- The NBA has fined Atlanta Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan for comments about the New York Knicks.
- McMillan intimated that the Knicks would be the beneficiaries of preferential treatment from the league and its officials.
- The Knicks have struggled through a long rebuilding process and have reached the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-2013 season.
Atlanta Hawks interim coach Nate McMillan has been fined $25,000 for comments about the New York Knicks. McMillan’s offense? I hope you’re sitting down as this is a shocker–he suggested that the NBA has a vested interest in making sure that the New York Knicks perform well in the playoffs. He even intimated that the Knicks could receive preferential treatment from game officials. McMillan has since walked back his comments with the analog version of the ‘I was hacked’ mea culpa, the classic ‘taken out of context.’
Accusations that the NBA gives preferential treatment to ‘big market’ teams have dogged the league since the days of Clyde Drexler in Portland and Karl Malone in Salt Lake City. It has given rise to conspiracy theories such as the ‘cold envelope’ theory, for example, that suggests former NBA commissioner David Stern used a frozen draft lottery envelope in order to property guide Patrick Ewing to New York. The NBA will never admit it, but it does seem like ‘big market’ teams are the beneficiaries of downright inexplicable luck. The best players always seem to end up in the big market teams and as a result they win more championships.
Obviously, NYC fans are excited that the long suffering Knicks are back in the playoffs. Spike Lee–the East Coast equivalent of Lakers’ superfan Jack Nicholson–is all over the media. The Knicks haven’t been in the playoffs since the 2012-2013 season and have suffered through a couple of decades of diminished relevance. Much of that was self inflicted–such as handing the keys to the franchise over to the bumbling Isiah Thomas and the dubious attempt to build around Carmelo Anthony. That’s all in the past new and the team easily sold out their first two games of the series against Atlanta–albeit at reduced capacity. Of course the ‘reduced capacity’ is 15,000, a surprisingly high number for a state and city that had been downright timid at times in their reopening efforts. The team has given the explanation that ‘90% of Knicks fans have been vaccinated’ though it’s not quite clear how they determined that figure.
At any rate, MSG Sports boss James Dolan isn’t shy about repeating it:
“I hope everyone in sports and entertainment is listening because the public has spoken — they are fine with getting vaccinated and want to get back to the experiences they love. This overwhelming response by Knicks fans — almost 90% of whom are vaccinated — should silence any doubters. It’s time to start booking events and filling up our schedules, so stay tuned.”
As far as McMillan’s ‘Knicks bias’ comments they weren’t exactly incendiary and didn’t say much more than the obvious ‘the NBA wants the Knicks in the playoffs’. Talking about the Hawks’ first round matchup against the Knicks in a Zoom media call he gave this opinion:
“Absolutely, I’ve talked about that to the team a lot. Basically, I’ve gone as far as saying the league wants this. They need this, New York, this is a big market for the league, and New York has been out of the playoffs for a number of years.”
“And this is a team that our league, they want to see — there’s a huge fan base — and they want to see New York in the playoffs.”
“So, yes, we have talked about that, about the advantages of this situation and some things that we’re going to have to face, going into [Game 1], with everyone picking New York to win and a lot of folks wanting to see New York in the playoffs. It’s a battle, it’s a challenge, just playing New York, all that comes with it. … They’ve had a really good season, and I think the NBA is excited about having them back in the playoffs.”
Later in the call he did speculate that “there’s going to be a lot of calls that probably won’t go our way.” This is likely the assertion that drew the NBA’s ire–not that home teams haven’t received reprieved preferential officiating since the beginning of time. A chastened McMillan gave this statement on Friday:
“We are excited about playoff basketball. It’s an exciting time for the NBA. But unfortunately my comments were taken out of context. My intentions were never to suggest any type of bias as it relates to the league and our upcoming playoff series. This type of narrative does not in any way represent me and what I stand for as coach of the Atlanta Hawks.”
“I stand by my position in respecting the Knicks as an organization and applaud the work they have done this season. My team understands the challenge ahead and we most certainly look forward to the tough competition. That was my intention when I had the conversation a few days ago. We’re going to put this behind us.”
“Nate’s a veteran coach and he knows better. He’s trying to inspire his team to try and suggest the league would somehow prefer some teams over others, and it’s just not the case. He knows it, and he’s just got a young team and wants to get them going.”
Out in Colorado, Circa Sports has the Knicks listed as a +115 underdog to win the series with the Hawks a -135 chalk. For Game One, New York is a -1.5 point home favorite with the total set at 215.