A moment of joy. Of misery. Of injury. After starting with 64 contenders, we’re down to the three finalists for the most Knicks moment ever* (*ever = circa 1990): Patrick Ewing’s missed finger-roll at the end of 1995’s Game 7 vs. Indiana, his Achilles injury after Game 2 of the 1999 conference finals against the Pacers, and Linsanity. I anticipated two would advance to the end, but the Achilles and Linsanity ended up tied 160-160, and I couldn’t get Mike Pence to cast the tiebreaking vote because he was afraid of being alone in a room with my feminine energy.
Be a fan long enough and you’ll see your teams go through all kinds of identities over time. When I started following MLB, the Mets were a model franchise and the Yankees couldn’t get out of their own way. When I began watching English football, Manchester City were inevitable bumblers while Manchester United looked down from high up on their $&#%ing perch.
The Knicks have been many things to many people over the past 30 years. Each finalist represents a seminal moment in the shaping of some core Knick identity. When examining the finger-roll, consider the scene in The Simpsons where Homer tries to jump Springfield gorge.
From 1985-1991, playing alongside the Rory Sparrows, Kenny Walkers and Brian Quinnetts of the world, Ewing had to stand on his head for the Knicks to have any chance of winning.
The Big Fella’s efforts were often worthy of center stage.
Still, the team began to regress, falling from 52 wins in 1989 to 45 to 39. In the summer of ‘91, Ewing went to arbitration against the Knicks, arguing that a clause in his rookie contract allowed him to enter free agency if he wasn’t the four highest-paid players in the NBA. The Knicks offered him a six-year, $32.4M contract that would have made him the highest paid athlete in all of team sports. They were desperate to hang on.
Ewing lost in arbitration. There was no certainty the Knicks would be able to hold onto their disgruntled star.
Luckily before the hearing, New York hired Pat Riley as head coach. Finally the franchise had something in place to lift the Franchise’s spirit.
The Knicks immediately improved, winning 51 games in 1991-92 and putting the final coffin in the Bad Boy Pistons’ coffin that postseason. The team was on cloud nine.
The good times kept rolling. The Knicks took the defending champion Bulls to a seventh game, trailing by five at the break before a second-half rout. The next year they won 60 games and led Chicago 2-0 after John Starks’ dunk. Even though they’d lose the next four games, ultimate success seemed a matter of when and not if.
With Michael Jordan retired that summer, “when” became 1994. New York won dramatic seven-game series against Chicago and Indiana before coming up just short in the Finals versus Houston. Still, the rise seemed relentless. In ‘91 they’d lost in the first round; in ‘92, the second; in ‘93, the third; in ‘94, the Finals. So 1995 was, logically, destined to end in a trip down the Canyon of Heroes.
The postseason began with the Knicks making short work of Cleveland, then facing a Pacers team they’d gone a combined 20-7 against over the past three regular seasons and playoffs. Jordan was back but not in basketball shape, and Chicago’s frontcourt was thinner than ever. Orlando was a force, but the young Magic were new to the postseason. New York’s title dreams were coasting along at 30,000 feet with zero turbulence.
This is the moment Homer realizes he’s not going to make it across the gorge. This is what it felt like when Ewing missed the finger-roll at the end of Game 7. All our dreams for naught.
A few weeks later, Riley resigned via fax and took over in Miami.
Until Riley was available, there was talk the Heat would hire Bob Huggins from the college ranks. Instead, Riley became the South Beach godfather and the Knicks would suffer Don Nelson, P.J. Brown and Andrew Lang before returning to the heights of contention.
Help would come, eventually, in the forms of Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell, Larry Johnson and Marcus Camby.
But after helping the Knicks to their fourth conference finals of the Ewing era, the big man was traded away for the opportunity to extend Glen Rice and a bunch of warm pocket lint.
The Achilles injury was a quicker, more concentrated finger-roll pain. The ‘99 Knicks won six of their last eight games to beat the Hornets by one game for the final playoff spot. A stirring bit of justice saw them overcome the top-seeded Heat in the first round and run roughshod over a forgettable Atlanta squad (their third-leading minutes man was Grant Long) before another ECF against Indiana. The Knicks took Game 1, their sixth straight playoff win, and nearly pulled it off again in Game 2. But they came up short, with Ewing missing a game-tying shot at the buzzer, after which news broke that he’d suffered a partial tear in his left Achilles.
Just like 1995, the Knicks nearly rose to glory. But while they still bested the Pacers, they had no chance to compete in the Finals against the size queen Spurs. Like Homer over the gorge, there was courage in the effort. But the Achilles injury, like the finger-roll, like Homer at the height of his jump, were the death of the dream and the onset of much pain.
Linsanity can’t really be explained by anything. Its birth and lifespan were as sudden and utter as its end. In Amadeus, Mozart is furious after his opera The Marriage of Figaro is cancelled after only nine performances. His (unbeknownst to him) rival composer, Salieri, tries to console him: “...if the public doesn’t like one’s work, one has to accept the fact gracefully.”
“It’s the best opera yet written!” Mozart insists. “Why didn’t they come?”
“I think you overestimate our dear Viennese, my friend. Do you know you didn’t even give them a good bang at the end of songs so they know when to clap?”
For all the wonder and glory and just straight up joy that Linsanity brought, I think some fans struggle to make sense of it because it didn’t end with a bang. Jeremy Lin was out the last 46 days of the 2012 season. The Knicks went 15-11 during Linsanity; they closed the year 12-5 without him. And some killjoys just can’t cum if they aren’t reminding you how nothing concrete resulted from Linsanity. The Knicks were eliminated 4-1 in the first round by Miami. Never mind that a week after Starks threw down “The Dunk” he was giving up 54 to Jordan. Or that the Charles Smith game came just a few days later. Or that the Knicks lost four straight after The Dunk.
Patrick Ewing and Jeremy Lin are two of the more memorable Knicks of the past 35 years, for entirely different reasons. What’s your choice for the most memorable moment ever*? Vote below! There’s no wrong answer. Love what you love. Love who you love. Some people, like some songs, end better by fading away.
What is the most Knicks moment ever*?
This poll is closed
Patrick Ewing’s missed finger-roll
Patrick Ewing’s Achilles injury