When the New York Knicks recently hosted the Houston Rockets, the worst team in the N.B.A., two superfans decided to visit Madison Square Garden. “The really bad teams are almost as rewarding as watching a LeBron game,” one of them, the artist Andrew Kuo, said. He wore a puffy vest, thick-framed black glasses, and a hat emblazoned with the words “The Starry Night.” Walking to their seats, his companion, the writer Ben Detrick (sweater, fraying khakis, gray sneakers), spotted a small shrine inside the arena and posed for a photo. It was a wall panel commemorating “the Dunk,” in 1993, when John Starks scored over Michael Jordan during a playoff game. (The Knicks, being the Knicks, won the game, then lost the series.) “The vibe here is like the basement of a middle school,” Detrick said, after paying his respects. Translation: still better than a Nets game.

Kuo and Detrick run a company called Cookies Hoops, which is like a support group for the basketball-obsessed. There’s a podcast, an apparel line, a newsletter, an annual three-on-three tournament, and a new book, called “The Joy of Basketball.” Written by Detrick and illustrated by Kuo, it’s an encyclopedia: part art book, part social commentary, part desk reference. The entries are alphabetical, listing players (“Durant, Kevin”), teams, and miscellaneous themes (“Feral Bigs,” “Ninja Headbands,” “Load Management”). Under “Knicks 4 Life,” there’s one of Kuo’s trademark charts, plotting the emotions of Knicks fans on a color spectrum ranging from “Relying on hope/faith” (very bad) to “Raving under bridges” (kinda good). A full-page illustration depicts the Starks dunk, with the rim made to look like a halo. “The Knicks reflect the self-identity of the New Yorker—past and present,” Detrick writes. “It is basketball funneled through Fran Lebowitz, wearing Lugz boots and shoveling a bacon, egg, and cheese into her maw while smoking a loosie.”

Clutching beers, Kuo and Detrick settled in for a slow game. The Rockets turned the ball over eight times in the first nine minutes. “You can see the idea of an N.B.A. team,” Detrick said. Midway through the first quarter, Whoopi Goldberg appeared on the jumbotron. “It’s the patron saint of the Knicks,” Kuo said. Detrick lifted his sweater to reveal a T-shirt with Goldberg’s face on it. “Didn’t even plan that,” he added.

Knicks optimists expecting an easy night were proved wrong by halftime. The score was tied. “I don’t get mad anymore,” Kuo said. “Linsanity made me a better person.” This was a reference to an eleven-day stretch, in 2012, during which a Harvard-educated benchwarmer named Jeremy Lin stunned the city, and the league, with a bout of dominant play. (Lin, Jeremy: “Before each game there was a sense that, tonight, the spectacle would capsize in flames, and yet, for two weeks, it did not.”)

“Cookies” is hoops slang for a nifty steal—and a hallmark of the Kuo-Detrick backcourt. Several years ago, the two were arguing on Twitter about advanced metrics without actually having met. “I’m Ben, from the internet,” Detrick told Kuo when they finally did. They became friends on the night-life circuit; Kuo was d.j.’ing and Detrick was working for the Styles section of the Times. In 2015, Detrick started a basketball podcast for Vice, but Kuo was wary. “I was a painter. I didn’t want anything to do with this,” Kuo said. “I had to come out as a basketball fan. I had to say, ‘I, too, am a baller.’ ”

“Whatever confidence I once had in him is now gone.”
Cartoon by Frank Cotham

Now, during a trip to the concession stand, they were discussing edits to the footage they’d shot from their recent tournament. Local businesses field teams (Williamsburg Pizza, Lucien), but the level of play can be suspiciously high (Ringers: European pros, Division 1 players, Royal Ivey). At this year’s tournament, Kuo appreciated one group playing for the Drunken Canal, the downtown gossip paper: “They seemed hungover from the night before, but young enough to ball. Wiry shooters!” (The Canal says that only its managers were hungover.)

The Knicks, who had fallen behind, were starting to sober up. Kuo and Detrick shared concerns about the state of Nerlens Noel’s right knee.

Detrick: “He looks hurt.”

Kuo: “When the lockdown happened last year, my gallery closed. I made portraits of N.B.A. players to keep the lights on. I made one of Noel. He’s our whole season!”

Organ music blared as the Knicks narrowed the deficit. “The spectre of Billy Joel really encompasses this whole place,” Kuo said. With five and a half minutes left, Noel skied for a block; the ball wound up in the hands of the Knicks guard Alec Burks, who made a three to tie the game. “Will you guys ever forget the night the Knicks came back against the Houston Rockets?” Kuo asked with a grin. Detrick replied, “We get to live through history.” ♦

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