Dolan has always tried to bring in players who have excelled elsewhere to try to save the Knicks, which is the perfect way to set them up for backlash: They play in the Garden, but they never feel from the Garden. Lin seemed born in the Garden, a folk hero who became a real one.
Part of the excitement about the current team is just pent-up energy, both from the Knicks’ playoff drought and the isolation of the pandemic: People want to get out, gather and make some noise right now. But the real glory of this Knicks team is that it, like Lin, has truly come out of nowhere.
The team is full of castoffs like Julius Randle (who was one of those expensive underachievers last year before blooming this year) and Derrick Rose; young emergent stars like Quickley, Obi Toppin and especially RJ Barrett; grizzled vets playing their appointed roles like Taj Gibson, Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel. Coming into the season, this team was widely thought to be one of the worst teams in the N.B.A., but under the cantankerous head coach Tom Thibodeau, it has turned into the most surprising team in the league, with a better playoff seed than teams with LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Zion Williamson and Jayson Tatum.
Surprise is what the Garden has always wanted more than anything. Sports fans want the joy of the unexpected, the giddy sense of discovery that comes with being the team that no one believed in, with being the fans that were here before it was cool to be here. That’s what Linsanity had, and that’s what these Knicks have.
It, like Linsanity, cannot last forever, or even that long at all. The Knicks may be good next year, but they won’t be new — they won’t be this.
At the Garden for Games 1 and 2, I watched Spike Lee on TV jumping up and screaming, joyous and floating above the ground like the other Knick fans. The otherworldly levels the Garden has ascended to, the heights of Linsanity, the heights of these playoffs, they’re not so easy to achieve. Linsanity was gone in an instant; this could be, too.
Will Leitch, the author of the novel “How Lucky,” is a contributing editor at New York magazine and the founder of Deadspin.