April 22, 2024


Like All Trades

YOUNG: NY sports fans finally have some optimism | Local Sports

With the Boston Celtics currently in the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, it’s just another example of the rich getting richer in the local sports world.

After all, the Boston area has had 12 teams win championships in the four major sports since 2001, with at least one by each of the four New England teams. Even more impressively, the Celtics reaching the Finals means that each of the four local teams has earned a berth in the Finals, Super Bowl, or World Series just in the past five years. The Red Sox won in 2018, the Patriots won the Super Bowl after the 2018 season, the Bruins reached the Cup Final in the spring of 2019 (falling to the Blues), and now the C’s, who have the chance to bring New England its third title in that five-year period along with the 13th for the region in this millennium.

Any fan base not from New England is likely gnashing their collective teeth about this bounty of good fortune bestowed on Boston-area fans, but it must be particularly galling for the good fans of the New York sports teams, of which I was formerly one, as detailed in last week’s column.

To New York sports fans, it just doesn’t seem possible that Boston, with its measly four teams, is running roughshod championship-wise over the Empire State’s 10 pro teams. It’s true; even with more than double the number of teams, New York has won just three world championships in the four major sports since 2001: the Yankees in 2009 and the NY Football Giants in 2007 and 2011.

But even with the backdrop of the Celtics having a solid chance to deliver championship No. 13 to New Englanders in a couple of weeks, NY fans finally have reason to be a little bit optimistic that a sports crown of their own could finally be lurking on the horizon. Because at last glance, the NY Rangers were in the final four of the NHL playoffs, taking on the two-time defending champion Lightning for the chance to reach the Cup Final for the first time since 2014 (and just the second time since winning their only chalice of the past 80 seasons, in 1994).

On the diamond, the Yankees and the Mets are surprisingly both in first place in the AL East and NL East, respectively, with the Pinstripers’ 36-15 record five-and-a-half games better than the second-place Blue Jays in baseball’s toughest division, while the Mets, six years removed from their last playoff berth, are a whopping nine-and-a-half games ahead of the defending champion Braves. It shouldn’t be all that surprising, since both teams are in the top three in terms of team payroll in MLB, but still, if both hang on to win their respective divisions, it would be the first time since 2006 that both finished in first place, and would summon up memories of the teams’ Subway Series matchup in 2000.

So this is a rare occasion for optimism for New York sports fans, who even with their 10 teams (including the two Buffalo teams upstate) have been either frustrated by their teams’ lack of success, or downright angry about the performances of some of their beloved teams.

Let’s take a look at the football bases, for example.

Yes, the Giants fans can still reflect fondly on those two Super Bowl crowns this century (especially because they were at the expense of the Patriots), along with two more championships in 1986 and 1990, but have you seen what’s happened since? The Giants have managed a winning record just twice since that 2011 championship, and have missed the playoffs each season except for one (2016).

In the other MetLife Stadium locker room, the Jets have been even worse. Playoff outsiders since 2010, the Jets have just won winning season since then, and they’re still waiting, 54 years later, for their second-ever trip to the Super Bowl.

Both teams should be better in 2022, but optimism is running particularly rampant for the upstate Bills, who after missing the postseason every season from 2000 through 2016, have qualified the past three seasons, even though each of those trio of playoff losses were heartbreaking. Bills fans are well familiar with heartbreak, though, after seeing the team drop four Super Bowls in a row in the early 1990s, but this year’s team is a powerhouse, and no one would be surprised to see them return to the Big Game for the first time since 1993.

The Rangers’ possible return to postseason NHL glory has NY hockey fans again full of hope, just as the crosstown Islanders’ run to the Cup Final just two seasons ago in the Canadian bubble seemingly signaled the four-time Stanley Cup winners (1980-1983) returning to promise, but alas, the Isles failed to build on back-to-back playoff seasons by missing the postseason this season with a 37-35-10 record, leading the team to fire its coach.

And the Sabres? Yeesh. The Buffalo-based hockey team has missed the playoffs for 11 straight seasons, hasn’t finished above .500 since 2011, and has just two Cup Final berths (both losses, in 1975 and 1999) in its 51 seasons of play.

There’s not much to boast about for New York’s hardwood fans lately, either. The Knicks, who are embraced as the city’s premier basketball franchise, haven’t won a title since 1973 (three years after their first), and have missed the postseason in 14 of the past 18 seasons. Meanwhile, the Nets seemed like they were much closer to a title than the Knicks, especially with the additions of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to create (on paper) a superteam, but the franchise is still viewed as a New Jersey team rather than the carpetbaggers that moved to Brooklyn in 2012, and either way, the Nets have never won an NBA title in their 45 seasons of existence, and have but two playoff series victory in the last 15 seasons after surprisingly getting bounced in the opening round of the playoffs by the Celtics. What once was seen as a likely NBA champion in 2022 now seems like it will have to go back to the drawing board, with or without the mercurial Irving.

Heck, the Big Apple doesn’t even have a WNBA championship on its sports résumé, as the hometown Liberty have never won a crown in their 25 years of existence, although they reached the Finals three times in their first four years of existence but lost all of them (ouch), and haven’t returned to the Finals since, which is kinda hard to do when the league has just 12 teams (and only between eight and 11 teams prior to 2008).

But along with the current hopes of the Rangers reaching the Cup Final, the Yankees and Mets staying atop their divisions and making playoff runs this fall, and the long-awaited championship hopes of the Bills this fall, another NY team can boast of recent success: the New York City FC Major League Soccer team that won the city’s first-ever MLS crown last December.

Even so, the Empire State has a long way to go before it catches little old Boston in terms of sports championships this century, especially if the Celtics add lucky number 13 to their coffers and banner number 18 to the Garden rafters (fingers crossed).