110 Percent: Stefan Marolachakis of Caveman on the agony and ecstasy of life as a Knicks fan

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The eighth installment of 110 Percent, a series in which I talk to musicians about sports, features Stefan Marolachakis, the drummer for Brooklyn-based band Caveman, which will release its self-titled sophomore album on April 2 on Fat Possum, a follow-up to its very good and probably very overlooked debut CoCo Beware.

Marolachakis took time in advance of the band’s 31-city tour to discuss his unyielding passion for the NBA – more specifically, the Knicks. I was born in Chicago and grew up rooting for the Bulls, so we have different perspectives on those playoff grudge matches from the 1990s. Still, we could have talked for hours about this. Here’s a somewhat abridged version of our chat. (And be sure to stream the first single off the new album, “In the City.”)

So I don’t know a whole lot other than that you guys are huge basketball fans, right?
Well, most of the guys in the band were born and raised in New York City, so we sort of live and die by the Knicks. Coming on the heels of many seasons in the Isiah Thomas era, this roster now is really exciting.

As a band, you guys are based in Brooklyn, so there’s no love for the Nets?
We are through and through Knicks fans. … There’s no fence-jumping going on. It’s a rivalry now and we land squarely on the Knicks’ side.

On my birthday in 1995, I was at the Michael Jordan 55-point game. Patrick Ewing didn’t get the continuation on the and 1 at the end of the game, which killed me. And there are so many tourists, so when the Bulls would score, the crowd is cheering. Hearing any cheers for the Bulls was so gutting.

Bud I did go to a lot of games that the Knicks won, and that was more exciting. Growing up I had the luxury that the team I cut my teeth on was Starks, Oakley, Ewing, Derek Harper and Anthony Mason, which was incredible. But it still breaks my heart that Patrick Ewing doesn’t have a championship ring. There were definitely some tears shed in 1994.

What other memories stand out?
The dunk – the dunk Starks had over Jordan. And that team, it just seemed like the perfect team for this city. There was the fancy Showtime vibe in L.A., and you come here and tap into this grimy, elbow grease – they were really down in the trenches in this physical game. It was so cool. In a city where pickup basketball is so big, it just seemed so fitting for New York. And I feel like the squad we have now is getting closer to that. It seems like a lot of guys on our team won’t take any shit.

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I just remember constantly watching games and getting so emotional. I remember a game against the Heat, and they were down 17 at halftime, and I was at my friend’s place and we literally shut the lights and laid down on the floor in this dark depression. Then they came back and won and we’re tearing the ceiling apart. And it remains that way.

Your fandom has not waned?
It really hasn’t. It’s just as gut-wrenching.

On of my favorites experiences of our last tour is when we were in a very wide open part of Texas. We were asking everybody where a bar was open, at like 1 or 2 p.m. We found one that was a standalone – there a bunch of old guys smoking cigarettes and pounding beers and we managed to get them to put on the Knicks game and it was very special. It’s also easy to get wrapped up in it when your best friends are also rabid basketball fans.

It seems like, aside from the music, that’s a good bonding thing for you guys as a band.
It’s always good to have other neurons firing. When we’re not on tour, we hang out all the time anyway, which is just another good excuse to do that.

Are you a college basketball fan?
I need to work on my college basketball. I, like every body else, get swept up in March Madness, but I’m not very savvy when it comes to regular-season college basketball.

Do you play?
Yeah. I was always a little better in my mind than I was on the court. I’m really trying to bring a lot of intangibles to the court — and then I talk trash and play as dirty as humanly possible (laughs). I don’t play as often as I should be because I love it so much.

One of my oldest friends, he actually has the sweetest jump shot. He’s like a pickup dream – the guy who can make me better. Only on a rare occasion will I become the focal point of the offense. But our whole band is pretty good. We’d be a good starting five.

Shirts or skins?
Oh, gonna have to be skins. We really let it all hang out (laughs).

Pickup basketball is such a thing in New York. It’s got to be intimidating.
Here’s the thing: You’ve got a lot of courts to pick from.

Do you get to play much when you’re on tour?
We tend to bring a basketball and football. A lot of times you’ll find a random hoop, so that’s more of a H-O-R-S-E thing. But sometimes we’ll find a court . If we’re driving between shows, we’ll sometimes get a particular scenic rest stop and throw the football around.

Do you follow any other sports closely?
For me, NBA is the biggest thing. But any sport come playoff time, I’ll be engaged. I definitely like football and I love postseason baseball. I hope as I grow older I become a more patient man and get into the beautiful science of regular-season baseball. It’s just a whole world I don’t know. It’s a serious commitment.

Where did this Knicks fandom come from? Was it passed down?
It came from my dad and just my friends. My dad is rabid Knicks fan. And most of my close friends were enamored by NBA ball. To be a two-guard for the Knicks – that was dream material. … The two-guard position on Knicks was an incredibly cool one. There were some volatile characters (Starks, Sprewell, etc.). The two-guard was a dangerous and cool spot.

You have quite a memory for this stuff.
It takes up a lot of mental real estate.

2 thoughts on “110 Percent: Stefan Marolachakis of Caveman on the agony and ecstasy of life as a Knicks fan”

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