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Sixers vs. Knicks Preview: Dirty Work

Steely Dan, American Hustle, the Rudderless Ship

Yeah, like I wasn't going to use this photo once I found it.
Yeah, like I wasn't going to use this photo once I found it.
Astrid Stawiarz

Like thousands of others across the country, I went to the movies on Christmas Eve to see David O. Russell's madcap Martin Scorcese tribute band piece, American Hustle. I enjoyed it immensely and found it to be phenomenally well-acted, even if I'd have had an easier time following the plot if Amy Adams had ever buttoned her shirt. But what I really took out of that movie came in the opening credits, which played to Steely Dan's classic rock ditty, "Dirty Work."

I don't remember a time before I knew this song, which was a staple of WMGK when I consumed hours and hours of Philadelphia's classic rock station as an infant and toddler in the backseat of my dad's car. But I'd never let it wash over me the way it did during American Hustle. I came to really love the way the melody of the verses swings lazily from line to line, lifting up over the organ and horns--like the film itself, "Dirty Work" is kind of unrepentantly uncouth, like it leaves a residue on you--and while the song is about sex and the movie is to a certain degree preoccupied with sex, the residue is more like what you get off the arm of your sofa after you've wiped your McDonald's grease off on it for months.

Which brings us to the New York Knicks.

This is the team New York City deserves: the unthinking excess and suffocating lack of self-awareness, brought to fruition by a megalomaniacal manchild who's the bizarro King Solomon, who asked God for wisdom and whom God rewarded with wealth. James Dolan asked for wealth, got it, and God made him into a vacuous nonentity who shares his city's overinflated self-regard and sense of exceptionalism.

When prudent franchises were developing their own stars, Knicks fans were in love with the ultimate flash-over-substance player, Jeremy Lin. When Heat needed a franchise player, they bought the greatest player in the game. When the Thunder needed one, they developed the game's most potent offensive threat and paired him with its most explosive point guard. When the Rockets needed a franchise player, they traded for an up-and-coming offensive dynamo and got him the game's best defensive center.

The Knicks outbid themselves for a post player with degenerative knees and...well, let's put it this way. At the Battle of Cowpens, Daniel Morgan placed his troops between a river and the Banastre Tarleton's assorted dragoons and fusiliers and so forth. While Tarleton's men were seasoned veterans, Morgan had mostly militiamen who'd earned a reputation for firing one or two shots and running away. Morgan placed his army with its back to a river so his men would have to stand their ground, and he won the battle. Mike Woodson can't put Amare Stoudemire up against a river to make him play defense.

Along with Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, one of the game's best offensive forwards. In the right situation, he's a dynamic stretch 4, but on the Knicks, with no other players to defer to and a coaching staff either unwilling or unable to rein him in, Melo is a suffocating ballstopper, kind of a rich man's Andray Blatche, and the public face of a circus.

The Knicks are a rudderless ship, with too much money tied up in too many old players with too little athleticism, run by men in suits who make David Kahn look progressive and Mike Ilitch look moral. And they're taking on water.

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