Winning just one championship in New York can transform an athlete into an instant icon. Take for example Earl Monroe. After leaving a small market team in the Baltimore Bullets, Monroe was expected to sign with several franchises, New York not being one of them. Yet he was wooed in a full-court press and defied the prognosticators by signing with the Knicks. Just a few years later, Monroe won a world championship and has been a New York icon ever since.
So with everyone wondering who New York is going to ink, I got up with Allan Houston, who in 1996, signed as a free agent with the Knicks. And just like LeBron James, nobody thought he would leave as well.
Dime: What are your thoughts on this summer’s free agent crop?
Allan Houston: I think every player comes into the League wanting to establish themselves and work as hard as they can to have this chance. A lot of it is timing, but they worked hard for it, and they’re about to be rewarded for it.
Dime: Why did you sign with the Knicks?
AH: For me, there were a lot of different reasons. For one, everybody realizes that your career isn’t long so maximize when you can. For me, coming to New York, I was a piece of the puzzle. And I liked that.
Dime: Did playing in the Mecca of basketball have anything to do with it?
AH: Playing in New York wasn’t the thing, but a huge factor. For me, it was simple: the organization was very classy and had a very strong identity and history. Most free agents want to win. After you get past winning, where would you rather win? If I realize that I’m going to win, where would you rather win? For me, I realized that once I understood that the Knicks truly saw me as an integral piece to winning, there’s no better place for winning. And keep in mind we didn’t even win the whole thing.
Dime: Talk about what it means to win in New York.
AH: There’s playing in New York and there’s winning in New York. And there’s a difference. When you win, there’s no other place like living in New York. I felt the team, organization and management made it clear that I was a big piece of winning in New York. The city wasn’t the No. 1 reason I came here, but rather the icing on the cake.
Dime: What do you say to people that think the Knicks won’t win next season?
AH: We have room for two great players. For example, look what Boston did. I think it’s very clear that if you get one, they will come, and they will immediately turn things around. With new blood, you automatically turn the whole culture inside out. And when you have a chance to win, there’s no better place to do so. The fact that Donnie [Walsh] put us in the position to have that capability for players to have that opportunity changes everything. You can’t win in this League doing it by yourself; bottom line, you have to have other great players with you.
What do you think? Will the Knicks get LeBron?
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