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.

Friday's Starting Five

1. Tracy McGrady. It's his team again. And, it's funny because all year I've been telling everyone who I force to listen to me talk about the NBA that I really liked the Houston Rockets' chances this season because they had finally become Yao's team. It seemed to me that the gravity of the halfcourt sets had changed. I really thought that was would get them out of round one. Yet, here we are. The Red Army of One is out for the season and Tracy has to assume the role that he had been phased out of. He has to do his best just to get them to Round One. Well, apparently being the alpha dog is like riding a bike because he scored 31 last night, to go along with nine assists, to lead the Rockets over the Mavericks (sans Dirk) in Dallas. Houston has now won 17 games in a row.

2. UCLA. By overcoming Stanford in overtime last night for their school record 27th regular season win the Bruins have sewn up the Pac-10 title and likely garnered a #1 seed for the Big Dance, which is really just around the corner. Although they should have lost (really, really should have) this game they showed the resiliency of a champ and were opportunistic enough to take advantage of the breaks they were given. Collison was clutch hitting those ill-gotten free throw attempts to force overtime and the team rolled in the extra session.

3. Stanford. Man, that hurts. They went into the half leading UCLA, 30-18, and had a five point lead during the final minute of the second half. The Lopez boys were banging with the more heralded Bruin bigs and everything looked like it was going their way. And, then a questionable foul call in the waning moments completely undoes it all. They played well enough to win but lost their composure due to a combination of Bruin pressure and hard-luck officiating.

4. The Chicago Bulls. The leftover Bulls and the discarded Cavs ran roughshod over the Current Cavs last night. My favorite statistical part of the beating is that the Bulls out-rebounded the Cavs by 7 on the offensive glass and 8 overall. This is worth noting because the Bulls just traded the rebounder formerly known as Ben Wallace to the Cavs. Before being traded Wallace had repeatedly had run-ins with rookie Joakim Noah. No doubt sparked by the visit of his former sparring partner, Noah grabbed 20 boards last night. Lebron had to score 50 two nights ago to ice a game against a bad Knicks team and his 39 was nowhere near enough to lift the Cavs over a mediocre Bulls team. This has to be troubling for Cavs fans and the boy King himself. I think that everyone (myself definitely included) was so overwhelmed by the majesty of LBJ's game that we didn't wonder why the Cavs were in a dogfight with the lowly Knicerbockers until the last few minutes.

5. Conference Tournaments. The pre-amble to the Madness begins this weekend as the smaller conference tournaments start up and the regular-season titles are decided in the power conferences. Oh, and I guess it's worth noting that UNC and Duke also square off this weekend. Yeah, there's that too.

Benched. The Brett Favre love-fest. I admit that he is one of the best to play the position and most definitely the most charismatic and folksy QB to line up under center in my football watching life. But, I think that we've all gotten a little carried away in the past week. All the flags at ESPN headquarters should not be flying at half mast like they have been. Peter King should not be threatening to stay in whatever war torn part of the world he is in until Brett relents and retakes the field. Favre was old. He was tired and he was going out on a high note. It was actually perfect. Remember how nobody wanted him to leave after his dismal 2006 because that wasn't good enough? And remember two seasons ago when he was a sort of a jerk who was over-the-hill and holding a franchise hostage by holding this retirement over everyone's head? Now, don't get me wrong, there has been no quarterback (well, other than Vinny Testaverde) who I would have rather watched play the game over the last decade. I loved watching this guy play. As trite as it sounds, he was having fun and that was fun to watch. But that is partly because he was just as likely to do something brilliant as he was to do something boneheaded. And, he never showed the regret inherent in the Vinny-face after his miscues. There is a reason why he only won the Super Bowl as many times as Trent Dilfer. So many times the gunslinger pulled his six-shooter out of its holster and proceeded to shoot himself in the foot. For that, and many other reasons, the NLF Network should not have programs with titles seemingly cribbed from the scribblings on the back of a middle-school girls biology notebook. Brett 4-Ever.