New York Jets HC Robert Saleh takes in NY Knicks playoff win

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh was among the joyful witnesses to another metropolitan squad’s big moment.

As the new head coach of the New York Jets, one of the first things Robert Saleh needs to learn is how to end a long drought of home playoff games. It’s been over 18 years since his new employers hosted an NFL postseason contest, the game in question coming in the AFC Wild Card round against Indianapolis at the late Giants Stadium.

Saleh did some de facto research on Wednesday night, taking in the New York Knicks’ playoff matchup against the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden. Game 2 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference quarterfinal series was just the second postseason game the Knicks had hosted since 2013. The new football boss was spotlighted on MSG’s video board during the first half and received a warm ovation.

It would appear that the Knicks remembered Saleh’s mantra of “All Gas, No Brake” during second half action on Wednesday. Trailing by 13 at the midway point, the Knicks erased Atlanta’s early lead and earned a 101-92 victory to even the first-round series at one win apiece. Derrick Rose led the way with 26 points off the bench for the Knicks, who are seeded four in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.

In their celebration, New York sports fans gleefully took note that the Knicks are now undefeated when Saleh attends their playoff games. Peter Schrager of Fox Sports and NFL Network also caught a candid shot of Saleh enthusiastically reacting to a showstopping dunk from Knicks rookie Obi Toppin.

Saleh will have his own experiences against an Atlanta-based squad with an ornithological nickname later this fall, as his Jets will battle the Falcons in London on October 10.

After Wednesday’s euphoric events at MSG, the Knicks-Hawks series now shifts to Atlanta, with Game 3 in the best-of-seven set slated for Friday night (7 p.m. ET, MSG/ESPN).

Postseason visits from Jets representatives have appeared to bring good luck to the competing metropolitan squads. Over the weekend, members of the Jets’ revamped offense descended upon Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for the New York Islanders’ Stanley Cup Playoff triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Islanders eliminated the Penguins on Wednesday night and will face the Boston Bruins in the second round of the NHL postseason.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

Bedlam in Gotham: Knicks fans celebrate first playoff win in 8 years

It’s worth the wait.

This unflappable and lovable New York Knicks team keeps on surprising.

Just when everything was bleak, in a blink of an eye, the Knicks sprung back to life. And The Garden was Eden once again. A basketball paradise with New York’s long-suffering fans taking a bite on the taste of success.

The Madison Square Garden was rocked to its core after the Knicks pulled off a magical 101-92 comeback win in Game 2 to even the series against the Atlanta Hawks.

New York fans filled the streets around The Garden to celebrate the first Knicks playoff victory in eight years — exactly 2,932 days — or since May 16, 2013, when they beat the Pacers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

It’s safe to say that basketball is truly back in the mecca.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks: When The Garden comes alive in new normal

Three hours before the Madison Square Garden opened its doors to fans for the first time in almost a year last Tuesday, Anthony Donahue was the first to show up.

Donahue, a New York Knicks superfan, anxiously waited for 352 days for this moment to arrive.

“It was tough, Donahue told Empire Sports Media while he was preparing to attend his second straight Knicks game last Thursday. “Everything has been tough the last 11 months — personal trials and tribulations. When you’re going through something personal, and you don’t have [any place to go] — for me, my favorite place to go in the world is the Madison Square Garden. So to not have that for 11 months, it’s tough.”

 

The music in The Garden hit different for Donahue in an emotional return. It was a bittersweet moment for him.

“I was thinking about my little sister, who passed away from brain cancer back in August at the age of 21, and how I’ve been bringing her to Knicks game all her life. And she’s not here physically with me anymore. Even when she was not with me at the games, she was texting me, telling me to bring her home popcorn or food, or asking me who I saw because people at The Garden are family to me. I was thinking about her the whole time,” Donahue said.

Gianna Gregoire and Anthony Donahue stand at center court before the Knicks-Celtics game on Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of Anthony Donahue

The Knicks superfan found solace in The Garden, where the special bond and fandom he shared with his sister Gianna Gregoire will forever be remembered.

A season ticket holder since 2004, Donahue had become one of the most famous fans at the world’s most famous arena, even parlaying his passion into a career when he hosted a Knicks-centric podcast show for SNY. His first indoctrination to The Garden’s mystic began during the Knicks’ Finals run in 1994. In 2001, just as the Knicks started their plummet to the dark ages, Donahue remained loyal and started regularly going to the games.

This season is one of the better times to be a Knicks fan. The Knicks are winning some games.

They are playoff hunting instead of tanking.

Imagine the Knicks fans’ agony of not having the chance to watch their beloved team rock The Garden on some nights.

“The waiting part was tough, man! You’re used to going to games. I’ve been a ticket holder for 29 years, so it kinda sucked not being able to get into your normal routine, and the fact that the team was playing really well made it even worse. We haven’t seen good basketball in a while,” another Knicks superfan Greg Armstrong told Empire Sports Media.

Greg Armstrong posed for a souvenir photo during his return to The Garden. Photo courtesy of Greg Armstrong

Armstrong, a ShopRite supermarket manager, has been a Knicks fan since the 1973 championship team, which he said he followed religiously on Channel 9.

Basketball is a religion in New York. If Rucker Park and the other city playgrounds are the chapels, the Mecca is the basilica.

“We all know what basketball means to the city. We’re excited about it. There’s nothing like it, there’s no place like the Madison Square Garden, there’s no place in the league like that,” said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau before Tuesday’s game. “Our fans are our lifeline.”

Every Knicks game equates to a day of worship for the fans. Pilgrims from all over New York and even from outside of the five boroughs come together and transform The Garden into a basketball paradise where players love to indulge.

For almost a year, the fans were confined to watching the games on TV, following and passionately debating every news and rumor on social media.

So last Tuesday, that joy, which COVID-19 took away, returned, albeit only experienced by a small group of Knicks fans.

“Being one of the few [people] to attend was special because it was like our own private experience and one that I’ll look back on as a once in a lifetime (I hope!),” David Perlmutter told Empire Sports Media.

“My first thought last [Tuesday] night was wow, no one is here! I knew it was only 10 percent, but until I arrived, I could not grasp the size of The Garden compared to 10 percent attendance. It was like we were part of an incredibly private club, which I guess I kind of was.”

After the game, a Knicks spokesperson told reporters that their first attempt at bringing back some sense of normalcy was a success. The sold-out crowd of 1,981 were able to clear all health protocols.

“Everyone was wearing a mask and following the rules, and at one point, my friends and I were congregating in the lobby, and they told us to split up,” Armstrong said.

“It was strict, but it was smooth. You have to make sure you have your COVID-19 test result with you, show your ID, and stuff like that. I didn’t have any problem nor noticed anybody who encountered a problem,” Donahue added.

If Donahue shared his Knicks fandom with his late sister, Perlmutter shares his passion with his son. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t stop them from continuing their father-and-son bonding last Tuesday.

“I was with my son Levi who is 6 yrs old, and he has been coming with me since he was 2+ with noise-canceling headphones. Since I’ve been going to games with him, I have very little interest in going to any games without him. Watching the game through his eyes is my favorite thing to do,” Perlmutter said.

David Perlmutter and his son Levi enjoy the Knicks-Warriors game, marking the first time that limited fans are allowed in the Madison Square Garden. Photo courtesy of David Perlmutter

Perlmutter, a managing partner of the Forrest Hills Financial Group, has been a Knicks fan since 1992 and a season ticket holder since 2005. But last Tuesday, he saw The Garden in a different light.

“It was the first time I was able to tour The Garden, which was cool. We went up to the bridge to get a close-up view of the retired banners and walked through the Bud Light district. I have never been before to both areas despite having been able to attend hundreds of games. It was a unique experience to watch my son run around all these areas without worrying about losing him in a crowd or him bumping into people,” Perlmutter said.

With only a limited number of fans allowed initially, The Garden had a small-town church vibe where everyone knows each other.

“It’s great to be back. It’s not how it used to be, but hopefully, it will again soon. I was with my good friend Elgin (Swift). I enjoyed it, and it was a time to catch up with some people. I saw some of the security guards, ushers, and team employees I haven’t seen in a while. I saw some fans I hadn’t seen in a while. Considering the situation, I enjoyed it. It wasn’t as hectic or as crazy as I may have thought. It was an extremely smooth night,” Donahue said.

Donahue enjoyed everything except the fact that the Knicks lost a close call to the Golden State Warriors.

“We didn’t play our best basketball, but I love our team. Of course, we’re not a championship team. But we’re a team that plays hard, plays defense, personifies our head coach Tom Thibodeau. It kinda makes fans feel a little nostalgic about the 90s team we love so much because of the type of defense they play,” Donahue said.

While a Knicks win could have been a perfect ending for Donahue’s emotional return to The Garden, he was appreciative of the experience and put things in proper perspective.

“I just didn’t want to lose the first game back. I’m a die-hard Knicks fan. I don’t even want to lose a preseason game. I’m definitely upset after the game as far as losing. I want that win so bad. But all in all, when I got home, I was thankful that I was back to The Garden, thankful that I got to see some of the New York fans’ faces. And just thankful to be alive, just thankful and cherish every moment that we have in this beautiful life,” Donahue said.

Two nights later, Donahue finally got to experience a Knicks victory in the new normal. The Knicks handily beat the lowly Sacramento Kings, 140-121, where The Garden was rocking the whole night.

The fans have found comfort in their beloved team under this COVID-19 pandemic. The Knicks have managed to thrive too under difficult circumstances.

Devoid of a superstar, the Knicks produced an All-Star in Julius Randle. They found a hidden gem in rookie Immanuel Quickley. Thibodeau has made the Knicks believe again.

A coach plucked from the Knicks’ storied past has transformed the league’s laughingstock into a bunch of overachievers with defense as its bedrock.

The Knicks are winning. New York basketball is back on the map.

This is the new normal for Donahue, Armstrong, Perlmutter, and all the Knicks fans.

The Garden comes alive in the new normal.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Obi Toppin and his family of Knicks fans excited for his Garden debut

New York Knicks, Obi Toppin

Obi Toppin grew up in a family of New York Knicks fans. His grandfather was a season-ticket holder.

“He went to every game,’’ Toppin said. “You go to dinner with him, and he’ll tell you a thousand stories of him going there.’’

Toppin’s father, Obadiah Sr. once graced the Madison Square Garden with his dunks in a one-on-one basketball tournament called The Last Man Standing.

On Wednesday night, it will be Toppin’s turn to create his own highlights at The Garden that will definitely become his grandfather’s favorite Knicks story.

“It’s going to be amazing,’’ Toppin told reporters on a Zoom call Tuesday about his much-awaited Garden debut. “I’m from here. I’ve been watching the Knicks all my life. My family’s been a fan of the Knicks since I wasn’t even born. Me having an opportunity to step on the court with these guys and compete against another team is going to be amazing. I can’t wait for that time to come.’’

Draft Day twist

Toppin and the Knicks will continue their preseason schedule against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that has been linked to him in most mock drafts at No. 5. Toppin played college ball near Cleveland in Dayton, Ohio.

Luckily for him and the Knicks, the Cavaliers went to select Auburn’s defensive ace Isaac Okoro, who has been a revelation in the preseason so far.

Toppin, who dropped to the Knicks’ lap at No. 8, said he wouldn’t trade the opportunity to play for his hometown team for anything else in the world.

Family of Knicks fans

His mother, Roni Toppin, even tweeted a photo of him wearing a Latrell Sprewell jersey when he was a kid after the Knicks picked him.

Toppin’s grandfather Richard Riccardi used to bring Roni to the games.

“I still have a cassette of Go NY Go NY Go and a ticket from the ’93 (I think) playoffs,” Roni told Empire Sports Media in a separate interview.

“[My father] is so proud of Obi. He tells everyone he meets, even the cashier at Costco,” Roni added.

Obi, by his estimate, has been to the Knicks games no more than five times. Roni’s last recollection of bringing Obi to The Garden was when Obadiah Sr., who goes by his streetball monicker Dunker’s Delight, competed as a finalist in The Last Man Standing.

Too bad they won’t be around when Toppin makes his Garden debut to the strict Covid-19 protocols that won’t allow fans to watch in the venue.

Roller coaster start

Toppin was spectacular in his Knicks debut, a 90-84 win against the Detroit Pistons last Friday night. The Brooklyn native had 11 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench. But he followed that up with a dud two days later as the Pistons paid more attention to him.

“I just felt like I was rushing things a little bit more than I was in the first [game],” Toppin said. “I felt like I was a little settled and calm in the first game while in the second game, I was just trying to, basically, do too much. But I have to understand the pace of the game and just flow with that, do anything I can to help the team.

He’s eager to atone for his lackluster 1-of-9 shooting performance, including two clunkers from 30-feet deep.

“I feel comfortable shooting the three, not super far, not Steph Curry range, but I feel very, very comfortable shooting the three. My teammates found me in spots. I just have to make them. I’ve been working on them every single day, so when the time comes for me to make those shots, I may be able to make them. I just have to slow down and concentrate,” Toppin said.

Learning experience

Those first two games were a learning experience for him. He said he’s starting to get a feel of the NBA game.

Thibodeau saw Toppin’s eagerness to bounce back during their team practice following their 99-91 loss to the Pistons.

“Probably the biggest thing about being a pro is there’s gonna be ups and downs. It’s probably easier the first game. In the second game, he got attention on him,” Thibodeau said.

He added that Toppin could impact the game without shooting well.

“Again, he can score a number of different ways — he can score running the floor, he can score on the post, he can score off the drive, he can score with his jump shot. Mixing it up, scoring different ways, playing well defensively, try getting stops, getting on the open floor,” Thibodeau explained.

“He’s a terrific kid, a great worker. Study film. Each game, you may not win. And if you don’t win… I want you to learn. He took a hard look at himself. And what he could do better. He came in, study, work hard, and he had a great practice today [Tuesday]. And just be ready for tomorrow [Wednesday]. The games keep on coming. You have to keep on getting better.”

Toppin will put those lessons to test against the Cavaliers. Hopefully, he’ll ace it and come out with a win that will make his family of Knicks fans even prouder.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York State of Mind: NBA trainer David Zenon is a man on a mission

The New York Knicks are reportedly still looking to fill out their already stacked coaching staff with more player development coaches. The Knicks’ head hunters don’t have to look far.

New York has been dubbed as the concrete jungle. Not everyone has the right temperament to survive, let alone shine amidst the bright lights in the city that never sleeps.

Its allure has captivated a lot of dreamers but has also sunk a thousand ships of failure.

New York-bred NCAA and NBA skills trainer David Zenon could have been one of them. But he has the heart of a real New Yorker. A fighter and a grinder.

This is a story that he must have been told a hundred times but it always hits home every time. It’s a story of how far you’re willing to go to chase after your dream.

“I was on the border of quitting. The story was very, very real. I only had 4 dollars and 75 cents to my name. I was just like, damn, I don’t’ think I’m gonna be able to do this. I can’t make any headway. I’m not catching breaks and it felt like a dead-end,” Zenon told Empire Sports Media in a phone interview.

Zenon had been chasing his dreams since he learned to play the game. At first, he wanted to become a basketball player. Then a basketball TV analyst. He eventually settled with a dream he became so passionate about during his junior year in college.

Growing up in the Bronx, he watched his dad playing competitive games around New York.

“I’ve played my entire life. My dad played ball. I was introduced to basketball very early. Once I got to college, I was a practice player. I wasn’t even a player on scholarship,” said Zenon who started as Communications Major before switching to Sports Management with a minor in Kinesiology.

With his basketball dreams seemingly slipping out of his reach, he turned his attention to the other facets of the game he loves most. His internship program with their women’s basketball team at Liberty University in Virginia paved the way for him to develop a passion for coaching and teaching.

“I had to learn the offenses and defenses of various teams just because that’s what the scouting guys would normally do and you know, it turned into a passion. It’s part of developing guys and that’s part of what you have to do as a coach, but also as a player just to get better,” Zenon said.

“I figured I could get into coaching or training right out of college.”

But it wasn’t easy breaking into the industry that has evolved from training with no one watching to having large clout on social media.

Zenon had to start from the ground up.

He trained random kids in nondescript courts and empty gyms just to make ends meet.

It was far from lucrative. Everyday was a fight for survival.

He wasn’t even living paycheck to paycheck. It was training kid to waiting-who-knows-when-there’s-another kid willing to pay to be coached.

The emotions at the other end of the line can be felt in his voice.

Here’s an NBA trainer who has been to the highest of highs training an NBA champion in Serge Ibaka and a slew of NBA players showing raw emotions recalling his humble beginnings.

It’s the story of the underdog who was almost on the verge of defeat but remained defiant. If this was a boxing match against fate, Zenon was already on the ropes, trapped in the corner and agonizingly waiting to be saved by the bell.

During his darkest hour, that’s when the opportunity came along with serendipity.

Down to his last money, Zenon received a message that would soon change his life forever.

“I was lucky enough to get contacted by a young man who’s trying to make it to his varsity basketball team and he just said ‘I heard you’re a good trainer, you work well with kids. Do you mind training me so I can make it to our varsity team?’,” Zenon recalled.

At the back of his head, Zenon was like: “Yeah I need the money!”

“But I’ve always wanted to teach the game. It doesn’t matter who he is,” he said.

He went to a nearby gas station and emptied the last $4.75 on his debit card to fill up his tank. Luckily, he found an additional quarter in his compartment.

“I asked him (gas attendant) if he could please put in a quarter worth of gas. I needed everything I could get,” Zenon recalled.

He ended up impressing the kid and his parents who watched on.

“And they asked me if is this is what I do full-time, ‘Is this how you make your money?’

And I’m like, yes sir, it is,” Zenon recalling that life-changing moment.

“My main source is this but I would like to work for an NBA franchise.”

Unknown to Zenon, the kid’s family is well-connected in the Madison Square Garden.

Zenon hit two birds in one stone as he became the kid’s full-time personal coach and his family’s connections helped him knock on the NBA door.

“His parents told me: ‘Well, we’ll introduce you to somebody who, hopefully, will open some doors for you’,” Zenon said.

He landed a gig with New York’s G League team. It wasn’t in the coaching staff, but he took it nonetheless.

“I was hired as a shot clock operator for the Westchester Knicks. I was doing just shot clock and statistics and I don’t even care if it was G League, I’d do it,” Zenon said.

Once his foot was halfway the NBA door, he didn’t let go of the opportunity. He networked like a young Mark Zuckerberg, handing out his card, resume, his number every time there was an opportunity.

Soon he was starting to vibe with the players such as former Knicks’ guard Langston Galloway.

“That was big for me,” Zenon said.

One opportunity led to another.

“Things really blew up for me when the Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis. I became cool with the brothers just because of a Tweet, ironically, and I had a gym where they can get shots at night at a local Westchester area,” Zenon said. “So we developed that rapport just I always do.”

Porzingis’ agent at that time was also managing Ibaka’s career. They were looking for a trainer for the summer. His connection with the Porzingis led to a tryout with Ibaka.

“‘We heard that your workout is good. We’ll gonna give you a tryout with Serge. I have one legit tryout for you to see if he likes it’,” Ibaka’s agent told Zenon.

In the two days leading to the make-or-break tryout, Zenon maniacally prepared for what was the biggest moment of his career. He watched and broke down films like he’s never done before.

“It was nerve-wracking because if Serge didn’t like it then it’s on to the next guy. He was a perfectionist,” Zenon said.

 

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Serge is going to make his first All Star ⭐️ Team this season, but while in New York, it’s a Photoshoot.

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His hard work and attention to detail paid off. He officially became an NBA personal trainer and hasn’t looked back since that summer of 2017.

His portfolio grew from Ibaka to the Plumlee brothers, Detroit Pistons’ Thon Maker, Minnesota Timberwolves’ Jacob Evans, and several NBA players whom he did not name due to the confidential nature of his arrangement with their agents.

His consummate body of work has landed him a gig in an ESPN commercial featuring last year’s top pick Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, the Knicks’ third overall pick.

Zenon also had a hand in Common’s 2020 NBA All-Star Celebrity Game MVP performance.

The Chicago-based rapper, actor and writer was introduced to him by a common friend.

“He hit me up one day and said ‘I have Common in town, he wants to workout’,”Zenon recalled.

”I said The rapper?!”

He replied: “Yes, the rapper.”

Common was so impressed that he wanted another one which led to several more workouts. Common even flew him to Chicago for the All-Star Weekend to personally witness the fruit of their hard work at the gym.

A part of his ultimate bucket list has also been ticked off, sort of. He can proudly say that he has played a part in the development of the Knicks’ second-round steal Mitchell Robinson.

He’s been helping Robinson with his personal workouts in New York since he was drafted thanks to the rapport he’s built with the third-year center’s New Orleans-based trainer Marcel Scott. Zenon, though, still dreams of someday making it to his hometown team’s staff as a player development coach.

So how exactly did he pull it off and charm his way to Ibaka and the rest of his clients’ hearts?

“I want my players to know that I care about them first. When you develop a certain delivery, you need to have power in your voice, you have to have that belief in your voice. Players would like to see that confidence in what knowledge you’re giving them and vice-versa. As much as I would love to teach everything that I know, I’m learning from them too. You have to have that back-and-forth, collaborative process,” Zenon said.

Built like a rock, the 6-foot-3 and 230-lb trainer has exhibited a combination of grace and power on the court.

As student of the game, Zenon’s thirst hasn’t been quenched. He always loves to seek out opportunities to collaborate and pick the brains of the best trainers in the industry.

With Ibaka, he’s been grateful for the opportunity to team up with veteran Spanish coach Hugo Lopez. The 45-year old Spaniard had coaching stints in the Spanish league, Euroleague, Angola, and most notably NBL Canada where he was named Coach of the Year in 2016.

“I always mention that I also learn from other guys. And Serge has been working with Hugo Lopez too, from Spain. A great guy, great teacher. It’s really great to work with somebody who knows so much about the game as well and when you worked with a guy like that and brainstorm with the player and do the right way, you’ll be able to see the fruits of his labor,” Zenon said.

With Zenon and Lopez at the helm of things, Ibaka flourished and was able to expand his game and adapt to the constantly evolving NBA. In just his second year co-training Ibaka, the Spanish international became a vital cog of the Toronto Raptors’ championship run in the 2018-19 season.

It wasn’t just a combination of grace and power. His cerebral work has also been integral in his success as a trainer.

“I would always want to study the offense that they’re part of. I do a lot of diligent work to look at a lot of things like the ability to look at their schedule and see the tendencies of the opposing teams on how they play defense on him,” Zenon explained.

“That’s how I based my training with my guys.”

Aside from Lopez and Scott, Zenon has two more player development coaches who have greatly influenced him.

“I’ve been able to learn from Phil Handy. He’s a great man. He knows so much obviously. He does a great job developing his guys,” Zenon said.

Handy, of course, is the renowned player development coach who’s tight with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The current Los Angeles Lakers’ assistant coach has now won three rings with three different teams out of six consecutive Finals appearances including four with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and one each with the Raptors and the Lakers. Handy is on the radar of the Brooklyn Nets to join Steve Nash’s coaching staff.

How he met Handy is another proof of Zenon’s hunger and willingness to go the extra mile.

“I just reached out in DM (Direct Message on Twitter) and I was honest to him that I want really to learn,” Zenon said. “This is what I’m doing to get better in my craft but what can I do to get a lot better consistently,” he asked Handy.

When Handy was still with the Cavaliers and was visiting the Philadelphia 76ers, Zenon had to drive from New York to meet him in person for the first time.

“If I had the opportunity to talk to him even for 10 minutes, the two-and-a-half-hour drive was worth it. I was able to pick his brain, the thought process on how they prepare for the game,” Zenon said.

He would always seek Handy’s wisdom on zoom calls thereafter as well as other coaches.

The other guy in his corner is James Clark, the Philadelphia-based trainer of 76ers’ Ben Simmons and San Antonio Spurs’ Dejounte Murray and several more NBA players.

“We’ve worked together, we’ve done clinics and workout together. There’s a mutual respect there. It’s always been something so beneficial for me to be able to have those two guys in my corner. Phil and James are good friends too,” Zenon said.

“It’s been a total blast to have those two guys in my corner.”

While the pandemic had slowed down everything, Zenon refused to get stagnant. He read books and coaching resources. He watched and broke down films and at the height of the quarantine, he had to be creative and imaginative in the digital space to connect with his players.

“It’s tough because you’re not hands-on. So we just gotta do it by distance. It’s crazy because I’m always the kind of guy who moves a lot and shows them what to do,” he said.

On top of his NBA and NCAA gigs, Zenon is still routinely coaching kids. He is also a current assistant coach at The Patrick School in New Jersey, the venerable high school program that produced Samuel Dalembert, Al Harrington, and Irving.

The young man who opened up the doors for Zenon made it to his varsity team.

“He actually became a starter, not that year but the following year. They won a section championship and I’m still very close to him to this day. He’s like a little brother to me,” Zenon said.

Zenon’s $4.75 has gone a long way.

And the best is yet to come as his journey hasn’t even reached halfway.

James Dolan Does Not Represent New York

New York Knicks, James Dolan

The New York Knicks and New York Rangers owner and the CEO of the legendary Madison Garden James Dolan has always been controversial. Making boneheaded decisions with icons and fans like Charley Oakley and Spike Lee, ruining ties with star players like Kristaps Porzingis, and failures to provide a title from either team since the 90s. This is already enough to say “Wow he is a horrible owner” but that’s not even the end of it. Hiring sexual assaulter Isiah Thomas as a coach, making horrible front office decisions, and the Knicks not winning more than 37.8% of their games in a season since 2013-2014 are also more than disgusting acts as an owner, and his incompetence is well documented. Where I draw the line?

When the entire country is in the midst of a movement to end the killings of innocent African American lives and you don’t even feel as if you should use your power as a wealthy powerful white man to at least make a statement.

In a letter by James Dolan released internally was quoted to say “As companies in the business of sports and entertainment, however, we are not any more qualified than anyone else to offer our opinion on social matters. What’s important is how we operate”. This to me is understandable if the Knicks and Rangers or MSG had actually made significant actions in order to support the movement in getting justice for George Floyd.

The issue is that they haven’t, and they’re the only team other than the Spurs to not release a statement, but unlike the Knicks, the Spurs’ legendary HOF-worthy coach Gregg Popovich made a statement about this situation and is part of a committee of coaches that involve former Knicks coach David Fizdale that will help local leaders and communities with this issue. I’m not only as a New Yorker and person of color disgusted and dumbfounded by Dolan’s refusal to use his platform to aid this cause but utterly baffled.

I do not believe forcing people into political activism is a good thing, even for a great cause because we each should have individual liberties. That doesn’t mean if you see the city and state you have such influence in trying to fight against injustice that you just sit there and refuse to do anything. You have players on the Knicks reportedly outraged, you have other owners releasing statements and having people aware, and all you have done is say you’re not “qualified” to have opinions on this matter. If you’re not “qualified” to have opinions on one of the most pivotal moments in American history, then you’re not qualified to own a team in New York.

As New Yorkers and as a content creator with a platform, unlike Dolan, I’d like to use this platform to advocate for those who are protesting and condemn the minority that are destroying things for personal gain. I’d also like to provide links for a GoFundMe for David McAtee’s family, as he was an African American man wrongly killed by police during the protests, a GoFundMe for George Floyd’s family, a man killed by disgusting men who abused their power as cops, and a link to a Change.Org petition get the degree of murder on the man who killed George Floyd raised.

As New Yorkers or Americans (for all my non-NY readers), let’s make the change we want to see in our country, unlike James Dolan, even if we don’t have the money or power he does. While all lives do equally matter to me, right now black ones are at risk due to these killings. Let’s make sure we do everything we can to help African Americans feel like they know their lives and their voices matter and are heard.

New York Knicks & MSG pay tribute to the late, great Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

Everyone around the world is in shock with the tragic passing of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.  Last night, the New York Knicks and Madison Square Garden honored Bryant in multiple ways.

The lights outside the Garden, that display the Knicks blue & orange colors on game night, were switched to Lakers purple & goldMike Breen and Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier remembered Bryant during the pre-game.  There was a 24-second moment of silent before the beginning of the game.  Along with both Bryant’s number 8 & 24 were displayed on the Garden floor.

Like most teams around the league, each team held onto the ball for their first possession, taking the 24-second shot clock violation.  The Garden faithful, a lot supporting Bryant 8 & 24 jerseys, stood and applauded in honor of the late NBA legend.   Chants of “Kobe, Kobe” rained down from the rafters.  It was a emotional day around the entire league.

Bryant had an effect on the lives of so many current and former NBA players, coaches, executives and, of course, fans.  Therefore, playing the games was somewhat of a head-scratching move.  Breen and Frazier began the game with both the Knicks and Brooklyn Nets looking “uninterested and sluggish.”  This was as expected with Bryant’s impact on the game.

Nets point guard, Kyrie Irving, was getting ready in the pre-game warm-ups when he got the devastating news.  Irving sat out the game as his Nets lost to the Knicks 110-97.

While it was nice for the Knicks to get a victory over their rival, fans couldn’t help to think about all the memories Bryant gave the Garden crowd.

Bryant once had the most points scored in Madison Square Garden history with 61 points on February 2nd, 2009.  That record is now broken by Carmelo Anthony’s 62 points against the Charlotte Bobcats in 2014.

Like all other greats, Bryant always brought his A-game when he stepped foot in the Garden.  The lights always seemed brighter and more stars came out when Kobe was in town.  Bryant put on a show for the fans one way or another.

Whether you were a fan of Bryant or not, one has to respect his game.  Bringing that ‘mamba mentality’ to every game is rare.  Not many bring that mindset to each game on a consistent basis.  His determination and drive to be the best is another reason why he was great.

Bryant meant so much to the game of basketball and even more to those outside the game.  He was a larger than life icon that will be greatly missed.

The New York Knicks issued statements before the game on their Twitter account.  From all of us here at Empire Sports Media we wish our condolences to the Bryant family.  Rest in peace Kobe & Gianna.