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The Most Knicks Moment Ever* Tournament: Joy Division II & violence

Come for the glory. Stay for the gory.

New York Knicks’ Charles Oakley (left) keeps close tabs on P Photo by Clarence Sheppard/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

There’s still time to vote for the first half of the round of 64, which featured joys versus joys and dunks versus dunks plus moments both low and J.R. Smith-centric. Today you can vote on historical highlights and some of the best mano-a-mano moments the Knicks have given the rest of the NBA.

Joy Division II


The Knick renaissance that began in 1985 with the addition of Patrick Ewing and accelerated with the hiring of Rick Pitino peaked in 1989, when they swept Philadelphia before losing a tough series against some lugs from Chicago. Pitino left to return to the college ranks and Stu Jackson took over, leading the Knicks to a 26-10 start. The rest of the year they stumbled around like Julius Randle spinning into a triple-team, finishing 19-27 and fifth in the conference. The first round featured the first Knicks/Celtics playoffs since 1984, when Bernard King nearly single-handedly overcame the Celts at the height of their powers. 1990 was a different animal.

For one thing, the best player in the series was a Knick. Ewing finished fifth in MVP voting after averaging nearly 29 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. The Celtics’ Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were 33, 32 and 36. The only Knicks on the wrong side of 30 were Maurice Cheeks and Kiki Vandeweghe. Still, this was the Celtics. They made the Eastern conference finals or NBA Finals eight of the prior nine years. Then they went out and won the first two of the best-of-five at home, including putting up 157 points in a Game 2 rout.

But Ewing scored 33 and 44 the next two games, forcing a decisive Game 5 at Boston Garden, where the Knicks had lost 26 in a row. The game was a microcosm of the series: the Celtics got off to a hot start, but the Knicks stormed back and dropped a 71-point second half. With just over two minutes left New York led by nine. It was all but over when Charles Oakley busted out one of his typical “WTF was that, Oak?” passes. Here, as was so often the case, it fell to Ewing to pick up the slack for his delusional teammate.

Just look at that murderers’ row of miserable mugs behind Coach Stu.

In 2013 the Celtics were again riding on the fumes of past glories. After winning it all in 2007 they contended for four more years. But during a January double-overtime win over their rivals from Miami, Rajon Rondo tore his ACL and was lost for the season. Boston limped into the playoffs to face a Knick team that finished second in the East.

New York went up 3-0 in the best-of-seven. In the first two games they held the Celtics to 20 points combined over two fourth quarters. The were dominating. Then J.R. Smith got sick of Jason Terry and in the fourth quarter of Game 3 decided to elbow a dead horse. Or not let sleeping dogs lie. I dunno. Some metaphor. Whichever it was, after Triering Terry in the jaw Boston got mad. Then they set about getting even.

The Celtics stayed alive with an overtime win in Game 4, then won Game 5 in New York thanks in part to Terry drilling five 3s while J.R. was going 3-of-14. In Game 6 the Knicks jumped out to a 24-10 lead after the first and were up 26 in the fourth. Then the Celtics scored 20 unanswered, and the lead was cut as low as four, and Knick fans who’d enjoyed one great season after a dozen years of not-greatness, a dozen years without a playoff series win, who just two years after falling to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the playoffs were ready to shovel dirt on their musty old-ass graves, were facing the prospect of blowing a 3-0 lead to their oldest rivals and a Game 7 against an opponent with nothing to lose.

Cometh the hour, cometh Carmelo Anthony.

Melo’s clutch bucketry marked the end of the series and the end of the Celtics’ last great run. Today Rondo hates Ray Allen, Paul Pierce melts down worried that the Boston fans don’t have enough heart to show him and Isaiah Thomas love on the same night, and Kevin Garnett is still the guy who told Tim Duncan “Happy Mother’s Day” on Mother’s Day knowing Duncan’s mother was dead. Thank you for staking this evil and ridding it from our world, Carmelo.


Which knockout brings you more joy?

This poll is closed

  • 66%
    Patrick Ewing KO’ing the 1990 Celtics
    (91 votes)
  • 33%
    Carmelo Anthony KO’ing the 2013 Celtics
    (45 votes)
136 votes total Vote Now


This Crawford shot has always been one of my favorite Knick moments. Partly ‘cuz it was a game-winning shot, on the road, in a place the Knicks generally don’t do well. Partly ‘cuz he’s one of my favorite Knicks ever. If I’m putting together an all-time Knicks based purely on love, Crawford is my two-guard. This is also an incredible moment of joy because when mighty Yahweh spun the entirety of space and time in front of Him like a loom and foresaw Crawford’s shot, He created Gus Johnson. Because Gus Johnson was born to call this moment.

I can’t remember another Knick who played with the streetball flair that Crawford did. The Knicks could have passed on DeMarco Johnson in the second round of the 1998 draft and picked Rafer “Skip To My Lou” Alston. But that’s another story for another day.

Crawford busted out a move called “The Invention” at least four times in his Knick career. I would reincarnate as Crawford and re-live his entire life just to be able to do this once. The first time I saw him do this in a game I literally got high, just off the move.

God bless you, Aaron Jamal Crawford.


Which Crawford moment gets you all tingly?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    The game-winner in Denver
    (58 votes)
  • 52%
    The Invention
    (63 votes)
121 votes total Vote Now


Stephon Marbury’s basketball life has been one long, strange trip, enough to inspire a documentary. How does one measure Marbury? He earned $151M over a 13 years. That’s good! He made two All-Star games. That’s also good, though fewer than Minnesota, New Jersey, Phoenix or New York hoped for. For a long time he was the only player in history besides Oscar Robertson to average 20+ points and 8+ assists. But the numbers and the hype around the man were often half-truths.

Marbury was born with the weight of an unfair world put upon him. He was supposed to succeed wildly enough on the hardwood to support and save his entire family. Imagine that pressure. Imagine coming home twice, sort of, and being considered a disappointment in both instances — with the Nets and the Knicks. This pressure seemed to manifest most late in games Steph’s team was tied or trailing. There were shots he’d hit all night that he wanted nothing to do with taking in crunch time. With a few notable, joyous exceptions. Ask San Antonio.

Marbury arrived at Madison Square Garden with the pressure of being the Knicks’ savior. By the end he was derided and cast out, just another false messiah. But there was one shining moment amidst the darkness.

December of 2006 was a low point even by the standards of the Isiah Thomas era. The Knicks were already well on their way to a sixth straight losing season. On some nights the bench consisted entirely of Renaldo Balkman, Kelvin Cato and Malik Rose. In the middle of that month — the game right before the David Lee 0.1 miracle — the Knicks hosted Utah. It went to overtime. In the dying seconds, New York was up one. Mehmet Okur would have found glory if a heady David Lee hadn’t found Steph so quick off the inbounds.

Lee’s tip-in two days later against Charlotte led to another win after, and it seemed the Knicks might be on to something. They then lost four of their next five. Still, for one night, it was pure delight seeing the hometown kid win it at the buzzer for the hometown team.

Speaking of one-night stands, January 1, 2010 was another memorable one. The Knicks traveled to Atlanta to face a Hawk team in year six of the Mike Woodson Experience. Atlanta had improved five years running, growing from a 13-win dumpster fire in 2005 to a 53-win team. New York was firmly on their way to a ninth straight losing season. But as we know all too well in these parts, all losing seasons are not created equally. The 2010 edition was especially up-and-down.

The Knicks lost nine of their first 10 games that season, but between then and New Year’s Day they rebounded, going 11-11. Nate Robinson’s year, however, was entirely a downer. He was a DNP or did not dress for 20 of the first 32 games, including the entire month of December save 10 minutes on the first of the month. He had as many games with zero points as he’d had with 20. His fall from grace was both surprising and not. Surprising because the year before, Nate finished third in Sixth Man voting after scoring 17 a game in 30 minutes per. But also not surprising, because he could be very, very annoying.

Mike D’Antoni must have made a New Year’s resolution to bury whatever beef he had with Robinson, because after DNP-ing him 14 games in a row he finally gave him some run against the Hawks. And what a run!

This was an extremely joyful game to watch. Maybe in part ‘cuz New Year’s Day often has a hopeful feel to it. Maybe ‘cuz Nate had everything working. The Hawks were hopeless against the dribble drives. The pump fakes. The pull-up jumpers. The three-ball. They tried their smallest defenders. They tried Joe Johnson. They could’ve stuck Mookie Blaylock, Andruw Jones and Deion Sanders on him. Wouldn’t have mattered. For one night, Nate Robinson emptied a month’s worth of frustration on his opponents. The Knicks needed every bit of it to win a game no one thought they would. In lost seasons, that’s as good as it gets.


Who ya got?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Starbury’s game-winner vs. Utah
    (44 votes)
  • 59%
    Nate goes all General Sherman on Atlanta
    (65 votes)
109 votes total Vote Now


Late in the 2012 season, the Knicks made a run. They’d bottomed out at 18-24 before D’Antoni’s Linsanity luck ran out and he was fired. After winning 13 of 18 under that Woodson fellow, they faced the Celtics in a nationally televised game. Boston averaged a shade under 92 points a game but scored 110 that night. They hit 11 of their 21 three-pointers, more than respectable. Paul Pierce downed four of six. Avery Bradley canned five of six. Even Rajon Rondo hit two of his four attempts. All of which was, ya know...cute.

The Knicks won 118-110. The bulk of that was thanks to their going a collective 19 of 32 from downtown. The bulk of that was thanks to Steve Novak hitting eight of 10 from deep. I don’t think this gave birth to the Novak discount double-check, but it was one its finer moments.

Remember the fun Novak/J.R. Smith energy? Remember when the Knicks had a legit threat from deep? Remember Carmelo Anthony putting up a 35/12/10 triple-double in this game? You may not remember that last part, but I bet you remember the first two. Steve Novak brought a lot of joy to this fanbase in a relatively concentrated period of time. We’ll always remember you, Steve. When we get to the final bracket a few days from now, we’ll remember you more fondly for who you weren’t.

Do you remember 1994? If not, here’s a primer: Michael Jordan had retired, and the Knicks were the favorites to win the East, if not the title. Chicago replaced His Airness with Pete Myers (OAKAAKUYOAK), and yet the Bulls, led by an MVP-level season from Scottie Pippen, won 55 games, swept Cleveland in the opening round and faced the Knicks in the second, the fourth straight playoffs and fifth out of six the two teams met.

The Knicks trailed by nine entering the fourth quarter in Game 1, but came back to win. They trailed again entering the fourth in Game 2, but won again. Game 3 in Chicago saw them down 19 entering the fourth, yet once again they stormed back and tied it with just under two seconds left, leading to a Chicago timeout, Phil Jackson drawing up the last play for Toni Kukoč, an incensed Pippen refusing to enter the game, and Kukoč hitting the game-winner.

Despite falling behind 12-0 in Game 4, the Bulls went on to win comfortably, so Game 5 in New York was an excruciating premise, especially without the suspended Derek Harper (more on him in a bit). If the Bulls won, the Knicks would face elimination in Chicago, a situation they’d also faced in 1989 (and lost), 1992 (and lost) and 1993 (and lost). There was absolutely nobody in New York City who thought the Knicks could go down 3-2 and pull out a Game 6 in Chicago, and I promise you that included Pat Riley and the 12 guys in that locker room. It was win or bust.

New York led by two entering the final frame, but in the final minute B.J. Armstrong put the Bulls up one. Ewing was fouled and went to the line with 30 seconds left, but missed both free throws. The Knicks got a stop and inbounded with 7.6 seconds left. Then, thanks to Pippen and a heroic referee named Hue Hollins, all hell broke loose.

From Michael Wilbon in the next morning’s Washington Post:

The Bulls screamed bloody robbery. This was the sum total of Coach Phil Jackson’s postgame commentary: “I’ve seen a lot of things in the NBA, but never seen anything like what happened at the end of the game.”

Riley, told of Jackson’s comment, said: “I never said a word about it when we were called for fouling Chris Morris {of New Jersey} with 1.2 seconds left {in Game 3 of that series. Morris won the game with two free throws}. Not one word. You’ve got to live and die with {the call}. The film shows he did get fouled after the shot. You take your hit, you take your loss, you go home and try to regroup”...

...Davis, the second-year guard from North Carolina who had not taken a free throw all game, had to make the shots. “I was just thinking about my father,” he said. “He was here tonight, and he doesn’t care about how I shoot {from the field} as long as I make my free throws. I didn’t worry about the fans or the media, but I was scared of my father. Now I get a free dinner from him tonight.”

The Knicks would win the series in seven. Thank GOD.


Which sparks more joy for you?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Steve Novak’s detonation from deep
    (45 votes)
  • 59%
    Hubert Davis getting the call & hitting the free throws
    (66 votes)
111 votes total Vote Now

“I choose violence”


So regarding Harper’s suspension for Games 4 and 5 against the Bulls...

Here’s a good overhead view:

Wow. I could still watch that fight all day and all night. Anthony Mason was not tolerating civilians. Phil Jackson, Chicago security and eventually like three dudes were all over John Starks. The whole thing went down right in front of David Stern. If you’re one of those people who just wants to watch the world burn, this was a good day.

Harper was 32. Jo Jo English was 23; he played fewer minutes over his entire three-year career than Harper did in any one of his 16 seasons. What could English possibly have done to tick him off so much? It reminds me of the 2006 World Cup Final, when France’s best player, Zinedine Zidane, was ejected in the final minutes of a tie game, his final game ever, after headbutting Italy’s Marco Materazzi. Zidane, annoyed at what he felt was excessive grabbing by the Italian, told him he’d give him his jersey after the final whistle, to which Materazzi replied “I would prefer your sister.”

Italy won the game and the trophy on penalty kicks. But my respect goes to Zidane. Fun fact: this incident led the NBA to institute a new rule Knick fans would come to know well. From then on any player who left the bench to join a fight would be automatically suspended.

A year earlier, another Knick oldhead lost his head. In March of 1993 the Knicks and Suns met with each team atop their conference. It was supposed to be a clash of styles, the hard-nosed Knicks and the high-powered Suns. Doc Rivers and Kevin Johnson were going at each other pretty good most of the first half. Shortly before halftime, the kindling.

The spark.

KJ’s cheap shot on Rivers was no better than Greg Anthony sucker-punching Johnson. Rivers was playing defense, thinking this was a basketball game. He was vulnerable to an attack, he wasn’t expecting one and Johnson took advantage. So do I have a problem with Anthony clocking KJ when he was vulnerable and not expecting an attack? I do not. That was one of the only open shots Anthony hit his entire time in New York. And Johnson taking advantage of an unsuspecting victim was a sad hint of a sordid history that’s followed him from his playing days in Phoenix to his political career in Sacramento.


Better brawl?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    Derek Harper/Jo Jo English
    (45 votes)
  • 51%
    Doc Rivers/Kevin Johnson/Greg Anthony’s fist
    (47 votes)
92 votes total Vote Now


I’ll let the man himself explain.

Remarkably, Starks was not suspended. Different world.

In January 2001, the last year of the Riley/Van Gundy era, there’d be one final moment of meaningful violence. The Knicks were putting the finishing touches on a nice home win over the Spurs when Danny Ferry, boxing out, threw his right arm back and scraped Marcus Camby above the eye. Camby was not pleased. While the refs were figuring out what to do, Camby decided to take the law into his own hands. Vigilantism always leads to innocent victims.

Jeff Van Gundy, whose instinct to protect his players from committing or suffering violence once led him to ride Alonzo Mourning’s leg like Apollo circling the sun, again became the unwitting story in a fight he had nothing to do with. Camby’s wild roundhouse missed Ferry, but in the follow through he head-butted JVG. The coach would need about a dozen stitches. Camby, who also grabbed a folding chair that security convinced him to relinquish before leaving the court, was suspended for five games. Had he connected with Ferry, it would have been much, much worse.

Both of these violent ends were typical of the Knicks in those days. Starks rose from an undrafted nobody to playing the role of nemesis to Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller. He was one Hakeem Olajuwon fingertip from possibly winning the Knicks a championship. But the fire that brought him to such great heights just as often sent him crashing and burning once there. Van Gundy’s injury represented the best and worst of the old Knicks’ ethos: they’d sacrifice their bodies willingly, completely, but too often gave up too much of themselves to have anything left over when something more than sacrifice was needed.


Which headbutt was more Knicksy?

This poll is closed

  • 63%
    Starks on Miller
    (64 votes)
  • 36%
    Camby on Van Gundy
    (37 votes)
101 votes total Vote Now


I don’t think these need introduction.

So many Knicks on those Nuggets! Melo. J.R. Camby. Kenyon Martin. Even Nenê, who was a Knick only as trade bait. That gives this brawl, a certifiably significant one, added flavor.

And in this corner:

This is up there with Charles Smith for me as far as devastation. It really is one of the great What Ifs? in Knick history. They split the season series that year with Chicago and had finally traded in some brawn for some skill. The Bulls would have had a different problem on their hands. Instead, the Heat advanced, and the world was left with this.

One fight was arguably the low point of the franchise’s lowest stretch. The other arguably cost them their last best chance to win it all.


Which fight was more Knicksy?

This poll is closed

  • 20%
    The Denver brawl
    (19 votes)
  • 79%
    The Miami brawl
    (73 votes)
92 votes total Vote Now


Not every fight has to mean something. Sometimes it’s just cool seeing a jerk brought back down to Earth.

This has been, understandably, the year of Kobe Bryant accolades and adoration. But Kobe could be a real dick on the court. His talent and drive were historic, but when you get past all that sometimes dude was just a bully. Chris Childs is not to be bullied.

Fun what-if: there was a brief moment in the aftermath when Ewing vs. Shaquille O’Neal seemed possible. I always thought Ewing could take Shaq, and I knew that was not an opinion the unbiased world held. I would have enjoyed Patrick winning that match-up as much as I would have him winning a title.

Last but not least, Oakley and Barkley. If you want the longform of their beef history, Seth Rosenthal has you covered. For now, let’s focus on one moment in time.

No, not that one. This one.

This brief flare-up appeals on a few different levels:

1) Barkley getting hit by anybody is a national holiday.

2) Poor Olajuwon trying to play peacemaker and getting a shot to the neck for his troubles.

3) The potential energy of this exchange is even more exciting than its kinetic energy. Charles Oakley threw hands with anyone and everyone. You know how Jacob wrestled an angel? Oak would drop an angel and not think twice about it. His tift here with Sir Charles didn’t really amount to much. But few fights excited as many possibilities in the mind as this one. For me, personally, maybe only one.

I’d pay money to see Oakley vs. Barkley. I bet a lot of people would. Seeing Childs pop Kobe on national TV for free was as good a bargain as you’ll find, though.


Which HOFer did you prefer getting what was coming to them?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    Childs popping Kobe
    (47 votes)
  • 51%
    Oakley whaling on Barkley
    (50 votes)
97 votes total Vote Now

I think this is the longest piece I’ve ever written at P&T. Hopefully you had nothing better to do and took some joy from it. The last first-round bracket drops this weekend. Get your eyes some rest before then.