Sunday, October 31, 2010

Haunting Moments From Knicks History

Some say that adversity reveals the true measure of a man. Others claim that prosperity provides persons the freedom to show their true colors . I posit that Halloween is actually key to knowing someone else. Because there are two types of people on Halloween. People who love it and people who don't. Just like in partisan politics, neither party is likely to be swayed by any rationale from the opposition. And one's relation to Halloween really tells me just about all I need to know about them.

While there are social mores and likely various local statues to discourage me from going door to door, trick or treating in costume, my lack of insurance leaves me without a dentist or physician to dissuade me from starting my Halloween with several bowls of Count Chocula and Boo Berry cereals. The local A&P didn't have any Franken Berry or Yummy Mummy or else those would have been part of my morning feast as well. Not exactly the breakfast of champions, which is sort of fitting for this post.

To celebrate Halloween, I'll be going to Atlantic City to see Phish recounting some of the most terrifying moments in the history of the Knicks. So, gather 'round the up-turned flashlight boils and ghouls, inch closer to your neighbors and see if you watch these macabre moments without your blood curdling. Be warned: the walls may bleed orange and blue and Isiah Thomas may return from the grave at any point while you're web browser has this page open. And, if you say Frederic Weis three times while staring into your computer monitor, Vince Carter will come to your place of business and emasculate you in front of your peers and countrymen.

The Charles Smith Layup Line

The summer of 1993 season holds enough horrors to keep several NBA fan bases awake at night. Promising Nets shooting guard Drazen Petrovic died in a car wreck on June 7 in Germany. Draz had averaged better than 22 during the previous season and was named All-NBA Third Team. His star was on the rise and he was a leader of the NJ squad that included Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman. Assuredly two players who needed strong leadership more than most. Shortly after Petrovic's death, rising Celtics star Reggie Lewis died of a heart attack while practicing at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. With Magic Johnson's stunning retirement and announcement that he'd contracted HIV not too far in the rearview it was a strange time in the NBA. Michael Jordan was establishing himself as the league's dominant force but this was not fait accompli.

In fact, Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks finished the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference during the 1992-93 season. After brushing aside Indiana and Charlotte by a combined 7-games-to-2 tally, the Knicks stormed out to 2-0 lead over the Bulls in the best-of-seven Conference Finals. Reports filled the papers that Jordan had been gambling in Atlantic City until as late 2:30 a.m. the morning of the games in New York. Times scribe Dave Anderson chastised Jordan, along with everyone who paid for a ticket, for his late nights and lauded "the Knicks' home casino advantage."

Perhaps inspired by the doubting buzzards circling above (or just because he was that damn good), Jordan pulled the Bulls level by winning games 3 and 4 of the series in Chicago. The traveling circus returned to the Garden for the pivotal Game 5, and the contest was as taut and even as one would expect. The Bulls were the defending champs and the Knicks were the team poised to knock them off. Looking back, it sounds foolish to say that the Knicks were poised to knock off the Bulls. But back then they really, really were. They won 60 that year, going 3-1 against Chicago along the way. Patrick had gone for 24 and 12 per night with 2 blocks and 2 assists. The Knicks had been dogged all season long, resourceful and tight knit. They allowed the fewest points per game, and, perhaps most importantly, they trusted each other. Which is why, with the game on the line, Ewing flipped the ball to teammate Charles Smith rather than forcing up a shot and hoping for a bailout foul call. Smith got the rock right underneath the rim. All he needed to do was lay it in and the Knicks would have regained control of the series. But Smith couldn't get the ball to go down. He tried. Was stopped. He tried again. Was stopped. Again. Then once more. And no points. Yes, I still believe that he was fouled. Several times. But he shrunk in the moment, no doubt about it.

This failure haunts me more than any other during my time as a sports fan because this was one of the few times when the Knicks really were the better squad. I truly believe that. And the damage from this moment was hard to salve over. It sapped the Knicks of the one thing that they had in spades all season lon, and through the first 11 games of the postseason, belief. They believed they would win. They believed they were better than Jordan. And after losing this series, I don't think the team ever really regained that feeling. Just think, had they won this game, and either Ewing or Charles Barkley (who led Phoenix to the Finals) wins a title then the narrative of the 1990s NBA is entirely different. Especially if Jordan still retires before the following season.

Jordan Dunks Over Ewing

Reggie Miller

Olajuwan block

1999 NBA Draft