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Fat Joe Has Undivided Attention on Knicks


    Photo Fat Joe, a rapper, at a game in January. He said of fans rooting for both New York teams, “That just ain’t right, in any sport.” Credit James Devaney/FilmMagic


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    “Courtside at the Knicks game, who’s the don?” the rapper and die-hard Knicks fan Joseph Cartagena, known as Fat Joe, says on his latest single, “Pride N Joy.”

    Given his journey from the Bronx’s Forest Houses public housing projects to the front row at Madison Square Garden, it’s a fair question.

    Like many fans, Cartagena, 42, struggled to endure the team’s recent and numerous failures. Unlike others, who are currently being fitted for monochromatic Nets jerseys, he cannot even think of switching allegiances.

    Before Monday night’s Knicks-Nets matchup at Barclays Center, Cartagena set his sights on the fair-weather Knicks fans and offered a cogent analysis of what the Knicks need to do this season to win “a chip” (Fat Joe-speak for an N.B.A. title). Spoiler alert: it is not as much as you might think.

    Q. How long have you been a Knicks fan?

    A. Aw, man, I was born a Knicks fan. Somebody from the projects where I grew up in posted up a picture of me the other day. I was 10 years old with a Knicks jacket on.

    Q. You split your time between New York and South Florida. Do you have Knicks season tickets?

    A. No, but whenever I come through town, you know, I always make sure I come to the Knicks games.

    Q. And you sit courtside.

    A. If I’m lucky, yeah.

    Q. Judging from television, you seem to get lucky quite often.

    A. (Laughs.) I get lucky.

    Q. Your former protégé DJ Khaled sits baseline for the Miami Heat’s home games. Have you seen his seats?

    A. Yeah, I’ve seen them. But so what? I don’t rate Heat fans like I rate Knicks fans. We are true basketball fans. No matter what — rain, sleet or snow, or even if we don’t make it to the playoffs for 10 years — the Garden stands are still full. I can recall when three, four years ago, the Heat wasn’t doing too good and those stands were empty.

    Q. The Knicks asked you to help recruit Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, and you’ve been vocal in trying to lure other free agents to New York. Give us your best sales pitch.

    A. “Listen, man, even though it’s been a while since we’ve won in the playoffs, you can come here, to the greatest city on earth, under the brightest lights, in the greatest arena on earth, and kick some butt and be the man. It’s like Frank Sinatra sang: if you make it here, you make it anywhere, baby. If you’re the king of this team right here, you’re the biggest person on earth; I don’t care what anyone says.”

    Q. Who were some of the players that got away?

    A. Chris Paul and Tony Parker, for sure. I went after both of them hard. “We really need you; we want you here.” I was trying. Sometimes it just doesn’t work.

    Q. You’ve also been vocal in your support of point guard Raymond Felton. What do you like best about his game?

    A. I love his pick-and-roll, and the thing is, we have yet to see the best of Raymond Felton because he’ll be able to run the pick-and-roll to death with Amar’e Stoudemire. When Amar’e gets back, it’s going to get real interesting, man.


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    Q. How do you see the offense running when Stoudemire returns next month?

    A. Unselfishly. Felton comes down; he runs a pick-and-roll with Amar’e; if they double Amar’e, he kicks it out to Melo. Since Melo’s probably the best one-on-one player in the world, teams have to double-team him. So he can create or give it up to [Steve] Novak or J. R. Smith on the wings, or he kicks to Tyson Chandler, cutting to the basket. And everyone rebounds.

    Q. Do you think this team can compete for an N.B.A. title?

    A. Yes, I think we have a super chance. I think we can take the Miami Heat. I really believe that.

    Q. Should the Knicks have tried harder to keep Jeremy Lin?

    A. I wanted to keep Lin one million percent because we had a little Cinderella story and he gave us something to be happy about during a tough time. But at the end of the day, with no disrespect to him because he gave Knicks fans some beautiful memories, he’s just not better than Raymond Felton. We had already signed Jason Kidd, who has to get minutes, and how do you not play Jeremy Lin deep when he’s the guy who brought all the excitement to the Knicks last year? If you’re the coach and you don’t, you have a real problem with the fans that you won’t have with Raymond Felton.

    Q. Is team chemistry an overrated concept, and if it isn’t, will the Knicks survive Stoudemire’s return?

    A. No, it’s not overrated. Everyone must play his position. Amar’e should learn from Carmelo. This year, Carmelo’s been trusting his teammates, passing the ball around more, and it’s working. We need Amar’e to do the same thing. If Amar’e plays his position, then we’re super unstoppable. But he has to want to play his position.

    Q. If you could add one player to the current Knicks rotation, who would it be?

    A. Well, I already love how we’re looking at the point guard position (laughs), so if we could somehow add Josh Smith from Atlanta, that would be great.

    Q. What are your thoughts on the additions of J. R. Smith and Rasheed Wallace?

    A. J. R. Smith’s incredible, man, just incredible off the bench. He’s always been an offensive force, but now he’s playing smarter. I’m proud of him because he used to lack defense and he’s playing his heart out on both ends of the floor. And I love Rasheed. There’s another thing we lacked last year: we didn’t have older players to calm the younger players down and tell them, “Listen, I’ve been there before; I won chips; I know how to do this.”

    Q. You sound like a coach, Joe.

    A. I would love to coach. I’m not saying I’m qualified to do it in the N.B.A., but I would love to try.

    Q. When you watch a game, are you watching it from a more analytical standpoint than the average fan?

    A. I’m watching it a billion percent differently. I’m watching it as a coach, to be honest with you. Ball movement, team chemistry, defense.

    Q. You were a longtime coach at the Entertainers Basketball Classic tournament at Rucker Park in Harlem. And in 2003, your team was set to play Jay-Z’s team in the championship game. But the game never occurred. Can you explain?


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    A. I had been successful at Rucker for years. I would take the summer off to coach and run a team out there, and then Jay brought a team to Harlem that summer, with Beyoncé in the stands watching. And his team was smacking down everyone they played, so it was inevitable for our two teams to meet in the championship game. On his team for that game, he had Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford. I countered and brought in Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Al Harrington, Mike Bibby, Carmelo, Amar’e, Zach Randolph and Rafer Alston. I had a crew, and he had a crew, and we were about to go at it. And then the blackout hit New York City, so the game was canceled. The next day, the power came back, and the game was rescheduled. And Jay’s team didn’t show up. They forfeited the championship.


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    Q. Have you ever asked him about it?

    A. Never again. I haven’t even talked to Jay-Z again after that incident.

    Q. On the subject of Iverson, what’s his legacy?

    A. Allen Iverson was the Tupac of basketball; he was a true revolutionary. His talent was incredible, but as you know, in this game of basketball, experts will say, “If you don’t get a chip, then we don’t care what you’ve done,” which is unfair to a lot of phenomenal players, like Ewing, Charles Barkley and also Karl Malone and John Stockton.

    Q. All because of Michael Jordan.

    A. (Laughs.) Yeah, Jordan killed a bunch of people’s legacies.

    Q. What do you think of the Nets’ moving to Brooklyn?

    A. I think it’s amazing. I like their whole vibe of what the Nets are putting together. It’s a real competitive team they are running out there. But I believe also that if you’re a true Knicks fan, you just don’t jump on their bandwagon. They’re the Brooklyn Nets, you know, but we’re the New York Knicks.

    Q. Are you going to the game Monday?

    A. Of course I’m going! Man, I’ll be wearing them orange-and-blue colors so brightly.

    Q. Can someone root hard for both teams? To just be a fan of New York sports?

    A. No, man. That just ain’t right, in any sport. So you’re either a Giants fan or a Jets fan. You’re either a Brooklyn Nets fan, or you’re a New York Knicks fan.

    Q. What do you think of the N.H.L.’s moving to Brooklyn?

    A. It’s great, you know? Brooklyn’s like its own little state.

    Q. Have you ever been to a Rangers or an Islanders game?

    A. No, I’ve been to a Devils game. Marty Brodeur was one of my neighbors when I lived in Jersey, and so I used to always see him at the gas station, and he was like, “Come to the game.” But I didn’t realize that it was cold as hell in those stands!

    Q. If the Knicks weren’t around, would you be a Nets fan?

    A. If the Knicks weren’t around ... don’t get into the hypothetical, man. I’m a Knicks fan.

    Q. And that’s not going to change.

    A. Not ever.


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