2007-03-16 / Sports

New York Knicks Team Up Off The Court For Charity

By John J. Buro

By John J. Buro

On a cold, March evening, the AMF Lanes at Chelsea Piers were filled with warmth. For a few hours, the New York Knicks and a legion of fans stepped in from the inclement weather to participate in Knicks Bowl 8 for the Garden of Dreams Foundation.

As described in a press release, the GDF, a non-profit charity which was launched in the fall of 2006, is committed to "making dreams come true for tri-state area children in crisis," - regardless of whether such afflictions are caused by mental or physical distress. This particular gathering is the team's largest annual fundraiser; last year's event raised more than $200,000 for Madison Square Garden charities.

The organization's generosity has benefited a number of community-based organizations, including City Harvest, Hackensack and NYU Medical Centers, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Ronald McDonald House. More than 8,000 children have attended events at Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall, and various 'drives' have brought in more than 3,000 pounds of food, 400 coats and 300 toys. [For further information, call 212-465-4170, or go to gardenofdreamsfoundation.org].

The entire team -including MSG boss James Dolan- was on the scene; the one notable exception was Jamal Crawford, who is recuperating from surgery to repair the stress fracture in his right ankle. Ed Lover, a DJ with Power 105.1, supplied the music and a bevy of models turned more than a few heads.

A single ticket to the event cost $1,250; the price of keeping a lane of family and friends together was $10,000.

Almost immediately, Channing Frye and David Lee reveled in the attention.

"Tonight allows us a chance to relax, and not think about what's outside," Frye stated, as he was surrounded by a group of youngsters. "This is a chance for our fans to talk with us. It is a great atmosphere, and the fan support has created a lot of positive energy here."

While noting that the team is close, Frye said this is slightly different than what would be seen when the Knicks visit other NBA cities. "We do quite a few things together, but we all have family and stuff. So, the road is mostly about business."

Lee, who has become the voice of the team, was impressed by the few hundred who turned out. "Anytime," he said, "there's an event which brings together our fans and sponsors - as well as the organization- it's fun.

"The fans have begun to return. Last year, at this time, there was a completely different vibe. Still, we have a way to go.

Making the playoffs will really help. And, of course, as we move on, it's important to continue putting a quality team on the floor.

"When we broke training camp, I was confident that the team would do well. But, a lot could happen in a season - both positive and negative. So, we had to see how the season developed. We were a little shaky early on, but we've learned to play as a unit.

"As of right now, we have twenty games remaining - ten of which are at the Garden. So, home games are very important. And, any time there is fan support, home court becomes an advantage."

At every turn, there was something for everyone. Children swarmed their local heroes, who obliged with autographs and posed for pictures. Various media outlets formed a semi-circle around Knick coach Isiah Thomas, and questioned him about the somewhat-unexpected playoff push.

"As long as we stay in the game, there's always a chance to win," said Thomas, whose team was on the fringe of the eighth spot on this night.

[Note: with last Saturday's road win against the Washington Wizards, New York had tied the Orlando Magic for the eighth, and final, spot; as the Knicks own the first tie-breaker - head-to-head competition-they would advance if both teams are deadlocked].

"I'm very optimistic about the way we're playing, and about our immediate future," added the coach, who has merited a contract extension. "We may make a mistake here or there - a missed free throw, a turnover-, but, for the most part, our mistakes have been correctable."

Mardy Collins, a rookie guard, talked about staying mentally ready until his playing time increases. Only Crawford's injury, in addition to Nate Robinson's recent stomach virus, had allowed Collins more game action; a first-year player on a non-contender would get considerably more court time.

"Sure, I'd like to play, but doing 'basketball things' has helped me to focus until I get in there."

Stephon Marbury, who hasn't yet followed his line of 'Starbury' sneakers with a new incarnation of bowling shoes, looked perfectly relaxed. Off the court, it isn't always that way. Robinson, a ball of energy, quietly observed the results of his tattoo photo shoot in Dime magazine when he finally had a moment to slow down.

There was also a trace of women's hoops in the house, as Teresa Weatherspoon -who was feted by the Liberty last summer after a stellar playing career- explained that the WNBA's abbreviated schedule is the primary reason why a team should gel early.

"These women," she said, "spend their off-seasons improving their game [whether it's here in the States or overseas]. But, with only 34 games to play, teams can fall out of the playoff race very quickly."

The Knicks know about such a race. Not too long ago, they were rock bottom; now, they are one of the league's most improved teams.

And, for a few hours, one of the most beloved, too.

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