Life in Knicks Hell

For working reporters at the Garden, typical meal options include a small plastic cup of Coke and a sandwich with ham, processed turkey, Swiss cheese and hard white bread, all for $8. When they’re at their floor seats watching the game, they’re given small fuzzy-picture TV’s to watch replays.

It’s a strictly no-frills operation.

“I guess it doesn’t matter what they do to us, the beat guys,” Mr. Hahn observed. “But you’d think they care a little more about presentation when other reporters come to town. They don’t.”

Of course, the reporters shouldn’t be there for the frills. The Knicks should be a good story, even when they’re bad. The spectacular crash-and-burn of a storied franchise, after all, doesn’t lack for narrative tension or drama.

But for the reporters assigned to cover them, there’s something worse about this Knicks team. They’re not so much bad as unbearable.

In a column on Sunday, Mr. Vaccaro wrote: “Take the Jets, who now sit at a relentlessly unremarkable 2-9 after Thursday’s brutalization in Dallas. They do not inspire much of anything within the souls of their fans. They’re just bad. … The Knicks? They inspire something else. They inspire anger. They inspire hatred. … There is an unmitigated loathing for this team, for the men who run the operation. … Knicks fans hate these Knicks. Hate them.”

On Saturday afternoon, Mr. Thomas—by way of appearing to accept responsibility for the ongoing disaster he has orchestrated—acknowledged the journalistic dilemma of having to chronicle the same catastrophe over and over again. “I gotta think that you are tired of writing the same stories that you’ve been writing for the last couple weeks,” he said. “We gotta give you something better to write about, something better to talk about, and a different subject.”

“I’ve been writing the same thing for six years,” Marc Berman, the Post’s beat reporter since the late 1990s, said. “That is so depressing.”

“I don’t know how many times I can use ‘chaos,’ ‘mayhem,’ ‘dysfunction’ to describe this team,” Mr. Beck said. “You feel like a broken record after a while. On a beat like this, you write 250 to 300 stories a year on a team, and occasionally you’d like the theme to change a bit. If you’re writing the same theme every day, it’s not satisfying.”

“I’m in shock now,” Mr. Berman said. “The sexual harassment trial was bad enough, and then to have a November like this, when you’re a national joke, for someone covering the team it’s depressing ’cause you want to write positive stuff. Soon the readers aren’t going to care anymore.” His voice got quiet. “In December, who’s gonna read my stories?”

The headline writers seem to have maxed out, too. After a particularly tragic 26-point home loss to the Golden State Warriors last week, the headline for the Times D1 sports story was, “Boo, Boo, Boo, ‘Fire Isiah,’ Boo, Boo, Boo!” On Thanksgiving, Mr. Thomas’s head was transposed onto the body of a golden-brown turkey, with the headline: “Stick a fork in Isiah … HE’S DONE.”

Knicks fans, however, are a resilient bunch. Six of the first seven games this year were sellouts, and, in a victory against the first-place Utah Jazz on Nov. 26, they actually stood and cheered at the end.

It was a reminder, however brief, of what it’s like to be in the Garden when things are going well.

After the Nov. 24 win against the Bulls, Mr. Isola sat in the stands with me at the Garden while the Knicks basketball court was in the process of being converted into a hockey rink.

“It’s really sad now,” he said. “There are very few nights where you can feel a buzz in the arena. The thrill is gone.”

He spoke about a colleague, Johnny Ludden, who recently stopped reporting on the Spurs. “He was covering the Spurs for nine years, and, when he left, ha-ha, they threw him a going-away party,” Mr. Isola said. “I leave the Garden sometimes and think, ‘Should I look under my car before I turn the ignition?’”

“You can get stale on the beat,” he continued. “I shouldn’t be doing it anymore after 12 years. If everything was status quo and if everything was great, I probably would be the wrong guy to have on it. But now I’m the right guy to have on it, because they’re trying to screw me over, and, by trying to screw me over, it kind of lights a fire in you a little bit. It makes you more motivated to find stuff out and expose what’s going on here.”

I told him it sounded as if he was sticking around out of spite.

“Absolutely,” he said. “They thought it would be the opposite—they thought they’d beat me down and run me off. I thank them for it.”