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The Physics of the Knicks: A Graduate Text

August 11, 2011

The New York Knicks. Classic, historic, original. Recently disgraceful. Possibly educational?

Online education is without a doubt the way of the future, and you, reader, have found your way into it. HoopTherapy presents an online case-study course in modern physics, peer-reviewed, oft-cited, and confirmed as the internet’s most reliable source on the interwoven world of sport and universal forces.

Equal and opposite forces.

The Black Hole

“Madison Square Garden is the center of the universe as far as I’m concerned.” – Billy Joel

Billy Joel probably didn’t mean what he said right there. He’s an artistic type, not an academic, and therefore he should receive credit for his abstraction of thought, but probably not be taken seriously. However, all convincing arguments begin with premises that must be accepted, and it seems like in the interest of search engine optimization, a Billy Joel quote may just bump HT to match the traffic rate of a Wyoming county road (I realize not that many people are Googling Billy Joel, since the subset of his fan base that has discovered the internet is probably too busy playing Mafia Wars, but I continue nonetheless).

So Madison Square Garden is the center of the universe, and may be a massive black hole, from which nothing, not even light, can escape. With such a bold hypothesis posed, how would we collect evidence to support it?

It’s actually not that difficult, because in the 2000s the Knicks did a better job than any other NBA team at making money disappear, and the method of choice was to dump helicopter loads of cash at players who weren’t actually playing for them at the time.

For example, Larry Johnson last played for the Knicks in 2000-01, but somehow, with the date yet unchanged in their checkbook, the Knicks paid him $11.3M the following season (for zero minutes of playing time!) and $9.6M the season after that, resulting in a grand total of nearly two-thirds of the box office revenue of Space Jam in its first weekend in theaters.

L, as in laughable salary.

Allan Houston last wore blue and orange in 2004-05 (when he earned $17.5M for playing in 11 games, over $1.5M per game). What happened the following year, when he didn’t play at all? A hefty $19.1M landed in his bank account, which Allan Houston probably put into a money market account as soon as possible.

Stephon Marbury’s New York playing career ended in 2007-08, and yet in the following season he was paid $20.8M,  the equivalent of 130 four-year educations at Georgia Tech at 2011-12 prices. Despite that, Marbury has but a year of college credit from Tech, and is not planning on finishing any time soon.

It wasn’t all the Knicks’ fault. I know the front office negotiated the contracts before they knew all of these players would burn out, and under the NBA collective bargaining agreement, they had to pay the money regardless of a player’s status, but I hold that the compounded effect of the Knicks’ cash-flinging may have been a major driving force behind the real estate bubble and the summer 2008 spike in oil prices, creating dynamic economic forces from which the United States economy has yet to recover.

The Quarks

Quarks are unmanageably small and compose building blocks of atoms. They are defined by names that are meaningless to the layman (up, down, strange, charmed, top, bottom) because they refer to familiarly macro properties on a quantum scale. However, when applied to the accumulation of wayward guards on the 2005-2006 Knicks, the names start to make some sense.

  • Up: Jamal Crawford. Quite simply, if the ball’s in his hand, the shot’s going up.
  • Down: Steve Francis. The moodiest, always a little sour.
  • Strange: Stephon Marbury. No elaboration necessary.
  • Charm: Quentin Richardson. Probably owes his NBA career to an unusually strong team at DePaul.
  • Top: Jalen Rose. The tallest of the group.
  • Bottom: Nate Robinson. The short guy.


The God Particle: Isiah Thomas

Physicists have long sought a unifying theory of the universe’s elementary particles and forces, but have yet to find one, despite spending billions on underground magnetized particle racetracks, which are used to smash atoms into one another at incredible speed and analyze the results. Optimists hope that CERN will uncover a yet-unobserved particle with properties that can explain the missing links in the universe’s inner workings. While known in formal company as the Higgs boson, you and I and the rest of the unlearned class often refer to it as the God particle.

Not surprisingly, given the tone of this article, I’d like to present evidence that Isiah Thomas, former general manager and head coach of the New York Knicks, is the God particle. Follow along.

First of all, Isiah’s middle name is Lord. Seriously, check Basketball Reference, check Wikipedia, check his birth certificate. I did not make that up.

The Higgs boson (God particle) is thought to give other particles their mass, and it’s not news to anyone with an interest in the NBA that Isiah Thomas, as head coach and general manger, single-handedly created the dead weight of the mid-decade New York Knicks. Let’s review the Knicks’ roster from 2005-2006. Even excluding the six quark-guards listed above, we still have a horde of prolific game-wasters in Vin Baker, Tim Thomas, Mike Sweetney, Moochie Norris, Shandon Anderson, and Qyntel Woods…and the list goes on. Dead weight on a sinking ship.

The theoretical God particle (magnified scale).

All of these players didn’t play together at the same time, because there was quite a bit of trading and releasing going on, but just looking at the names brings to mind endless what-ifs, like wandering through a cemetery and seeing row after row of too-soon departures.

With Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony riding along now, the Knicks may have avoided relegation to the cosmic background radiation of permanent NBA irrelevance, though for so long they seemed intent on finding it.

Cosmic questions of chemistry remain, though after this year’s playoff berth, Knicks fans have hope for the future. But haven’t they always?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 2, 2011 1:33 pm

    I simply stated that a number of days ago!!!


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