Enough time has passed that we can properly put the job Tom Thibodeau did with last year’s Knicks in its proper perspective. And if anything, it resonates louder, and stronger, now than it did in the spring. The fact is, it belongs in rarefied air, in an exclusive pantheon of New York coaching achievements.
There really are only two examples, in the entire history of pro sports in our town, that have a similar ring to what Thibodeau did last year, guiding the Knicks to a 41-31 record, only their fourth winning record in the previous 20 years, only the second time they finished above .500 by double digits in that time.
Gil Hodges is in that team photo. When he took over the Mets before the 1968 season the franchise’s history was littered with buffoons and buffoonery. The average record for the Mets from 1962-67 was 54-108. The slapstick was everywhere. Upon taking the job, Hodges was asked if he thought he could get the Mets to .500 within five years.
“I have higher ambitions than that,” he said, and while it took two years for him to engineer the 1969 miracle the 73-89 record he coaxed the Mets to in ’68 seemed pretty damned wondrous in its own right, a stubborn extraction from a brutal history. That was the year, Tom Seaver later said, “that we became a baseball team and not a bad comedy act. No way…