I didn’t think Thursday’s Knicks blotter would include a story to top the Chef Oakley auction, but here we go. Under normal circumstances, a Knickerbocker season opening victory at MSG would be cause for celebration, even if it came against a club that lost 67 games last season. As long as Stephon Marbury stays in a New York uniform, however, it’s not gonna be quite that simple, as Newsday’s Alan Hahn illustrates.
Mike D’Antoni on Thursday admitted he did hear the chant of “We Want Steph!” from a section of the sellout crowd at the Garden in the second half of Wednesday’s season-opening 120-115 win over the Miami Heat. But while television replays showed D’Antoni yelling, “Are you f— kidding me?” toward the crowd, what is unclear is if he was directing his anger at the chanting fans — who were calling for benched guard Stephon Marbury — or the referees.
“I just thought they didn’t quite get it, but they’re great fans and they’re into it,” D’Antoni said when asked about the situation. “It’s almost like on draft night, no matter who you draft they’re going to boo because there’s somebody the fans like and somebody they don’t … You’ll hear it from the people that don’t and that’s OK. It’s no big deal.”
A majority of the fans seemed to agree with his decision to leave Marbury on the bench for the entire game. But late in the third quarter, with the Knicks ahead by 23 points, some fans in the upper bowl started a chant of “We Want Steph!” After a few attempts, the chant was overcome by loud boos from the rest of the sellout crowd.
But the moment that involved D’Antoni came with 11:10 left in the fourth quarter and, it should be noted, after a foul was called on Mardy Collins. The Knicks were leading at the time, 93-77, and the big lead was already starting to slip away.
A reporter from ESPN Radio said there was also video evidence that D’Antoni added, “What a bunch of a—.” Newsday can only confirm D’Antoni’s first comment.
After D’Antoni addressed the media immediately following practice, he came back a short while later to re-address the issue and said his words were not directed at the crowd.
“There’s no way I would do that to the fans,” he said.