New York Sports Entering a Promising Era


It was a rough couple of decades for sports in New York, and not just because of the incessant losing. The last 20 years was an era of general ineptitude marked by a butt fumble, a Ponzi scheme, failed coaches, disgraced executives, a team hero getting dragged out of the arena by security and losing seasons stacking up like rotting garbage bags in the snow.

To be a New York sports fan through all of that was a mental and emotional test of endurance just to remain loyal during perhaps the worst two-decade stretch for sports in the region.

The dozen or so teams in the country’s biggest market, with all their resources and expectations, competed for a possible 223 championships over that period in six different leagues, but won only four titles, or 1.8 percent. Boston, a much smaller city, won 12 out of a possible 99 and one team in a an even tinier market — the San Antonio Spurs — won just as many as all the New York teams combined, despite having only 20 chances.

But maybe, just maybe, the collective suffering is coming to a merciful end. You might have to look deep in a couple of cases, but for the first time in years, all the arrows seem to be pointing up.

“We are on the cusp of maybe a good 10-year run where all the teams are in contention in their respective sport,” said Boomer Esiason, the Long Island-bred former N.F.L. M.V.P. who, as the host of the drive-time morning show on WFAN radio, has the pulse of the fans. “It’s really a fascinating time in New York sports.”

Of course, it could all go sideways in the blink of a stupid trade or a shredded elbow, especially with articles like this one to jinx it. For now, optimism reigns as fans are allowed back in arenas and stadiums in limited numbers, and the following words can be typed in succession for the first time in ages: The Nets are stacked, the Mets are poised, the Giants seem to be building something real, the Jets have a bushel of draft picks and a commanding new coach. And the Knicks — the Knicks! — actually seem to know what they are doing.

OK, we know you are skeptical. Twenty years of sports PTSD will do that. But here is a closer look at how the various New York teams are faring.

The most astonishing turnaround in the metropolitan region at the moment belongs to the Knicks.

People under the age of 30 may not remember, but there was a time when the Knicks owned New York, even more than the Yankees. When they played the Chicago Bulls, the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat in the playoffs in the 1990s, the city went on pause. That changed, coincidentally or not, around the same time James Dolan took ownership of the team and the Knicks only made the playoffs (barely) five times over 20 seasons.

Oh, and St. John’s men’s team is playing tough defense, too, and is over .500.

Taken as a whole, Thomas said, “It’s very positive for basketball in New York right now.”

Look, we know the last five years or so of football in New Jersey has been excruciating for the fans. But …

“There is no question that both franchises are on the upswing,” said Esiason, who is also an N.F.L. analyst for CBS. “Both Giants and Jets fans feel there is an optimism surrounding the team, for different reasons.”

Finding something positive about the Jets is really an undertaking for a historian. Actually, a geologist — what does the carbon dating reveal about their only trophy? Paleolithic period? Jurassic? After all, the Jets (2-14 last season) can’t even lose properly. By winning a second game, they missed out on a generational No. 1 draft pick. Trevor Lawrence almost certainly won’t be a Jet, but the No. 2 pick is better than, say, the No. 3 pick, and they have many more picks in the holster, too.

“I would love to see Joe Douglas’s white board,” Esiason, who played for the Jets, said about the team’s shockingly competent general manager. “They’ve got tons of options.”

They also have a new coach, Robert Saleh, whom people already love before he has run a practice. The Jets clearly took note of the success of their fellow Jersey swamp residents’ new tough-guy coach, and hired one of their own.

Much of the hope surrounding the Giants emanates from that coach. Joe Judge changed the culture in his first year and led the G-men to six wins, which in the awful N.F.C. East made them a playoff contender.

Plus, with two Super Bowl titles in the last 14 years, the Giants get the city’s only hall pass in this accounting.

“Lou Lamoriello has basically resuscitated that moribund franchise,” said Esiason, whose son-in-law, Matt Martin, is a forward on the team, “and they have a new arena being built over in Elmont — who would have thought that would ever happen? Now, suddenly, they are one of the top teams in the N.H.L.”

Add it all up, from the Bronx to New Jersey — the Red Bulls are bound to win an M.L.S. Cup eventually, right? — and maybe the region really is headed for something better than four championships in the next 20 years.

“New York is the greatest city in the world and it really needs some positive energy,” said Alex Rodriguez, the ESPN analyst who was part of the last Yankees championship in 2009. “Things are looking up. I think sports is ready to bring a lot of joy and hope for the folks of New York.”


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