Johnny Mac Says Knicks’ Melo Must Play Consistent Defense
NEW YORK — John McEnroe knows a thing or two about winning championships.
During his Hall of Fame tennis career, McEnroe won seven Grand Slam singles championships, including four U.S. Opens.
As a lifelong Knicks fan from Queens, McEnroe is optimistic about the team’s 3-0 start, which makes them the only undefeated outfit in the NBA heading into Friday night’s game against the Dallas Mavericks (4-1) at Madison Square Garden.
The start has triggered hopes that the Knicks might contend for their first NBA championship since 1973, when Johnny Mac was a teenager who was yet to set the tennis world on fire with his epic battles with Bjorn Borg.
“I was 10, 11 years in 1969-70 and they won again in’72-73, so I thought it happened all the time,” McEnroe said Monday at a seniors tennis event at the Garden, where he beat Andre Agassi in the semifinals before losing to Patrick Rafter in the final.
“It’s been so long but it would be unbelievable, obviously. And even with Brooklyn coming into the mix, I think it’s exciting. Hopefully it will be a great rivalry.”
McEnroe was a point guard growing up in Queens, but his basketball career never really took off.
“I was sort of a point guard, like Tiny Archibald would be my lefty idol at the time,” he said. “Try to sort of be able to do it all. I was a little guy. Played two years of high school, loved it, but then the coach didn’t want to know about me so I started playing more tennis but it worked out.”
Still, he remains a hoops junkie and attends many Knick games at the Garden.
McEnroe was courtside last Sunday when Carmelo Anthony blocked a shot by Evan Turner and then went hurdling over the first row of fans into the stands in an effort to save the ball. The Knicks ended up winning that game and then turning around and winning at Philly on Monday.
McEnroe said he’s encouraged by Anthony’s newfound commitment to defense, but that Anthony must keep it up all the time.
“I saw it sometimes where he was playing hard and he can do it,” McEnroe said. “It’s just a question of hopefully just doing it consistently and maybe the guys around him, these sort of veteran guys that know how to play some defense, will get him to do it all the time. But obviously the key is that he does it every game.
“That’s what separates the true greats like Kobe [Bryant] and [Michael] Jordan and those guys. If you want to be considered at an elite level you gotta do it at both ends and all the time.”
So far, so good. The Knicks lead the NBA in points allowed.
For his part, Anthony said Thursday after practice he’s not surprised the team has started off 3-0.
“It’s always a good feeling when you’re winning basketball games but for the most part, it’s on to the next,” Anthony said.
“I’m not surprised,” he added. “I knew the work that we put in in the offseason and training camp. even in preseason. I knew the work that guys put in, I knew that guys were readuy. Like I said, we have guys that you don’t really have to teach too much to play basketball.
“They know the game, they know situations, they know how important each possession is. At the end of the day, some of these guys are very experienced at winning basketball games.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.