And the Oscar goes to … the Knicks?
Not quite. But the team — and its woeful state as one of the worst teams in the N.B.A. — did get a shout out during the Academy Awards on Sunday night.
When Samuel L. Jackson came out with Brie Larson to present the Best Adapted Screenplay award at the Oscars, he had a short preamble, a personal message to Spike Lee, a nominee and a famously devoted Knicks fan through thick and thin.
“First of all, Spike, so glad you’re sitting down,” Jackson began. “After 18 consecutive home losses, the Knicks won tonight. I repeat, the Knicks won tonight, defeated San Antonio, 130-118”
Jackson’s stats were accurate. The 18-game home losing streak had set a franchise record.
Jackson’s news flash drew a laugh from Lee, and also an exclamation. It was not audible on the broadcast, but just about every armchair lip reader believed he said, “We’re trying to tank.”
While you might think that the end of a long losing streak would delight a superfan like Lee, there are those Knicks supporters out there who don’t especially want to win many — or any — more games.
If the Knicks finish in the bottom three of the N.B.A., they will get the best possible chance, 14 percent, to land the top draft pick in June. A recent injury aside, that is still expected to be the Duke star Zion Williamson. A bottom three finish would also give the Knicks a 40 percent chance at a top three pick.
As of Monday morning, the Knicks stand at 12-48, for the second worst record. Despite their win, they look likely to grab a bottom three spot, probably alongside the Phoenix Suns (11-50) and Cleveland Cavaliers (14-46). But the Chicago Bulls are looming, two games “better” than the Cavs.
The league actually changed the draft lottery percentages this season in an effort to cut down on tanking, particularly after the 76ers went on a multiyear losing period of terrible play that got them several top picks. A year ago, the worst record offered a full 25 percent chance at No. 1, with the second and third worst teams getting 20 and 16 percent chances.
Lee has been the Knicks’ consensus No. 1 fan for years, sitting courtside and not infrequently interacting with players on both teams. Perhaps most infamously, in 1994, he jawed with the Pacers’ Reggie Miller in a conference finals game. Miller went on to the lead the Pacers to victory, drawing a “Thanks a Lot Spike” headline from The New York Daily News.
Jackson and Lee have a history as well, with Jackson appearing in “Do the Right Thing,” “School Daze,” “Jungle Fever” and “Mo Better Blues.” They are also both alumni of Morehouse College.
In this age of smartphones, there’s a good chance that those at the Oscars who cared already knew the Knicks score, perhaps including Lee.
That wasn’t the case in 1976, when Eliott Gould, presenting the award for Best Editing, alerted the audience that Indiana had won the men’s basketball national championship, 86-68. “I listened to the score before we went out to make the presentation,” he told Grantland. “Literally in the wings, there was a radio there.”
By the way, along with his co-writers, Lee won on Sunday, his first competitive Oscar. There is no evidence that “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” or the other nominees engaged in any tanking.