You likely remember the stories that popped up in media outlets across the country after the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. They were about the fans, some 100 years old, who were celebrating for the first time their team winning the championship.
For Cubs fans, and even Red Sox fans prior to 2004, losing was as much a part of the team’s lore as anything else. A championship was just an elusive dream.
I’m starting to feel like one day I’ll be one of those 100-year-olds who has lived a lifetime without seeing a championship. The only difference is, instead of just one team, I’ll be waiting for four.
You see, I happen to have the misfortune of rooting for New York’s sometimes-lovable losers: the New York Mets, Jets, Islanders and Knicks. Yes, it’s a rough life.
Each year, ESPN compiles a ranking of all 122 professional teams in the main four North American sports. The rankings take into consideration fan surveys and a variety of other calculations to rate the team’s success against the costs associated with ticket prices. The scores are broken down by percentages. For example, stadium experience is 11.7 percent and fan relations is 27.2 percent.
In the most recent ranking, my teams finished 82nd (Mets), 84th (Islanders), 94th (Jets) and 114th (Knicks). Amazingly, there were eight teams rated worse than the Knicks.
“Yet again the Knicks had the worst combination of failure and high ticket prices of any team in sports,” the report stated.
The San Francisco 49ers claimed the final spot at No. 122.
A team’s outlook can change seemingly overnight. Consider in November 2015, the Mets finished three wins shy of a championship after losing to the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. The Islanders were just beginning the season primed for a breakout after a tough seven-game series against the Washington Capitals six months earlier. The Jets were off to a surprisingly well start en route to a 10-6 season that finished one win shy of the playoffs. The Knicks were coming off their worst season in franchise history, but there was plenty of buzz over the potential of rookie Kristaps Porzingis as the season began.
The outlook looked positive.
Fast forward less than two years.
The Mets’ season, once so optimistic with the depth of perhaps the best starting rotation in baseball, crumbled under the weight of injury after injury. The Jets spent the offseason sending away any marginally talented player left on the roster to be primed to lose as many games as possible this upcoming season. They have two young, unproven quarterbacks with little upside and a veteran journeyman at the end of his career. The only hope is to lose enough to be in position to maybe draft a franchise quarterback in next year’s draft.
The Islanders still have no home as it appears the Barclays Center experiment has failed to live up to expectations. Their only star player, John Tavares, is under contract for one more season, leaving open the possibility he could soon bolt, which would be a devastating blow to the franchise. The Knicks … well, they’re just the Knicks, always doing something that leaves the entire basketball world collectively scratching its head. To recap all the Knicks blunders would take far more space than I have allotted here.
So let’s stick to the most recent example. In need of a general manager, the Knicks talked with the highly respected former GM of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that has played in three straight NBA Finals. But the talks didn’t get very far after the Knicks decided that the GM would not have final authority over basketball decisions or the ability to bring in his own staff. So he wisely passed and withdrew his name from consideration.
What other team operates like this? Given the chance to hire a competent GM who could make smart decisions to build a roster, the Knicks instead opted for the status quo that has landed the team just seven playoff victories since the end of the 2001 season.
It’s hard to even remember a time when the Knicks were guaranteed to make the second round of the playoffs every year. Starting in 1992, around the time I was just getting old enough to follow the team closely, the Knicks made the second round of the playoffs every year through the 2001 season.
When that season ended with a loss to the Toronto Raptors in the first round, it felt like the end of an era. Little did I know how bad it was about to get.
So is there any hope? Should I simply find new teams to root for? Give up sports altogether?
I’ve come too far for that. I’ll be in this for the long haul. And maybe one day, if I’m lucky enough, as I turn 100 I’ll finally see one of my teams win a championship.
The author is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at 631-354-8049 or [email protected].