It wasn't much of a surprise to see a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden on Monday night. For one thing, Knicks fans have proven themselves to be an awfully hardy lot this season and turning out to make noise for their dismal favorites hasn't been a problem. Monday's crowd wasn't about this year's team, though, it was about the last decade of Knicks teams.
The crowd was there to bear witness to the final home game of an era that they all desperately hope came to an end with a victory over the Wizards. All the losing and embarassment has given way to hope for what is to come this summer and next season. Change is coming to the Garden, whether it involves LeBron or not, and Monday night's group was there to take one last look at the past and celebrate the one guy who was there through the worst days of it.
David Lee has often been the only good thing about the last five miserable years for the Knicks. On a team where playing hard was often seen as optional, Lee's effort never wavered nor did his desire to become a better player. He did just that, steadily building his game into one that made him an All-Star this season and posting gaudy offensive and rebounding numbers almost every night. Given all of that, it's no surprise that Lee has been the people's choice for most of his time in New York.
Despite that and despite some chants about re-signing Lee, last night's crowd seemed to understand that this was the end of the line for Lee in New York. Oh, there's a chance he'll be back with the team, but not in the same role and not with the same importance. Lee can't be the best player on a team that's going to the playoffs, something Mike D'Antoni admitted when asked if he'd like Lee back on the team next season.
"He just needs a long athletic guy besides him."
That's not something you say about guys who are absolutely integral to chances of winning games in the future. No matter how good Lee's stats lines have looked this year, it's hard not to notice that Earl Barron, late of something called the Iowa Energy, has averaged a double-double since joining the Knicks. Numbers aren't hard to come by when a team plays a style like D'Antoni's, and it's not hard to notice that all the points and rebounds haven't led to all that many victories.
Monday night was a night to celebrate what Lee has done for the team. It was also about turning the page and moving on to days when other men are the team's leaders.
That splendid crowd watched the Knicks come back to win against the Wizards with a 40-point fourth quarter. They thrilled to Bill Walker's leaping ability, Sergio Rodriguez burying a three and the rapidly improving game of Danilo Gallinari. Lee sat on the bench and watched with them, already a member of the team's past before the present was even completed.