How new influx of stars restored hope to New York’s teams
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New York has been a draw since it was New Amsterdam.
Its unique geographic footprint led to the growth of one of the world’s most sought-after destinations, attracting actors, musicians, artists, financial professionals — and more — with unrivaled opportunities in their respective fields. Athletes weren’t immune to its appeals.
For decades, the nation’s largest media market held an advantage over other cities, offering greater exposure and endorsement opportunities, and ultimately, greater earning potential.
“If I played in New York,” Reggie Jackson, then-owner of three World Series rings with the Oakland A’s, once mused, “they’d name a candy bar after me.”
Then they did — as Babe Ruth long believed they had for him — months after Jackson led the Yankees to their first championship in 15 years (1977).
It is no coincidence that Joe Namath got to cozy up with Farrah Fawcett in a Noxzema commercial, that a library could be opened solely with books written about the 1970 Knicks, 1986 Mets and 1994 Rangers.
Slowly, things changed.
Salary caps limited the financial advantages enjoyed by New York teams. Cable TV exploded and nationally televised games were no longer a precious commodity monopolized by big-market franchises.
LeBron James could be the world’s most popular player in Cleveland.
Peyton Manning could star in countless commercials with the Indianapolis Colts.
New York’s downsides took on sharper edges.
As five- and six-figure salaries transitioned to eight and nine figures, the state’s income tax deterred superstars who could keep more of their money and enjoy better weather in Florida or Texas.
New York locker rooms feature more cameras and recorders than does any city in the nation.
Fans might boo you on Day 1 (see: Giambi, Jason) or after winning four World Series rings (see: Jeter, Derek, and Rivera, Mariano) or in the midst of a 62-home run season (see: Judge, Aaron).
Still, Judge wasn’t dissuaded from signing a nine-year, $360 million deal with the Yankees this offseason — reportedly $55 million less than the Padres offered — to have a chance to win a championship in New York.
And several other stars recently have embraced a similar opportunity.
Four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers publicly announced he wants to join the Jets, who own the NFL’s longest postseason drought.
Patrick Kane, perhaps the greatest American hockey player of all time, steered his way to the Rangers in hopes of winning his fourth Stanley Cup.
Justin Verlander left the defending champion Astros to help end the Mets’ title drought.
Jalen Brunson became the first notable NBA player since Carmelo Anthony to look past James Dolan and join the Knicks. Rick Pitino chose to try to revive St. John’s.
It has created the potential for a renaissance in a city that is starved for a title, now a dozen years removed since a New York team from one of the four biggest sports leagues was given a parade.
At the very least, it has provided more optimism among local fanbases than they’ve enjoyed in years.
The Yankees and Mets are World Series contenders. The Jets expect a trip to the playoffs. The Giants expect back-to-back postseason tickets for the first time since the 2007 and 2008 seasons. The Knicks have the core of a perennial playoff participant. The Rangers, Devils and Islanders are all currently in playoff position. And St. John’s will be relevant for the first time in a generation.
More stars will come with more success.
New York’s upside remains unmatched. Eyes will always be drawn to bright lights.
Today’s back page
? O’CONNOR: Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell puts his name in Garden lore
? VACCARO: Knicks’ lack of energy during slump is most concerning
? BROOKS: Rangers returning to trusty recipe in latest power-play shakeup
? CANNIZZARO: Ex-Yankee draft pick Mitch Henderson grateful for Princeton hoops career
⚾ SHERMAN: Don’t expect Mets to join expected MLB increase in stolen bases
The man gets results
Rick Pitino said he will build something “special” at St. John’s.
His most recent predecessors at the school also offered some version of the same line at their introductory press conferences, then failed to earn the school’s first NCAA Tournament win since 2000. In the past eight years, the school’s greatest player (Chris Mullin) and a coach who reached a combined nine NCAA Tournaments with three schools (Mike Anderson) couldn’t get the Red Storm into the Round of 64.
Pitino will. Likely in Year 1. The transfer portal and NIL opportunities will allow the 70-year-old to contend for a Big East crown immediately.
Even without those tools at his disposal, Pitino never has failed to bring instant success at each of his past head-coaching stops:
1978-79: Pitino, then an assistant at Syracuse, lands his first head coaching job at Boston University. The Long Island native inherits a 10-15 team and goes 17-9 in his first season. A share of a conference title and an NIT berth came in Year 2.
1985-86: After two years as an assistant with the Knicks, Pitino is hired by Lou Lamoriello at Providence. Pitino leads the Friars to a six-win improvement (17-14) in his first season and follows with an unlikely Final Four run.
1987-88: Pitino returns to New York to take over the Knicks, who fired Hubie Brown during a 24-58 campaign, which marked the team’s third straight year losing more than 70 percent of its games. The Knicks improved by 14 wins in Pitino’s first season, and reached the playoffs for the first time in four years. In Year 2, the Knicks won 52 games and their first division title in 18 years.
1989-90: One of Pitino’s toughest tasks was restoring pride to Kentucky, which faced probation and sanctions — a two-year postseason ban, reduced scholarships and a TV blackout — when he arrived. Still, the Wildcats went .500 in his first season and improved to 22-6 the next year.
1997: Even Pitino’s greatest on-court failure was a success at the start. As head coach — and team president — of the Boston Celtics, Pitino led a young team to a 36-46 record, one season after it won just 15 games under M.L. Carr.
2001: Louisville legend Denny Crum retired after going 12-19 in his final season. Pitino came back to the state of Kentucky and went 19-13 with an NIT appearance in his first season, and followed with NCAA Tournament berths in 12 of the next 13 years.
2018-19: While in exile from American sidelines, the scandal-scarred coach picked up a Greek Basketball Cup and the Greek Basket League championship during his first season with Panathinaikos in Athens.
2020-21: Pitino returned home to lead the MAAC’s best program, but Iona was coming off a disappointing 12-17 campaign. The Hall of Famer brought the Gaels back to the NCAA Tournament in his first season, then picked up a pair of regular-season conference titles and another NCAA appearance before shooting across the Long Island Sound for his next “last” job.
? Join the Inside St. John’s text-message conversation to keep up with all the behind-the-scenes buzz around Rick Pitino’s Red Storm and to get your Johnnies questions answered by reporter Zach Braziller.
Return of the King
The Lakers aren’t finished. Apparently, LeBron James isn’t either.
James, who has missed the past month of action due to a tendon injury in his right foot, has inspired “increasing optimism” that he could return for the Lakers’ final “few” regular season games, according to multiple reports.
The Lakers announced Thursday the league’s all-time leading scorer has resumed on-court activity and is on a “gradual movement progression.”
Lakers coach Darvin Ham said the team anticipates their superstar back this season and that James is “doing well.”
The Lakers’ postseason hopes looked lost when James — averaging 29.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists — went down, but the team has gone 7-5 in his absence and currently is in 10th place in the Western Conference, representing the final play-in spot with nine regular-season games remaining.
James’ potential return could have massive implications on the Lakers’ final position: They are tied with the Pelicans, a half-game ahead of the Jazz, but also only one loss back of the sixth-place Warriors.
In a wide-open West, featuring a variety of flawed contenders, the Lakers are a threat to any opponent with Anthony Davis healthy and the roster as balanced as it has been — thanks to deadline trades bringing in D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura — since the team won the 2020 title.
Rule changes in MLB this season that encourage base-stealing could see someone make a run at joining the exclusive 40-40 club, which hasn’t produced a new member since 2006. Who are the four players to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in a season?
Hint: Three of them played at one time for the Yankees.
(Scroll down for the answer.)
What to watch on Friday ?
Women’s Sweet 16 (ESPN) — No. 4 Villanova vs. No. 9 Miami, 2:30 p.m. ET; No. 2 Utah vs. No. 3 LSU, 5 p.m. ET; No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 6 Colorado, 7:30 p.m. ET; No. 5 Louisville vs. No. 8 Ole Miss, 10 p.m. ET: This lineup has it all. You want the best show in college basketball? That’s Iowa phenom Caitlin Clark, trying to lead her home-state team to the Final Four. You like Cinderellas? We’ve got No. 9 seed Miami and No. 8 Ole Miss, which took down No. 1 seeds Indiana and Stanford, respectively, trying to extend their runs. Prefer points in bunches? Utah and LSU should light up the scoreboard.
United States vs. Grenada (8 p.m. ET, TNT): Hey, remember the World Cup? The US men’s national team returns to action for just the third time since its ouster in Qatar in this regional tournament known as the CONCACAF Nations League. The Americans are currently in second place in their group, but would advance with a win in this road game and a result Monday against El Salvador. Gio Reyna — who was in the middle of a sordid scandal involving his parents and former USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter — is on the squad, and may even be in the starting lineup in this game.
Princeton vs. Creighton (9 p.m. ET, TBS): The No. 15 seed Tigers look to keep dancing in the South Region in Louisville. Princeton is 9.5-point underdogs against No. 6 seed Creighton out of the Big East. Get ready for tipoff by reading this Steve Serby column on Princeton’s Caden Pierce and his family of big-time athletes.
Jose Canseco (1988 — 42 homers, 40 steals), Barry Bonds (1996 — 42 homers, 40 steals), Alex Rodriguez (1998 — 42 homers, 46 steals), Alfonso Soriano (2006 — 46 homers, 41 steals)