The Outlet 2.04: Dewey Defeats Miami

Posted on Mon 07 May 2012 in The Outlet by Aaron McGuire

To bring our playoff coverage up, we’re bringing our formerly retired series of daily vignettes — titled “The Outlet” — back for the playoffs. “Don’t call it a comeback.” Though, you can call it series 2, as we are in the title. Every day (or, rather, every day we aren't doing a larger and grander piece), we’ll try to share two or three short vignettes from our collective of writers ruminating on the previous day’s events. Should be a fun time. Today’s Outlet covers the exaltation of Knicks fans in the wake of their first playoff win since 9/11. We were going to have another piece, but I'm on deadline at work and can't finish the second piece until later, so for now we'll stick with a single piece.

  • "Dewey Defeats Miami." by Aaron McGuire.

Click the jump for today's piece.

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Dewey Defeats Miami
Aaron McGuire

Governor Thomas Dewey was not a particularly interesting man. The former Governor of New York did not glad-hand, did not preen, and did not excite. Dewey was the youngest Republican nominee in the history of the party, and the first presidential candidate born in the 20th century. To put his positions in shorthand, Dewey liked tax cuts, the death penalty, federal education funding, internationalism, and anti-discriminatory labor laws -- he represented the lighter and liberal wing of the 1940s Republican party, and his ongoing control over the party through the 50s represented a generalized triumph of Roosevelt's New Deal and a victory for casual liberalism over Robert Taft's conservative wing of the party. Dewey's place in political history -- while little-mentioned -- is quite substantial. Without Dewey leading the way, it's possible Nelson Rockefeller, George Romney, and Richard Nixon couldn't have come after him. His impact on the Republican party is vast.

Despite all this? I sincerely doubt all but a few history buffs really know Dewey. Few people could rattle off a succinct view on Dewey's person, like the above paragraph, without the benefit of a Britannica or an encyclopedia. But virtually everyone could name his surname. And thus he lives on, though perhaps not in the way he'd like. Dewey lives on not in his accomplishments, his person, or his creed. He lives on through a silly journalistic snafu, an ebullient President Truman, and a clever photographer who happened to be in the right place at the right time. "Dewey Defeats Truman." It's a timeless photograph -- every history features it prominently, seemingly every American has internalized it, and the headline itself may be the most famous headline in U.S. history. Who Thomas Dewey has long been forgotten by most, but the fact of his presence has not been. And thanks to that photograph, it never will be.

On Sunday, the New York Knicks upset the Miami Heat and pushed their best-of-seven series to a fifth game. Is it premature to say that the Knicks really "defeated" the Heat? Perhaps. In a day, the Heat will likely blow the Knicks out of the water and leave New York's fans dismayed, disjointed, and disillusioned about their future. One game won does not a series make, and as the joy of playing the victor fades away, another lost season lies in its wake. The sadness will likely return. All the headlines, the joy, the exaltation -- all are ephemeral, as sports is in general. But stop short of saying that this moment is fated to be lost in time. Because I don't really think it will be. Keep in mind that the Knicks had lost 13 straight playoff games -- within that 13 they'd suffered two agonizing sweeps, a first round defeat at the hands of Vince Carter (of all people!), and were but a missed shot away from a third straight sweep. My favorite of the various cracker-jack stats on the long wait that Knicks fans suffered through would have to be this; out of the 478 players that played in the league this year, 422 of them began their NBA careers after the streak began. Infamous.

One victory in a gentleman's sweep means little, but when you contextualize the Knicks' now-infamous record and the historic struggles of the franchise, meaning begins to stir. In the grand scheme of things, it's unlikely the facts of the matchup are remembered well. But the ugliness of the series, the drama, the distastefully lacking performance of the New York stars are all as unimportant to the mass consciousness of Knicks fans as the personality and accomplishments of Governor Dewey are to the mass consciousness of the American populace. Just as the Governor lost the race and his place as a truly important figure in history, so too do the Knicks lose their series and their place as a truly important team in history. These dismal Knicks are important not for who they are, but for the moment they gave their fans -- they're important not as a collective team, but as the harbingers of a brighter future and as the motley crew that closed a dark chapter in the history of the franchise.

The New York Knicks have quite a ways to go until this team truly contends. They probably aren't going to win a title with this core. They probably aren't as close as many Knicks fans think, and this win -- in isolation -- doesn't mean they're going to stand a chance against the Heat next year without clever trades and large-scale roster tweaks. But just as the famous photograph has reserved Dewey's name in the hearts of Americans everywhere, this victory offers a short reprieve for Knicks fans. The moment -- fleeting, temporary, and short though it may be -- will live on in Knicks fandom beyond the point where this team is truly remembered or deserving of thought. If I can't fault Americans for remembering Dewey more for a silly photograph than his greater accomplishments, how could I fault Knicks fans for wanting to bask in this one glorious moment?

Perhaps you can. Me? I can't. Congratulations, Knicks fans. Keep your heads high.

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We may add a piece or two to this Outlet later today. Keep an eye on my twitter at @docrostov for any pressing updates.