What started as a diversion during the COVID-19 pandemic grew into a passion.
That’s how the fascinating book Fred From Fresh Meadows: A Knicks Memoir took a life on its own.
Fred Cantor, the author of the book, is a New Yorker and a retired lawyer. The New York Knicks have been such a big part of his life that he thought of writing about his favorite team at the height of the global pandemic last year.
Without Knicks basketball for most of last year, Cantor killed time by remembering the team that captured his imagination when he was just Fred, the kid from Fresh Meadows, Queens.
“The book started out as a personal project to transport me from the pandemic. I am 67 with underlying health conditions, so I have been essentially confined to home since the beginning of March. I enjoy online historical research and writing—and the Knicks are obviously a major passion of mine—so this proved to be a project that occupied my time in a major way; the day would fly by and I would forget what was going on around us,” Cantor told Empire Sports Media.
Book for a Cause
As Cantor put all those memories together spanning six decades of Knicks’ fandom, he thought he has something that will resonate with a broader audience. Positive feedback from his old friends, some of whom are published writers, was all he needed to publish his memoir into a book. And it’s not just an ordinary book because all of its proceeds will go to the John Starks Foundation, whose mission is to provide “monetary grants to NY tri-state and Tulsa area college-bound high school seniors who demonstrate academic excellence, financial need and a commitment to community service.”
This is not the first time that Cantor has been involved with a creative project for a cause. He was also the co-author of a photo history book on Fresh Meadows that is part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America Series. They earmarked 100% of their authors’ royalties to go to the Queens Library Foundation to benefit the local Fresh Meadows library branch.
For this Knicks memoir, he went with a charity that is close to the team’s heart.
“I chose the John Starks Foundation because I wholeheartedly believe in its mission of helping college-bound students in financial need, and naturally I was a big fan of John’s play and work ethic when he was with the Knicks during their successful run in the 1990s,” Cantor said.
A Walk Down The Memory Lane
The From Fresh Meadows: A Knicks Memoir was released in November last year in partnership with The Strickland Press.
The book puts readers into a time machine where Cantor entertainingly walked with them down the memory lane. He masterfully weaved his personal life’s twists and turns with the Knicks’ highs and lows—from the drafting of Art Heyman and “Here Comes Willis!” game to Linsanity and the insanity of being a Knicks fan.
To this day, Cantor is still in possession of his first basketball heroes and Knicks’ memorabilia from his childhood years.
“I still have the faded autographs (in pencil) of Art Heyman, Wilt Chamberlain, and Jerry Lucas side by side from the 1963 Maurice Stokes Benefit Game and I still have the autographs (in pen) of Jerry Lucas and Walt Bellamy side by side from the Maurice Stokes Benefit Game that happened in 1964 or 1965,” Cantor said.
“I have kept a variety of memorabilia over the years—not that I thought it was going to be worth something; it was really for sentimental reasons. But, when we sold our house in 2017 and downsized, I did get rid of a bunch of sports-related stuff, including a number of old programs. But I still have a couple of programs from the 1960s and the 1973 NBA Finals program, among others,” he added.
Most Memorable Knicks Moment
Cantor’s sharp recollection coupled with obsessive-compulsive attention to detail is what makes this book a must-have for old Knicks fans who want to relive the team’s past glory and even for young Knicks fans who want to dive into the franchise’s history.
“I wrote the first draft in roughly six weeks (including doing revisions as I completed that draft). But naturally, I worked on further editing in the weeks and months after that as well as fact-checking, which included even watching tapes of old games (and I continued doing minor edits leading up to the publication in late November),” Cantor recalled.
When asked what’s his favorite Knicks moment, Cantor had a tough time choosing, but he ultimately went with the franchise’s first championship.
The 1970 NBA championship holds a special place in Cantor’s heart. He still vividly recalls where he was and how the Knicks won the pivotal Game 5 that set up the iconic Willis Reed’s Game 7 moment.
“I would probably have to go with the end of Game 5 against the Lakers in the 1970 Finals when the Knicks capped off a remarkable comeback after Willis was injured and the team fell behind by 16 points (in the pre-three-point era). I listened to that game on the radio in my bedroom—I can picture it like it was yesterday—and the entire season was on the line. To borrow from “The Maltese Falcon,” it was “the stuff that dreams are made of,” Cantor said.
Written By A Fan For The Fans
Sports fans, not only Knicks fans, can relate and will go through a roller-coaster ride of emotions reading Cantor’s journey as a fan.
Oftentimes, we read sports books through the lens of the writers who cover the sports and through the eyes of the athletes. But it’s rare to find a book from a fan’s perspective—how a team and its interesting personalities impact their fans’ lives.
The Knicks may not have been relevant for years, but don’t tell that to their fans who dissect even team staff’s most random hiring.
Cantor remained a Knicks fan through thick and thin. He is the best representation of the Knicks’ fanatics, considered the most loyal fanbase in the NBA.
“My memoir is intended to capture the perspective of the regular fan—in this case, one who has remained passionate through six decades—and how the team has influenced my life in a variety of ways. In other words, I was looking to, in essence, represent the everyday fan; it’s the type of book I had been wanting to read but hadn’t seen before,” Cantor said.
“I would like to impart to younger fans that I have witnessed my share of losing records—especially during the period the Knicks missed the playoffs 7 years in a row when I was growing up—but I believe there is light at the end of the tunnel now (just as there was back then when younger players developed and blossomed)” he added.
Cantor endured seven years without Knicks playoff basketball as a kid from 1959 to 1966. In 1967, the Knicks finished fourth in the Eastern Conference and went on to lose to their Atlantic division rival Boston Celtics in the conference semis.
The Knicks have been in the same rut in the last seven years.
Will history repeat itself?
Cantor and the Knicks’ fan base may be looking at Knicks president Leon Rose and his head coach, Tom Thibodeau, as the men who hold the torch that will guide these Knicks out of the dark tunnel.
Despite a quiet offseason, the Knicks have been one of the revelations and feel-good stories to start the season.
“I have great faith in the current Front Office. I applauded their hiring of Thibs and I fully supported their choices in the most recent draft. Equally important, they seem committed to developing the younger players—and I absolutely think that is the way to go,” Cantor said.
The Knicks’ 7-8 start has been auspicious. Cantor hopes to see The Garden rock again like it used to be during his time.
“When the pandemic is way in the rearview mirror, I hope to one day see a Knicks game at the Garden again,” said Cantor whose brother’s older son has a share of season tickets.
Perhaps another colorful chapter is waiting to be written.
The From Fresh Meadows: A Knicks Memoir is available at Amazon.com for only $15.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo