By Zach Smart
Kenyon Martin’s post-dunk eruptions are boisterous. His intimidating half-smile could make even teammate Rasheed Wallace flinch. The clip of Martin heaping colorful words of warning, at Mark Cuban during the 2009 playoffs has evolved into an epic Youtube clip.
Any Knick fan who lived through the basket-brawl Knicks of the 1990’s could tell you how refreshing it is to have K-MART on the roster. That’s because his style of emotion-bleeding, rough-house, macho man hoops has become a lost art in the NBA. Folks who followed the 1990s Knicks know that K-Mart fills an immeasurable void. He brings a brand of toughness which once defined New York.
No longer is there Chuck Oakley, delivering mammoth swings at the enemy. No longer is there a tough-as-nails John Starks talking trash with Jordan, clotheslining Pippen, head-butting Reggie Miller and hurling water at Mark Jackson. There is no Anthony Mason bodying up players in the post, muscling his way to the bucket. There is no Chris Childs, quick-jabbing Kobe Bryant.
Memorable New York Knicks teams are recognized for their toughness, competitive brutality, and reluctance to back down.
That’s what makes Martin such an essential ingredient to this Knicks team, especially as New York navigates late April, May, and potentially June. They need a bruising presence. They need a monster masquerading as a man. They need a house protector in a league that now over glorifies creativity and bans augmented physicality.
Fans who have remained true through the rollercoaster ride recall the 2004 NBA playoffs.
The Knicks had ended a miserable three-year playoff drought. With a piecemeal core containing players such as Marbury, Howard Eisley, Tim Thomas, and Dikembe Mutumbo on his last leg, the first round saw them face the high-octane New Jersey Nets. That Nets team, spurred by current Knicks guard Jason Kidd included role such as players’ Richard Jefferson and Kerry Kittles. And of course, K-MART. The no.6 jersey was a sought after product. K-Mart’s dazzling put-backs and tough, blanketing defense lit the state on fire like a techno song at some Jersey shore club.
Throughout the series, we witnessed vintage K-MART. He was effective around the basket, erupting for dunks and skying for lobs from Kidd. He was vicious around the basket, getting after it with Mutumbo and embracing any increased physicality he could get away with.
The real beef kicked off when Tim Thomas was manhandled by Jason Collins ( perhaps the least confrontational Net) on a dunk attempt. Collins deposited Thomas 6-foot-10 frame to the ground, causing him to bruise his back and hip.
It was another blatant sign of the Nets’ lack of respect for the Knicks, who had suddenly become the second class citizen of a heated Hudson River Rivalry. The only Knick who showed even a trace of toughness was Frank Williams, a little-used backup now out of the league. Williams tossed Kidd into the floor and instigated a fight with Jefferson, proving the Knicks would not be bullied.
When Thomas was hacked, however, no Knick stepped in. There was no retaliation shot. There was no Oakley or Mason delivering a fatal haymaker to Collins’ big head. Larry Johnson, Camby, and Spreewell weren’t even there to bring the ruckus. Just a patchwork group of passionless and dispensable players.
For any Knick fan, or any sports fan for that matter, it was horrifying to witness. The Knicks, very uncharacteristic of the franchise, sat back and took it. The team that was once on the same plane as Bad Boys Era Pistons as far as badass goes, was gone and forgotten. It was a wistful changing of the times.
Thomas was incensed at the lack of action taken by his teammates.
"When I was laying on the floor I was expecting somebody to do something, to push, to shove, anybody. But it never happened," Thomas told a horde of reporters. "In that situation you have to respond. You have to, that's the bottom line.”
"For it to go down that way and for nobody to really respond, I'm just waiting for somebody to do something."
Thomas’ frustration was understandable. The Paterson, NJ product had every right in the world to be tight about the lack of passion and gamesmanship displayed by his “teammates.”
Even if it is the chess team or the kickball team, you can’t just watch your teammate get nailed to the ground on a dirty move.
The controversy kicked up a notch when Thomas took a snipe at Martin, ripping him as a fake thug. Thomas dropped the word “fugazi,” a mafia term used to peg a fake tough guy, on Martin.
Martin laughed it off to the media, stating he was “flattered” Thomas is thinking about him. K-Mart then fired back with a quick confident remark.
"If you take a poll around the league and asked people who they want on their team, they're not going to say Tim Thomas. Teammates never questioned how hard I played," Martin said.
"They know what they're going to get out of me when I step on the court. I'm not like Pandora's box - you open it up and don't know what you're going to get. That's him."
Since coming to the Knicks, Kenyon has brought that unrefined swagger and heart that was once sorely lacking. He’s been an energizer and a no-frills guy who they must have in the playoffs.
With the way in which Melo was thoroughly mindfucked by Garnett, who’s putrid and childish remarks got the best of his emotions, the Knicks need a personality who can fend off that type of behavior.
Once a Knick nemesis, K-Mart assumes a meaningful role as the Knicks near playoff time.