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To Fix The Knicks

Can Ernie Grunfeld Bring an NBA Championship back to New York?
Kenneth Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Demi Moore, Autumn 96

(continued from page 6)

Still, there's no reason to toss in the towel. Several things are working in the Knicks' favor. Since an overwhelming majority of NBA players voted not to decertify the union last September, there will be no more preposterous long-term rookie signings in the $100 million neighborhood. While the top four 1994-1995 rookies signed contracts averaging $3.3 million per year over the first three years, the top four last season averaged a shade under $2 million. In the collective bargaining agreement ratified last year, the players agreed to hold rookie contracts to three years (they were unlimited before), in return for unrestricted free agency when those deals expire. This is a definite plus for Grunfeld and others around the NBA who had draft picks to sign before the start of the 1996-1997 season.

Also working for the Knicks is the success of Madison Square Garden, which has a healthy bottom line. The Knicks have sold out 172 consecutive regular-season games, with the last non-sellout occurring in February 1993. No surprise here. Attending games at the Garden these days is akin to witnessing a special effects show. Scoreboard videos, courtside celebrities, sexy dancers, Knicks theme songs and pre-game laser shows are all the norm. It is one of the best nights out in New York.

So panic is not the appropriate emotion. Grunfeld can take some time to hit the links and smoke with Gminski or Kupchak. Gminski not only introduced Grunfeld to cigars, but celebrated with him at Smith & Wollensky's steakhouse after Grunfeld's appointment to general manager. "People were sending over magnums of Robert Mondavi Cabernet," Gminski recalls. "We had this great meal, a lot of great wine and we just pulled out the [Macanudo] Prince Philip maduros afterward. It was fun because Ernie was really excited."

In the off-season, Grunfeld has more time to spend with his wife, Nancy, and their two children, Rebecca and Danny, at their Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, home. Nancy owns In the Paint Basketball Gear, a sports clothing line of activewear.

When he's in the office and has time to relax, Grunfeld can always pull out a Macanudo. At that moment, his eyes might drift over to the oversized picture of Ewing or the humidor with the piece of the 1973 Garden floor. Nice artifacts both, but also double-edged swords. The Ewing picture, so full of euphoria, tells a tale without a happy ending.

Should Grunfeld's eyes settle on the humidor behind his desk, he'll recognize a fuller tale. That humidor will remind him of his youth and the 1973 Knicks team that in five games beat the Lakers and a few chaps named Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich--Hall of Famers all--to capture their last championship. While the humidor will remain behind the desk, the picture should one day be replaced.

"We can always do better by winning a championship," Grunfeld says. "We're extremely competitive people and the fans deserve it and the players have given great efforts to win."

Perhaps a new picture will show Ewing with his hands thrust skyward, pointing toward the 1970 and 1973 championship banners and retired uniform numbers of Reed and Frazier in the Garden rafters. But in this photo, Ewing should be celebrating the Knicks winning a new championship banner for those rafters.

Kenneth Shouler, a freelance writer based in White Plains, New York, is a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado.

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