Does the name Terry Cummings mean anything to you?
The 1997-98 season was the Knicks’ ’90s version of a bad year. Patrick Ewing broke his wrist in December, leaving a team that had been a title contender four of the past five years, marooned among fellow East losers. But this being the ’90s, even a “bad” Knicks team finished over .500 and avenged PJ Brown’s atrocity by eliminating Miami on their home court in the decisive Game 5.
Go back to February of that season. The Knicks traded fan favorite Herb Williams in a deal with the 76ers for Cummings. “Preacher” was nearing the end of a successful career, one that had seen him win Rookie of the Year and be named to two All-Star and two All-NBA teams. Those days are long gone in 1998, but the quality stands the test of time better than most. Cummings was a veteran, a leader and a Baryshnikov in the low post. He gave the Knicks good minutes at center in Ewing’s absence, and that postseason against the Heat he played in four games, with New York winning three, including a Game 2 when TC grabbed 14 rebounds off the bench.
I bet even most Knicks fans who followed the team closely back then don’t remember Cummings or haven’t thought about him since. But history, fortunately, is much richer than the fragments we remember. Which brings us to the rich man’s Cummings, Alec Burks. I offer this statement with the full knowledge that it may sound absurd at first, but if you take a breath and think about it, you’ll see that it’s true: Burks was one of the best free agents the Knicks have signed in 20 years.
First, let’s recognize that this is not exactly the same as being “one of” the richest Rockefellers. But it’s also nothing, it’s not like being the second most successful Baldwin brother. Burks was a Knick for two years. In 2021, when Julius Randle was the All-NBA Second Team, AB was the team’s best fourth-quarter player. Last year, with Derrick Rose wrecked, Kemba Walker collapsed and Immanuel Quickley suffering from Tom Thibodeau’s gray sprain, Burks played out of position much of the season at point guard.
Just as Cummings was an excellent part-time center, Burks is better at orchestrating the offense on a streak. Asking him to take over is like blowing a tire and asking the donut to drive you 1,000 miles. He can close his eyes and hope for the best, but if he finds himself stranded on the shoulder again, he doesn’t blame the team. Burks struggled, as did the offense. But not for lack of effort.
Desus or Mero, I can’t remember which, compared Burks to a 72% superstar. His selection of shots from deep was basically buttoned down, but when he put the ball down and took it to the rim, he became Alec Audacious.
Nobody owes you their true selves when they’re on the clock, so it’s always foolish to read too much into an athlete’s personality based on their body language while competing. Growing up playing baseball, he was fairly quiet off the field, but a chatterbox between the lines; my best friend had to go to rage therapy in real life, but during the games he barely made a peep. I don’t know who Burks is or what he looks like. But I enjoyed the seeming energy of him while he was a Knick. There was something about him immediately and very nice.
Now he has gone to Detroit to play a supporting role in its revival. I’m pretty sure he’ll hit a 3-pointer at the end of a game next season to beat the Knicks. If he does, he will hurt me, but I will not hate. Alec Burks was a pro’s pro, a good Knick and an occasional, albeit still muffled, featured reel. To me, he will always enjoy a spot among my favorite Knicks whose memory far outweighs his performance, along with Cummings, Rasheed Wallace and Pablo Prigioni. We will never miss you, AB. But you will be appreciated. And you have been loved.