The surprise wasn’t that Samuel L. Jackson announced a winner as he was onstage Sunday at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. After all, he was there to do just that, while paired with fellow presenter and “Captain Marvel” co-star Brie Larson at the 91st Academy Awards.
That might have been the most surprising aspect of the impromptu moment, given that the Knicks had entered the day on an 18-game home losing streak, just one more loss away from tying a dubious NBA record set by the 1993-94 Dallas Mavericks. In fact (per ESPN), New York’s streak was the third-longest all-time among teams from the NFL, NHL and MLB, as well, but the Knicks got their first win at home since Dec. 1 by topping the San Antonio Spurs, 130-118.
That did not appear to have come as particularly welcome news for Lee, though. After hearing from Jackson that New York was off the schneid at long last, Lee could be seen mouthing the words, “We’re trying to tank.”
Samuel L. Jackson delivered some HUGE news to Spike Lee at the Oscars 😂😂😂— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) February 25, 2019
(via @ABC) pic.twitter.com/BU1CV5yu3m
Moments later, Jackson delivered far more important news to Lee, informing the director that he and his team of scriptwriters — Kevin Willmott, Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz — could come up and receive their trophy. It was Lee’s first competitive Oscar — he won an honorary award in 2016 for his contributions to movies — and he celebrated by leaping into arms of the veteran actor, with whom he has collaborated in several films.
“Samuel L. Jackson and I went to the same college. I have known Sam from way, way back,” Lee said afterward (via The Hollywood Reporter). “To have him open up the envelope and say my name it was a great thing. Did I jump up on him? That was a genuine reaction.”
Not surprisingly, that widely viewed sequence sparked some Knicks jokes online. Lee, 61, has been a courtside fixture at MSG for approximately 30 years, after “Do the Right Thing” established him as one of Hollywood’s most important filmmakers.
a knicks mention at the oscars counts as a championship idc idc idc— Desus Nice (@desusnice) February 25, 2019
When the Knicks win the lottery the same year Spike wins an Oscarpic.twitter.com/1jBSa5Vzlx— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) February 25, 2019
When the Knicks sign KD… pic.twitter.com/NteiJtv7SM— Paolo Uggetti (@PaoloUggetti) February 25, 2019
Spike Lee and Knicks win on the same day. Hell freezing over as we speak.— Stefano Fusaro (@FusaroESPN) February 25, 2019
It’s long been apparent that the Knicks won’t be holding the Larry O’Brien trophy after this season, but the team is aiming for a different prize: Zion Williamson. The Duke star, who seems to have escaped serious injury after a much-noted footwear mishap last week, is expected to go No. 1 in June’s NBA draft, and New York is among a handful of teams racing to the bottom to get the best chance of landing that pick.
The NBA has revamped its lottery rules for this season, with the same odds of getting that pick, 14 percent, going to the teams with the worst three records. After its win Sunday, the Knicks still had the league’s second-worst mark at 12-48, just behind the 11-50 Phoenix Suns and a bit ahead of the 14-46 Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Chicago Bulls are also lurking near the cellar at 16-44, so New York still has some losing to do if it wants to cement its place among that non-power trio. To that end, the Knicks haven’t been steering the tank in the right direction of late, winning two of their past three games.
However, it’s one thing to tank and another to start setting NBA records for futility, so the home win over the Spurs came as welcome news to many Knicks fans, if not Lee himself. The victory even inspired a happy, Oscars-related tweet or two.
These spot the differences, man. It was a good night. pic.twitter.com/qfAdzXaG8p— Jess Reinhardt (@JRein44) February 25, 2019
Confirmation the Knicks will win the lottery, draft Zion, sign KD and Kyrie, and win the chip next year. Praise the lord 🙌 pic.twitter.com/TOaIldlIUW— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) February 25, 2019
The Oscars ended on something of a down note for Lee, when “Green Book” won for best picture, a category for which “BlacKkKlansman,” among other films, was also nominated. Lee reportedly tried to leave the theater before the producers of “Green Book,” which has been criticized for its portrayal of protagonist Don Shirley and for what some saw as its “white savior” narrative, could deliver their speeches.
“Every time someone is driving somebody, I lose,” Lee subsequently told reporters, referring to the 1990 best picture award for “Driving Miss Daisy,” while “Do the Right Thing” wasn’t even nominated. He added on Sunday, “I thought I was courtside at the Garden and the ref made a bad call!"
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