The New York Knicks and the New York Rangers are the mismatched brothers of professional sports, two teams that share an arena, a facility and an owner but are profoundly different in how they conduct themselves.
This intense disparity has existed for some time, but never was it more apparent than during a just concluded nine-day stretch in which the two teams took turns playing home games at Madison Square Garden.
It was the Knicks one night and the Rangers the next until Sunday, when the Knicks played a matinee instead. During those nine days, the Rangers went 4-0, solidified their status as a Stanley Cup contender and watched their most esteemed player, Henrik Lundqvist, become the 12th goalie in NHL history with 400 victories.
During that same period, the Knicks went 1-4, solidified their status as a likely lottery team and developed an immense image problem after an ugly altercation involving a former Knick, Charles Oakley. And, oh yeah, they saw their most esteemed player, Carmelo Anthony, achieve a milestone of his own by passing Charles Barkley on the NBA’s career scoring list.
Anthony’s achievement went largely unnoticed, however, because the Knicks used Sunday’s game as a backdrop. By showing off all the former players they brought back for the afternoon, they tried to soften the backlash from the Oakley incident.
Whether that public-relations gesture had any effect, or if it just came off as a gimmick, is a matter of conjecture.
But consider this: During the previous 11 seasons, the Rangers never finished below .500, made the playoffs 10 times and advanced to the conference finals twice and the Stanley Cup Final once, in 2013-14. There were no championships in that span, but a lot of good hockey.
The Knicks, in that same time frame, finished below .500 eight times, made the playoffs in just three instances and won exactly one playoff series — that’s right, one. That was an enormous amount of bad basketball inflicted on New York.
The most common explanation for how these teams share the same address but reside on different planets is that their embattled owner, James L. Dolan, attracted by the pizazz and celebrity culture of the NBA, has meddled in the affairs of the Knicks, with lousy results. By generally leaving Rangers executives alone, Dolan has allowed them to do their jobs well.
The accuracy of this explanation is also a matter of conjecture, but consider the results of that recent nine-day stretch at the Garden:
Feb. 4: The Knicks lose, 111-104, to LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Cleveland is without the injured Kyrie Irving, but no matter.
Feb. 5: With ice now on the floor, the Rangers score three goals in the third period to defeat the Calgary Flames, 4-3.
Feb. 6: The Knicks are humiliated by the lowly Los Angeles Lakers, 121-107. “You’ve got to play for some pride,'’ Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek fumes afterward.
Feb. 7: Phil Jackson, the Knicks’ team president, creates an uproar by using Twitter to indicate his apparent approval of a Bleacher Report article that characterizes Anthony as a one-dimensional scorer. It is not the first shot Jackson has taken this season at Anthony, whom he is trying to trade. Hours later, Lundqvist makes a season-high 43 saves as the Rangers beat the Anaheim Ducks, 4-1.
Feb. 8: The Knicks lose to the Los Angeles Clippers, 119-115. But that becomes a footnote to a disturbing scene that unfolds when Oakley, a Knicks star in the 1990s, is hauled out in handcuffs after an altercation with security guards.
Feb. 9: The Rangers rally from a two-goal deficit to beat the Nashville Predators, 4-3. J.T. Miller scores twice for the Rangers, and fans start an Oakley chant. Why not?
Feb. 10: In one of the more surreal days in Knicks history — and there have been many — Dolan, who rarely speaks with the media, goes on ESPN Radio to announce that Oakley is barred from the Garden indefinitely. Dolan also characterizes Oakley as someone who has emotional issues and suggests he might be an alcoholic. Hours after those extraordinary assertions, the Knicks lose to the Denver Nuggets, 131-123. Hornacek, fuming again, rips into the defensive efforts of his starting unit.
Feb. 11: The impeccable Lundqvist notches victory No. 400 as the Rangers down the Colorado Avalanche, 4-2. “I really wanted to get this one,'’ he says afterward.
Feb. 12: The Knicks finally win, beating the Spurs, 94-90. San Antonio helps the Knicks’ cause by shooting 6 for 29 from 3-point range. But even with the victory, the Knicks are just 22-33.
So whether it’s the nine-day period that ended Sunday, or the entire past decade, the Knicks and the Rangers are forever together, and almost always apart. It is a dizzying reality, especially for the many fans who root for both teams.