September 25, 2022

Does the name Terry Cummings mean anything to you?

The 1997-98 season was the ’90s Knicks’ version of a down year. Patrick Ewing broke his wrist in December, leaving a team that had been a title contender for four of the past five years stranded among other players in the East. But being in the 90s, even a “bad” Knicks team finished above .500 and avenged the PJ Brown Atrocity by knocking out Miami at home in Game 5.

Rewind in February this season. The Knicks traded fan-favorite Herb Williams in a deal to the 76ers for Cummings. “Preacher” was nearing the end of a fulfilling career, one that had seen him win Rookie of the Year honors and be named to two All-Star Teams and two All-NBA Teams. Those days were behind it since 1998, but the quality stands the test of time better than most. Cummings was a veteran, a leader, and a low-post Baryshnikov. He gave the Knicks good minutes at center in Ewing’s absence, and this postseason against the Heat he played in four games, New York winning three, including Game 2 when TC grabbed 14 rebounds on the bench.

I bet even the majority of Knick fans who followed the team closely back then don’t remember Cummings or haven’t thought of him since then. But the story, fortunately, is much richer than the bits we remember. Which brings us to the Cummings of the rich man, Alec Burks. I offer this statement fully understanding that it may seem absurd at first, but if you breathe and think about it, you’ll see it’s true: Burks was one of the best free agents the Knicks had signed in 20 years.

First, let’s recognize that it’s not exactly the same as being “one of the” richest Rockefellers. But that’s not nothing either – not like being the second most successful Baldwin brother. Burks was Knick for two years. In 2021, once upon a time Julius Randle was All-NBA Second Team, AB was the team’s best player in the fourth quarter. Last year, with Derrick Rose broken, Kemba Walker broken down and Immanuel Quickley the victim of Tom Thibodeau’s gray kink, Burks played out of position much of the season as a point guard.

Just as Cummings was a formidable part-time center, Burks better orchestrates the offense in spurts. Asking him to take on the job is like blowing up a tire and asking the donut to take you 1000 miles. You can close your eyes and hope for the best, but if you find yourself stuck on the shoulder again, don’t blame the gear. Burks struggled, as did the offense. But not for lack of effort.

Desus or Mero, I can’t remember which one, compared Burks to a 72% superstar. His shot selection from deep was basically buttoned up, but when he grounded the ball and took it over the edge, it became Alec Audacious.

Nobody owes you their true personality when they’re on the clock, so it’s always a mistake to read too much into an athlete’s personality based on their body language during competition. Growing up playing baseball, I was fairly quiet off the field but talkative between the lines; my best friend had to go see an angry counselor in real life, but during games he barely gave a glance. I don’t know who Burks is or how he is. But I enjoyed his apparent energy as Knick. Something about him was immediately and very sympathetic.

Now he’s moved to Detroit to play a supporting role in their revival. I’m pretty sure he’ll hit a grueling late-game 3 next season to beat the Knicks. If he does, I’ll hurt, but I won’t hate. Alec Burks was a pro of pros, a good Knick and an occasional highlight reel, albeit still dabbed. For me, he will always enjoy a place among my favorite Knicks whose memory far exceeds their performance, alongside Cummings, Rasheed Wallace and Pablo Prigioni. We may never miss you, AB. But you will be appreciated. And you were loved.