The epitome of pride and accountability, Patrick Ewing would sit
in his locker stall with enough ice wrapped around his body that he
could’ve been mistaken for a snowman.
Whether it was winning a championship or toppling his team’s
foes, Ewing made a lot of promises and wrote a lot of checks. He
was mostly able to cash them, but the big fella would always take
the darts when the team fell short, and proudly rejoice when it
Either way, he would listen, accept the criticism and, most
importantly, never lose sight of the fact that he was a franchise
player. More than anything else, Ewing — like Derek Jeter, Eli
Manning and many of their predecessors — understood what it was to
lead by example.
Flawed he may have been, one thing that nobody could’ve ever
questioned about Ewing was his desire to play hard, and the fact
that he never once mailed-in his effort.
Ask Allan Houston, Stephon Marbury and Carmelo Anthony — being
the man in New York City isn’t easy. The uniform doesn’t fit
everyone the same way.
Perhaps not coincidentally, more than 20 years later, the Knicks
are still chasing the ghosts from Ewing’s proud regime. But even
though the team hasn’t been a true contender since Ewing was
traded, it doesn’t mean the expectations and the weight on the
shoulders of the team’s players isn’t crushing.
Starved to the point of emaciation, the mere perception of
respectability makes Knicks fans salivate. A scintilla of hope is
all it takes for something like a double-overtime win in the season
opener to be treated as the second coming.
Like Broadway, the lights in Madison Square Garden shine
Unlike anywhere except perhaps Los Angeles, there’s a microscope
somewhere above the Empire State Building, and not every player
knows how to live under it, much less play
If Julius Randle is truly the type of player cut out to lead the
New York Knicks back to where they desire to be, he’ll have to not
only be a better player, but a better leader for the franchise.
As a collective, we completely discount and often overlook the
extent to which psychology determines outcomes in the league. When
Paul Pierce and Ray Allen got to the practice facility at 8:30 a.m.
and saw Kevin Garnett already on the practice floor, dripping with
sweat, it pushed them to work that much harder. They set the tone,
and the rest of the team fell in line.
When LeBron James corralled his teammates for summer workouts in
Miami and was in better shape than he was when he was eliminated by
those same Celtics, everyone marveled at his demeanor and approach,
August days or not.
Damn, this dude is a maniac.
In the NBA, there’s a difference between being a star player and
a franchise player. A star player usually has the ball in his hands
at the end of a game. A franchise player is who the players look to
when they're searching for their leader. They seek out the
franchise player when they need answers.
So what do you think Randle’s teammates think when, night after
night, they see him pout, miss clutch free throws and argue with
officials during play?
Those who don’t know better — and it’s safe to assume a fair
amount of them don’t considering the relative youth of the team —
think that his conduct is acceptable. And it’s not. Winners don't
act like that.
Randle may have had a good argument on Nov. 30 against the
Brooklyn Nets, and perhaps he did against the Celtics on Dec. 18,
but getting a tech in the closing minute of a game or not getting
back on defense to argue with an official is unacceptable — what is
this, high school?
There’s something said about being a professional and acting
like one, and despite the Knicks winning Tuesday night’s contest
against the lowly Detroit Pistons, Randle, thus far, really hasn’t
looked the part.
Pressure busts pipes, but it also creates diamonds. The
early-season adversity the Knicks have faced presented an
opportunity for him to show maturity, grace and accountability, and
thus far, he’s whiffed. He's spent much more time complaining about
things than leading his team to wins.
Across the board, the reigning Most Improved Player’s numbers
are down from last season, with his scoring (24.1 points per game
last season, 19.6 this season) and his three-point shooting
percentage (41.1% in 2021-22 compared to 32.2% this season) the
But although putting up numbers and leading by example are
important parts of being a franchise player, it’s nowhere near the
most important consideration. What’s more important is how you
conduct yourself — particularly when things aren’t going your
Having just celebrated his 27th birthday and coming off of his
first playoff appearance, Randle still has a bit of maturing to do.
But when you think about the way that other great players have
conducted themselves and how they’ve responded to adversity at this
point in their respective careers — when compared to the league’s
five-star players — it’s easy to see that he’s behind the eight
Adversity hits a bit differently in New York, and to this point
this season, Randle has given us reason to wonder whether he’ll
ever be able to hold it together when things crumble.
The Knicks began the season a disappointing 8-7, and back then,
it was obvious that their second batch of 15 games
would determine whether the club would replicate last
They followed it up by going 5-10.
Sure, COVID decimated the team’s roster, but that challenge
isn’t unique to New York. And even at full strength, too many of
the team’s losses were due to poor effort, lack of energy and bad
execution. Those shortcomings ultimately fall on the team’s star
player as much as (if not more than) its head coach.
It’s Dec. 22 and the Knicks, at 14-17, are the 12th seed in the
Obviously, they miss RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and the
team’s platoon of rather impressive youngsters.
But you know what they’ve missed even more?
A franchise player who, by example, can lead through dark
To that end, Julius Randle has certainly left a lot to be