When Steve Novak arrived in New York, he was unsung and dispensable.
Expectations were rather minimal. Few were sold or excited.
Hey, you can’t blame them. At the time, the Knicks were mired in a free fall.
It was a floundering organization, which had just snapped a 10-year playoff drought with a brutal first round dusting at the hands of Boston.
A listless start portended another downtrodden, dungeon-dwelling season stuffed in the weak Eastern Conference’s armpit.
By that time, Knicks fans bemoaned the expected: Big contracts, unfulfilled promises, in-house quarrels magnified and blown up by a vindictive, hard-hitting New York media.
Stephon Marbury dancing shirtless to “Barbie Girl” and devouring a fresh can of vaseline or Quentin Richardson challenging Boston to a street fight earned more headlines than anything on the court, a harbinger of a dwindling franchise.
It wasn’t looking good.
Novak had played sparingly with the LA Clippers and Houston Rockets, his dependable and deep 3-pointer earning him just enough playing time to stay afloat on the market.
Novak’s NBA stock was so obscure, the 6-foot-10 shooter was known more for his role on that memorable Dwayne Wade and Travis Diener-led Marquette NCAA tourney team.
Then, Jeremy Lin popped off the bench and pumped life into the ailing franchise.
Suddenly, Novak’s deft 3-point grenades and transition treys earned national visibility.
The Milwaukee native helped change New York’s basketball landscape by the weekend.
NBA analysts took note of Novak’s NBA 3-point percentage, quick-hit 3-point fireworks off the bench, and propensity for turning fast breaks into transition pull-up treys without a tinge of hesitation.
Charles Barkely labeled him the NBA’s most reliable outside shooter.
Novak’s perimeter assault helped spread out the floor for the Knicks, enabling Carmelo Anthony to thrive with his self-creation, one-on-one game.
Novak evolved into a consistent beneficiary of Lin, whose eruption from borderline third stringer to the NBA’s then-most electrifying point guard tells like no other.
Novak’s timely shooting helped spur the Knicks’ sizzling 18-5 start in 2012-2013.
Buoyed by veteran leadership from Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace, Novak spearheaded a potent perimeter assault.
Angle-to-angle ball movement, countless pick-and-rolls, dribble handoffs and pure offensive creation from Kidd allowed Novak to thrive.
During the LINSANITY experience, Lin morphed into cult hero status. He grew into an international icon during a dynamic two-week stretch. As Lin blossomed and blew up, Novak’s stock mounted.
His trademark “Belt,” an act Novak pulled following a titanic 3-pointer, became a worldwide trend.
The man they call “Novakaine” shot 8-for-10 from beyond the arc in a monumental win against Boston.
He formed a radiant 2-on-2 game with quickly-acquired J.R. Smith, forming an unlikely friendship with the mercurial scorer along the way.
A dependable 3-point ace was born.
Novak knows not to argue with history. It is only right that he was back in NY last week, holding his annual kids basketball camp at Rye Brook.
Hey, this is where it all started for him.
“Having Steve at camp is exceptional due to the fact that he’s proactive,” said Teaches Hoops founder and director Terry Teachout, who played at Division-I Duquesne and orchestrates summer camps featuring Novak, Tim Hardaway Jr., David Lee, and Jr. Smith.
“When he comes to the camp, we really don’t have to put together a program or ideas for him to do things, he just goes and does them himself. He’ll go shoot with kids. He’ll pull kids out of a drill and show them how to improve their shot and how to be faster at getting their release, the whole nine yards.”
Teachout said Novak aspires to build up the camp, which had a turnout of over 100. With a full menu of drills, stations, 5-on-5 leagues, and contests, that dull moment is hard to find.
Novak was recently in China, coaching a Cathy Financial Holdings-sponsored youth basketball team alongside Lin.
The one-time Knick poster boys put together shooting display at the popping tourist hotspot, Shilin Night Market.
In Rye Brook, where Novak lived during his Knicks days, he played an eight-year-old camper one-on-one before a sea of onlookers.
“(Novak) beat him off the dribble and dunked on him, maybe his only dunk in the last year,” explained Teachout.
“Hey, the kid was excited to get dunked on by Steve Novak. We don’t get that too often. He still has the same fanfare here in New York. A lot of the people remember his Knick days.”
Novak penned a four-year, $15 million contract with the Knicks in July 2012, the time of his inaugural kids camp with Teaches Hoops (then in Sleepy Hollow).
Following an unproductive pass through in Toronto, where he landed in package deal sending Italian sniper Andrea Bargnani to New York, Novak is headed to Utah.
Yet in New York, where Novak emerged from unproven journey man to 3-point assassin, his NYK following is alive and intact.
Why is that?
“His story is different because he’s got unbelievable persistence,” Teachout said.
“Steve played on a few teams before he camp to New York He was always on the bubble, but he always believed himself. Whether he was at the Clippers or Dallas, and so on, when he got to New York and he got a chance he produced. Once the floor opened up with Linsanity and he was able to get those long shots he produced.”
Teachout continued, “For us, as far as getting him for camp it was like a home run. We’re always looking for the underdog guy that came up and has a great story. He’s still humble, still working hard at his craft. I think Steve is an example of someone who definitely stuck with it. He played on those different teams but, when he had his chance he made the best of it.”
To Learn more about Teaches Hoops and Steve Novak Basketball Camp, kindly visit www.teacheshoops.com or call 914-238-0278.
Award-Winning Sports Journalist whose work is featured in numerous online sources - Bounce, SLAM, SNY, Rivals, and Hoops Addict - to name a few. Born in New York City, Mr. Smart is from Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.
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