are finally getting it right. They are building the Knicks from the ground up with their own young players. Here comes R.J. Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Alonzo Trier, Frank Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, Damyean Dotson, Luke Kornet, Kadeem Allen, and Iggy Brazdeikis. Let them play.

Watch out for R.J. Barrett, a 19 year old star who has the will and charisma to move the entire team forward and Mitchell Robinson who has the chance to be a truly unique defensive force roaming all over the court to block and intimidate threes, not just a “rim protector.” Kevin Knox was a great pick at 9. What do we want from a 19 year old young man? He has a good three, a floater, he drives to the hoop with greater focus, his free throw shooting improved and so did his stamina. If you like Pascal Siakam as most improved player then remember, that was in his third year! Let’s let Kevin Knox and others to have a chance to breathe.

Frank Smith Jr. has shown flashes of true greatness and exceptional athleticism. He makes some bad decisions, still has problems finishing, and is a poor foul shooter. All that can be improved Mike Breen says, “This kid can become an excellent defender” and Clyde, so tired of a decade of futility says, “Sure, when he does…” and who can blame him. But give him a year under Coach Fizdale and the Knicks development team. Did you believe Emmanuel Mudiay’s impressive development last year? The year before he couldn’t start, finish, or hit the rim. The next year he was a powerful force with an impressive three. Give credit to Fizdale’s belief in and patience with young players. Frank Smith Jr. can be something special.

Alonzo Trier is a talent. He has a good three, a great will to get to the basket, and excellent free throw form and results. But stop calling him “Iso Zo” (one of Fizdale’s mistakes). If you drove out “Izo Melo” as a ball stopper than why create a new monster? Take off the great light and make him pass the ball more before his talent becomes its opposite and he becomes a caricature.

Luke Kornet has developed a better all around game, is an impressive three point shooter and plays good defense. Keep him around. In one game when everyone was gushing about Mitchell Robinson with 3 blocks Kornet already had 5. Stop the “white man can’t jump” jokes and appreciate him as a talent that you are developing.

Kadeem Allen, 26—I hear that Fizdale loves him and so do I— is the most complete point guard the Knicks have. Whether he starts at the point or gets big minutes coming off the bench he can support and complement Smith Jr.

Frank Ntlikina is the biggest enigma. Very glad the Knicks have not given up on him. His downside is obvious— at the core he is frightened. Eddie Johnson, former player and Atlanta Hawks broadcaster, watched him drive to the rim and said, “He didn’t really want to take that shot.” I think he needs karate training, I’m serious, to get over his fear of failure, because his defense is such a great gift. I saw one play when Kyrie, the best around the rim in the league, gave him every deke and duke and Frank held his ground and Kyrie forced up a bad shot.

Kristaps Porzingis—the one who got away. Let’s be clear. It was devastating that the Knicks lost Porzingis. He is a massive talent and god knows if the Knicks will and should take a chance on KD after such a devastating injury they should have offered him a 5 year max this year. But something wasn’t right. Fizdale and his wife went to Latvia, kissed up to him. Fizdale, trying to protect him, said his rehabilitation was going fine but they were taking their time, and Porzingis sends an Instagram with him doing great implying the Knicks were underestimating him. (And sadly, Fizdale apologized for no reason, showing the power the Porzingis and his brother had and the Knicks fear of him bolting. Then, when the Knicks had to trade him (it was not actually “trade” but a “sell at a loss” because Porzingis gave them no choice) this side told the opposite story, that the Knicks were rushing him back which doesn’t make sense. But whatever happened, and his brother and him are I’m sure a royal pain, it’s a massive loss and Dallas gain. So, what can you do he forced his way out. You got Dennis Smith, 2 first round picks, and “cap space” for a health KD and Kyrie and that is not going to happen, probably at all.
So, what can you do but move on.

Look, Milwaukee had the best record in the entire league with a true superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, two fine players they drafted in the Second Round!—Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon, and good role players–Eric Bledsoe, George Hill. Brook Lopez.

Obviously this excellent young core with a healthy KD and Kyrie would have been amazing and Mills and Perry cleared that cap space with strong expectations. But I won’t second guess the Free Agent sweepstakes and will not blame Mills, Perry, and Fizdale if the top free agents do not go to the Knicks. They will not be the only ones to be shut out and they will figure it out.

For me, the future is now, but in the opposite sense of how it is used. Enjoy the players we have, support the “patience” that Mills is preaching correctly. If Lebron and the Lakers can get rid of almost all the young players and draft choices and get AD, and then, yes a third start including possibly Kyrie, good for them. But the teams I worry about more are the Atlanta Hawks and New Orleans Pelicans because it will be the battles of the great young teams that the Knicks should be competing in. And yes Trae Young and Zion Williamson are going to be massive stars and they have other fine young players to build a team around. But don’t underestimate Barrett who Jay Bilas kept saying has “Hardeneque” moves, but more important is a great rebounder and ball distributor (and hopefully not a ball hog) and again, is he will be The Star around whom you can build a great team.

The Knicks are in good shape in that race and that is the long view we need to have.

So, let’s enjoy what we have, in life and in basketball— and support the Black Brain Trust. Don’t any of us have real jobs that we are supposed to be doing? I know I do. How about focusing on our own work and life goals and let the Black Brain Trust do their job with our full support and appreciation.

Eric Mann, a veteran of the Congress of Racial Equality, Newark Community Union Project, Students for a Democratic Society, and the United Auto Workers, is the director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles. (thestrategycenter.org). He is host of KPFK/Pacifica’s Voices from the Frontlines—Your National Movement-building Show produced by Channing Martinez (voicesfromthefrontlines.com)

He is the author of 10 books including Comrade George: An Investigation into the life, political thought, and assassination of George Jackson, Playbook for Progressives: The 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer and Katrina’s Legacy: the Black Nation and the People of the World Confront the U.S. Empire and its Genocidal Climate Crimes.

He has been a Knicks fan since Sweetwater Clifton, and was sent to solitary for 3 days when he refused to go back to his cell before the postgame interviews after the Knicks won the 1970 NBA championship. He was in prison for 18 months for anti-war demonstrations against the Harvard Center for International Affairs. While at Concord State Prison he was the starting outside linebacker in the prison’s football league and captain of the championship “Short timers” softball team that defeated the “Long timers and Lifers” in a great upset in the finals.

Eric Mann welcomes comments at ericmann@revolutionandsports.com.

Eric Mann is a veteran of the Congress of Racial Equality and the Newark Community Union Project where he worked closely with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. His story is on the Civil Rights Movement Veterans website (crmvet.org). He is presently director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center in South Central Los Angeles working at the Strategy and Soul Movement Center. He and Channing Martinez co-host Voices from the Frontlines—Your National Movement Building Show on KPFK Pacifica in Los Angeles. He is the author of Playbook for Progressives: The 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer. He welcomes comments at eric@voicesfromthefrontlines.com