J.R. Smith's Wednesday-night “welcome to New York” party, like the Knicks’ season, seemed doomed from the start. I showed up to Greenhouse, a stereotypically swank SoHo nightclub, a little after midnight and was greeted by a line filled with swarthy men and chain smokers. Inside, the place was half-empty, and felt emptier than that, though there was a clique of models around a guy who looked like Mario Van Peebles. It was a pretty bad time for a party—that afternoon, Mike D’Antoni had quit as the Knicks coach and J.R. Smith, who arrived in February as a free-agent with the reputation as a coach killer, was part of the bad vibe. When the PR mass-mailing inviting me to the party arrived early in the afternoon, the Knicks had been on an eight-game losing streak, and I thought the whole thing might have been cancelled.
No one inside looked like they gave a shit what happened on a basketball court. It was still early by Greenhouse standards, and attractive clubgoers began to fill up the semi-dark room. Unlike most of the bars I had been to in the last month, no one smelled like black plastic bodega bags. No one was wearing any Knicks gear either, something that wasn’t too strange—this is a nightclub, and a “nice” one, and it's not 2002 anymore, so no throwback jerseys—though one would think there’d be a repurposed felt Knicks New Era somewhere; there wasn’t. Everyone looked to be under 40, except Maybe-Van Peebles and an old man who looked to be 100, who didn’t understand anything I was asking him about basketball or his drink. If there were die-hard sports fans there, they were either passed out in the bathroom or doing a good job of hiding their shame.
Maybe-Van Peebles was enjoying himself, Drake was pulsing through the speakers, and the dance floor was filling with shiny people. The Knicks had won their game that night, and Smith, had actually helped. Smith wasn’t there yet, but it was too loud for anyone to care. I asked one reveler, Amy, if she knew she was attending Smith’s welcome party. She didn’t, and wasn’t much of a fan. She was there for her birthday.
The people who worked for the bar that weren’t bartenders were running around in a frenzy, as they often do, including two women in cutoff Knicks T-shirts (one Amar’e Stoudemire, one Jeremy Lin) paced determinedly up and down, tidying up the roped-off VIP tables and putting all sorts of things on ice. They were the only ones wearing Knicks gear in the place.
Still, for the apparent disinterest earlier, when Smith arrived around 1 AM, everyone’s attention promptly turned to the door and catwalk. He was dressed pretty plain—jeans, a sweater, and a fitted—and no one seemed to mind that neither his lobes-to-toes tattoos or his $1,500 sneakers were visible. People were gawking and snapping photos, and for a second it resembled the autograph-seekers outside Madison Square Garden’s Seventh Avenue entrance. The Greenhouse inhabitants might not have given a shit about Smith’s assist-to-turnover ratio, but they gave very much of a shit that he was famous.
Both the Knicks and Nets were playing in town that day, and Smith came through with plenty of guards, point, shooting, and security. Nets journeyman DeShawn Stevenson was in tow, wearing what appeared to be pink pants; Jewish backup point guard Jordan Farmar, and Deron Williams, the Nets’ prize, both wore less-flamboyant gear, but all three looked bored. The place was now packed to the gills, and the crowd, clearly richer and blacker than it had been when I showed up, was peppering the athletes with attention. One girl asked to get her photos taken with the guys, and I couldn’t get any closer. Ten minutes after the stars of the hour sat in their roped-off enclave, most of the room stopped paying attention to them. (I mean, it’s not like Jeremy Lin showed up, right?) The guys were mostly playing with their phones, and you didn’t get the sense that there were a bunch of people trying to welcome Smith to New York anyway.