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November 21, 2015, Queens, NY  Last season was a disaster. Maybe it was supposed to be. Maybe it was deliberate. Maybe it was part of a larger plan. Last season was the worst in New York Knicks season history. 17-65. That’s ugly and oogly. Phil Jackson was supposed to bring the franchise into immediate contention–anything else was unacceptable. When you win less than 21% of your games, you are, in the eyes of many, an abomination.

The Knicks faithful haven’t seen a championship in the Big Apple since Richard Nixon was in the White House. The year was 1973. If you were born that year, you’d be 42 by this year’s end. There are plenty of people who were alive in ’73 who are not alive now. That’s the most chilling aspect of franchise droughts. More striking than who was Prez, how much it cost to ride the subway, what was the number one song, movie, and television program is who’s no longer around.

You look at sports franchise droughts in terms of who was living, and who wasn’t born yet. No statistic is more revealing. How many people have been born since 1974 in the U.S.? Over 3 million annually. Multiply that by 40 years, and you have a sizeable country. (We’re talking conservatively 120 million people.)

Phil Jackson was rightfully criticized, but now it’s time for some well-deserved praise. The Knicks are 7-6, a legitimate 7-6. They are a decent team that will become good by season’s end barring injuries. Kristaps Porzingis has been a blessing even though he was roundly booed when the Knicks selected him with their first pick. There were questions about Carmelo, but he has returned to his perennial all-star form. New team members Arron Afflalo, Kyle O’Quinn (born in Flushing, Queens), Derrick Williams, Robin Lopez, Sasha Vujacic, and Kevin Seraphin have helped to rejuvenate the franchise. Second year head coach Derek Fisher is seemingly more settled and confident.

Jackson deserves the lion’s share of the credit. Last year, he got the lion’s share of the blame. It’s still early, but the signs are evident that the Knicks are a team on the rise. Cudos to Phil Jackson. If he brings the Knicks anything close to a title, he would have been worth every cent of his $12 million salary. If he brings the Knicks a title, it will dwarf the previous championships he won as coach–at least in the eyes of many Knicks fans. Living or not.

Professor Clifford Benton can be reached at @clifford.benton.

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