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The Utter Joy and Chaos of a Knicks Playoff Win Has Been Decades in the Making

Knicks-Heat is an iconic postseason rivalry, but a new generation of New York basketball fans has discovered new villains and new ways to celebrate

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

I’d like to issue a traffic advisory for the strip of 7th Avenue directly outside Madison Square Garden in the half hour following Knicks playoff games. Typically, Knicks and Rangers games don’t usually lead to traffic jams—the stadium is literally located directly over the busiest transit facility in the Western Hemisphere, nobody has ever driven a car to a Knicks game. But in the event of a Knicks playoff win, as was the case Tuesday night after a 111-105 win over the Heat, this strip of 7th between 31st and 33rd street will be taken over by Knicks fans jumping up and down like they just downed tall boys of pre-regulation Four Loko. Are the inconvenienced cars honking because they’re excited about the Knicks, or because they’re pissed about being indefinitely stuck in a crowd of hyperactive fans chanting about Trae Young, the Hawks star who somehow became a villain to a new generation of Knicks fans? It’s impossible to tell.

The most logical place for Knicks fans to celebrate a playoff win by jumping up and down like beautiful fools should be in the large plazas under the Madison Square Garden marquee. But due to a yearslong construction project, those plazas are gone, and fans entering and exiting MSG are cordoned into slim passageways that are not nearly adequate for a celebratory mosh pit. So Knicks fans spill into the street for their celebration. It’s probably dangerous, but what are you, a cop? (Seriously, the cops seem pretty mad about it.)

On Tuesday night, after the Knicks evened up their Eastern Conference series with the Miami Heat, the throng of fans fill half of 7th Avenue. Some taxis and Ubers are trapped; the lucky ones bank left and squeeze past the crowd. Approximately 90 percent of the jumping hordes are holding iPhones aloft to record every moment. At the center are the guys from Sidetalk—the finest documentarians of NYC street yelling in video history—here to film a sequel to the famous Bing Bong video filmed after the Knicks’ 2021 season-opening double-overtime win over the Celtics. They are swarmed by hundreds of people who want to become the next Mr. Hey KD, Don’t You Regret Not Coming to the Kniiiiicks. And every time someone lands a one-liner, the crowd starts jumping up and down en masse. Eventually the crowd lifts up a guy in a gorilla suit waving a Knicks flag—it’s unclear whether he attended the game in a gorilla suit or just showed up for the afterparty in the street.

Before the Knicks beat the Cavaliers in the first round, it had been 10 years since their last playoff series win—and that one first-round victory in 2013 was the Knicks’ first playoff series win since 2000. That’s two decades in which one of the league’s most popular franchises has barely made a blip. Now the Knicks are three wins away from the Eastern Conference finals—and the 8-seeded Heat are riddled with injuries. Knicks fans are like the puppies in those sad-but-adorable videos where rescued lab beagles leave their cages for the first time: It’s been so long since we’ve been happy that we are a little bit confused. Younger Knicks fans have never been happy! I’m so happy that I am scared, and yet I do not fear the moving cars all around me.

To a 32-year-old with back pain like me, Knicks-Heat is a rivalry. The two basketbrawling franchises played each other in four straight postseasons from 1997 to 2000, all of which came down to a win-or-go-home decisive Game 7 or Game 5, all set against the backdrop of Pat Riley’s decision to ditch the Knicks for the Heat. To the Zoomers bouncing around in the middle of 7th Avenue, talking about Knicks-Heat moments from the last millennium is like talking about Civil War battles or Beatles concerts. I am sure they know Alonzo Mourning from the meme and Jeff Van Gundy from TV, not from the time Van Gundy clung to Mourning’s leg like a baby sloth holding on to its mom.

During the first two games of this series, the “Beat the Heat!” chants that were so ubiquitous 25 years ago are nowhere to be heard now, even though it rhymes and would be a perfectly logical thing to chant. In the street, one guy from my era tries to start a “Fuck Pat Riley!” chant that lasts maybe 12 seconds; meanwhile, every few minutes, someone is able to start a significantly more successful “Fuck Trae Young!” chant. Why are young Knicks fans so invested in commemorating New York’s first-round loss to the Hawks in 2021? Probably because that was the first good Knicks team many of them have ever cheered for. The 1990s Knicks had multiple villains—Jordan, Reggie, Riley and all the Heat—for now, the new era just has one.

When the Bing Bong video went viral in 2021, it was hard to decide which Knicks fan had the most memorable appearance—there was the guy doing an imitation of an electric shock, the de Blasio–Cuomo guy, and of course, Bing Bong guy. (That video was itself a sequel to an earlier video in which a guy said that “Trae Young looks like my dad’s dick.” Knicks fans really hate Young, and also, how would he know? Moving on.) But the most enduring celebrity from the Bing Bong video seems to be Don’t You Regret Not Coming to the Kniiiiicks Guy, who is now obligated to repeat his catchphrase after Knicks wins like Bart Simpson after becoming Krusty’s sidekick. It’s partially because his delivery featured the first four-syllable pronunciation of the word “Kni-i-i-icks,” it’s partially because we all assume that at this point KD probably does regret not coming to the Kniiiiicks.

When Durant and Kyrie Irving chose the Brooklyn Nets over the Knicks in the summer of 2019, it seemed like another bleak moment for the perma-blighted franchise in Manhattan. Two of the league’s superstars wanted to play in New York; they just didn’t want to play for the Knicks, who had to settle for Julius Randle in free agency. Over years of mismanagement, I’d come to distrust and criticize virtually every decision the Knicks made. I was mad when they traded Kristaps Porzingis. I was mad when they got Randle instead of building a superteam. I was mad when they hired Tom Thibodeau as head coach. And I was even a little bit confused when they spent big bucks on Jalen Brunson in free agency this offseason.

Needless to say, literally all of these turned out to be incredible decisions, and I was wrong in every possible way. (I am joined in wrongness about Porzingis and Brunson by the Dallas Mavericks franchise—but at least I get to enjoy being wrong because the Knicks are good now, while the Mavs still owe the Knicks a first-round pick.) Durant’s Nets won exactly one playoff series with their supposed superteam before trading Irving and Durant away; the Knicks have now matched that and are looking to win a second.

Now faced with heights this franchise hasn’t reached in generations, the Knicks seem to be getting a little tentative. New York wrecked Cleveland in Round 1 by imposing its will in a dominant 4-1 series win in which just about everything seemed to go right. The Cavs couldn’t shoot or figure out matchups; Mitchell Robinson grabbed every Knicks miss and dominated the paint on defense; the Knicks closed out the series with a double-digit road win in which Randle got hurt and it didn’t seem to matter. In Round 2, things aren’t going as smoothly. The Knicks spent most of Game 1 settling for 3s and missing them; when Heat star Jimmy Butler stayed in the game after hurting his ankle, the Knicks didn’t even think to try scoring on him despite his struggles to move. When Butler was ruled out for Game 2, the Knicks became double-digit favorites, but were stuck in a four-quarter slog against a Heat team that kept losing players and hitting shots.

But when the Knicks won, thanks to a couple of clutch fourth-quarter buckets from Brunson, relief turned to euphoria. I had long assumed that the Sidetalk videos were the result of the filmmakers guiding participants with outrageous prompts or feeding them funny lines. Tuesday night’s celebration after a Game 2 playoff win assured me this is not the case. When their cameras come out, fans impatiently wait for their turn to scream the most ridiculous thing they can think of in hopes of viral fame. One Gen Z kid grabs the mic and yells something I can’t print here, then turns to his friends and starts screaming, “That was it! That was it!” as if he’d just recorded the perfect take of his masterpiece. It wasn’t perfect—he will not be the next Mr. Don’t You Regret Not Coming to the Kniiiiicks—but neither was the Knicks’ win. Still counts.

Eventually, the Sidetalk guys turn off their cameras and the crowd quickly disperses. The cops turn on their sirens to scatter any stragglers, and 7th Avenue runs freely again. Will more playoff victories cause Knicks fans to mellow out? If I had a car, I’d use 9th Avenue on game nights until further notice.