Friday, March 7, 2008

The Attic

Once a week, I'll be taking a trip up to the attic (and by "trip up to the attic" what I mean to say is "pick things off the floor of my bedroom") to dig up some old Knicks stuff from yesteryear. There will be old basketball cards, gameday programs, patent leather Starter jackets and so much more.

To start off this new weekly column on What Would Oakley Do? with some sartorial style we're going to tip off the proceedings with the Hope Diamond of my wardrobe: My The Dunk t-shirt from the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals series against the hated Chicago Bulls. But, before we get to the game and the play, let's set the scene: The Knickerbockers, helmed by a then-beloved Pat Riley, had finished the 1992-1993 season with 60 wins, the best tally in the East and only second to Phoenix (62) in the entire Association. They were the best team in basketball. Seriously.

Patrick Ewing was dominant that season. He scored the fifth most points of any player in the NBA, pulled down the most defensive rebounds and, to get all fancy and complicated, had the highest defensive rating (math-related stat accounting for impact on the defensive end of the floor) of any player in the League. Pairing the Big Fella with Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason and Anthony Mason's haircut gave the team unparalleled toughness. Charles Smith was there (but, let us only speak of happy things and Game 2 right now) and, yup, he was there. Which was something. Doc Rivers was a floor general on par with the best the league had to offer that year and was backed up by an up-and-coming young Republican named Greg Anthony. And, to top it off, the Knicks had shooters on the bench. They had Rolando Blackman, Tony Campbell and Hubert Davis. Blackman and Campbell both shot over 40% from three that year. So, I kid you not when I say that this team was really, really good at basketball.

On the strength of their 60-win season they had home court straight through the Eastern playoffs. And, after dispatching Indiana and Charlotte with minimal difficulty (just one loss in each series), the Knicks lined up against the Bulls in the Conference Finals. They had won 25 straight at the Garden and on the shoulders of Patrick Ewing and at the urging of a raucous crowd, the Knicks won Game 1 of the Series by 8 points, holding the Bulls to just 90.

The Knicks were up by three points with 52 seconds to go in the Game 2 when this piece of clothing was born. The Knicks had built a double-digit lead only to see the Bulls claw back. The game was taut and fraught with anger. Greg Anthony had been ejected for a hard, hard foul on Jordan (which would lead to bitterness between the two that has yet to be extinguished) and Pippen had been sent to the showers early as well. With those 52 seconds ticking down above his head, Starks had the ball just past the three point line on the right wing. Ewing stepped out to set a screen. Bill Cartwright, who was defending Ewing, followed him out but didn't switch off to cover Starks because he clearly expected Pat (who finished the game with 26 and 10) to pop off the pick for a quick jumper. BJ Armstrong is defending Starks and, with a little help from the Big Fella, hits the floor trying to get around the screen. Seeing his defender down, with Cartwright nowhere to be seen and a lane to the hoop along the right baseline Starks takes off for the basket. In the tenths of a second it takes Starks to burst through the opening both Michael Jordan and Horace Grant collapse towards Starks and the expectant rim. Both Grant and Jordan go up to block Starks' shot or, at least, smother him before he can get the ball up. Feeling the defenders coming, Starks switches the ball to his left hand and dunks the greatest and most meaningful in-game dunk of all-time right over both of them. Jordan and Grant were flying full tilt towards Starks' right arm and right shoulder so that when he moved the ball to his left he created the space with his body to get his arm vertical. And, of course, he flat-out jumped over them both.

This dunk was legendary before Starks' feet even hit the ground. He knew it, the crowd knew it. Salem, the company who printed this shirt, knew it. The television broadcasters knew. And, perhaps best of all, Jordan and Grant knew it.

This shirt was picked up, I'm almost positive, at Modell's Sporting Goods store in Paramus, NJ within days of the game being played. I can't recall if I convinced one of my parents to shell out the twenty or so dollars or if it was bought with the money I had earned refereeing youth soccer games. Either way, I've had it ever since and worn it to many a Knicks game. I would actually wear it more often if it weren't too big on me. Apparently when I was 12 years old I wore everything in an XL and thought it was the coolest. Now, when I put this shirt on it goes to mid-thigh and has the space for about 17 layers underneath it. Surprisingly, I've never actually seen anyone else wearing one. And, I must admit that I love that. I love that there is likely only a handful of these still around and in good shape. I guess since the Knicks would go on to lose the Series that the shirts had a short shelf life. At least, in stores it had a short shelf life. It will always have a place on any shelf that I ever own. Unless I decide to frame it.

And, yes, this entire post was really just so that I could put the clip up.

*Of course, it must be mentioned that the Bulls would come back from this 0-2 hole that the Knicks put them in. The defining moment would take place when Charles Smith was fouled repeatedly by every member of the Bulls organization as he missed four point-blank shot attempts in the waning moments of Game 5. It was a low point in my life and in every way inspires the exact opposite emotions that this shirt and The Dunk do. Thanks for bringing it up. Jerk.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don't you have some shirt that has like, a really old picture of some famous Knicks players?