Thursday, October 20, 2005

Houston, We've Got Problems

Allan Houston retired on Monday, causing a lot of frustration to boil over for Knicks fans.

You didn't think we were going to let the NBA's two hottest topics go unmentioned, did you? Maybe we could have gotten away without discussing Allan Houston's retirement, but there's no way we could let the NBA's new dress code, an issue that's "tailor-made" for us, pass us by. Tomorrow we'll have a little fun with the dress code-- NBA Source style, but today I'm going to delve into the debate surrounding Allan Houston's retirement, a topic that's particularly drawing a lot of attention on the east coast.

After the Knicks sent Kurt Thomas to the Suns earlier this summer, Allan Houston was left as the lone Knick from the 1999 team that made a run to the NBA Finals. When Houston retired on Tuesday, an era of Knicks basketball officially ended. Houston was a key component on the Knicks for many years, a model of consistency and durability as well as the team's (and maybe even the league's) sharpest shooter. He's also the man that kept their '99 Finals run alive after sinking that memorable game winner against Miami in the first round. But that's not what Knick fans are talking about right now in light of Houston's retirement. Nope, I've been hearing a lot of, "Who cares? He was done anyways," and, "Good. Now we can make that $100 million contract a memory instead of reality."

We knew then and we definitely know now that the 6 year, $100 million contract the Knicks gave Allan Houston in 2001 is one of the most outlandish contracts ever signed by anyone in the NBA. At the time of the deal, the 30 year old Houston was coming off a down season compared to the prior year, where his deficiencies in rebounding, passing, and defense were as apparent as ever before. On top of that, the Knicks were trying to recuperate after getting bounced out of the Playoffs in the opening round for the first time since 1991. So why would Scott Layden pin the future of Knicks basketball on a one-dimensional player who clearly had no more upside? Nobody knows. And nobody will ever forget either because it's this contract that has set the Knicks back financially ever since.

Houston would go on to average 20+ points for the first time in his career the following two seasons-- of course the Knicks would go a combined 67-97 in '02 and '03, missing the Playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since the '86 and '87 rebuilding years. And then the knees started to wear down, and Allan Houston's career essentially came to a screeching halt. No longer was Houston underperforming-- he was barely even performing at all over the last year and a half. Anyone that saw him last season knew that his knees were shot and that he'd be lucky to make it back for this season. And so, Houston called it a career earlier this week and Knicks fans haven't responded as empathetically as one normally would for a guy that gave his franchise 9 seasons, finished in the team's all-time top ten in scoring, steals, and three pointers, and always exhibited the utmost professionalism and dedication to his organization on and off the court.

Here's my problem with Knicks fans looking at Houston's career with disdain-- is it his fault that he signed this enormous contract? If your employer was happy with your performance at work for the past 6 years and wanted to reward you accordingly, would you tell him, "You know what? I'm not worth that kind of money. There's only so much I can do at this job. It might be a better idea to hire guys that can take care of the duties that I'm not capable of."? There's no way you would. We all like to look down on athletes like Alex Rodriguez and Houston for taking in more money than they could possibly be worth to their employer, but we have to remember that it's more than just wealth to these guys. The $ also represents dignity, respect, and pride. If someone is willing to pay you a certain price because they think you can perform at a certain level, nobody in their right mind is going to admit that they can't-- especially not in the competitive world of athletics. If Allan Houston can earn $100 million to play basketball for the New York Knicks, then by God, he better sign that contract because he's obviously earned the right to sign it in the eyes of the organization. He even said it at the time, "For them to offer me what they offered me, there was really no thinking. They exceeded my expectations."

I can understand the frustration of Knicks fans, but Houston wasn't the one who wrote out the check-- he only signed it. Was he worth it? Obviously not, but blame Scott Layden, not Allan Houston because he did try to be the $100 million man. And you know this. Houston clearly didn't mail it in like we see with so many athletes after signing a mega deal. He increased his averages nearly across the board the next two seasons and missed only 5 games before he encountered debilitating knee problems. Nobody has ever questioned his willingness and determination to try to be the very best player he could be, and quite frankly, that's all you can ask of any athlete no matter how much they earn.

I'm 50/50 on whether the Knicks should retire Houston's number, and that's only because I'm not sure his career accomplishments merit such a prestigious honor. It has nothing to do with that ridiculous contract. Someone in the New York Post was quoted as saying the Knicks should hang a $100 million check in the rafters instead of Houston's number #20. I say if they do retire Houston's number, they should hang a mugshot of Scott Layden right next to it.


At 5:19 AM, Blogger Mike Plugh said...

Nice piece.

The way I look at it, Allan Houston was a terrific guy, who made $100 million for his personality and his jumpshot.

No he didn't create the contract, and like any of us, he signed it grinning. The thing is, I can't stand the sight of Allan Houston, not because he's a greedy monster, and not because he ever jaked it, but simply because he's a guy that got something he didn't deserve at the expense of the happiness of millions of Knick fans. Houston's a big boy, and I guarantee he knew what would happen as soon as he put his name on the dotted line.

If you can't take the heat, don't sign the contract. To his credit, he isn't bitter about the way Knick fans feel about him. He never even mentions it as a matter of fact.

I don't have anthything against the man that walks around the Garden in a suit and smiles cheerfully at everyone he meets. I don't have anything against the guy who prays for his ailing owner, and does charity work in his spare time. I don't have anything against the good dad that loves his daughter and gives her piggy back rides.

I freakin' hate the guy who wears #20 and can't get an assist or a rebound if his life depended on it. I hate the guy whose name fills the biggest salary slot on a roster of bloated contracts. I shoot daggers with my eyes at the slow awkward defender that lets a 47 year old Dan Majerle dribble circles around him and scores on the baseline. That guy I wish would disappear forever.

Plus, the thing is, I would hate that guy if he was making minimum wage and playing for the simple love of the game. Get off my team.

Finally, I have a huge freakin' problem with the press' kissy-face treatment of Allan Houston as he retires, when John Starks and Charles Oakley left unceremoniously with only the hearts of the fans going with them. Those guys meant more to the Knick franchise and its fans that 300 Allan Houstons and what kind of memories are we pining over with their retirements.

Allan Houston. Bah! Humbug.

At 5:24 AM, Blogger Mike Plugh said...

Oddly enough, as I went back and read your piece again, I saw the picture of Houston trying to go around Majerle.

My comment is based on very vivid memories of a hobbled Dan Majerle abusing Houston in the playoffs for the Heat and whaddayaknow there's a picture of the pair in your story.


At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice piece, Paul.

As someone who lives in New York now(my allegiance is with the Celtics though...) I can fully understand Mike's frustrations.

I don't understand why people don't get more pissed off at their upper management. Isiah. Scott.

There's where the heat should be going.


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