The first two weeks of May 1984 saw the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics face off seven times in the second round of the playoffs. The Celtics were the league’s best team that year, winning 62 games, the fourth season in five they won 60+, a feat they’d repeat the next two. Larry Bird was in year one of what would be an MVP three-peat, joining Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain as the only NBA players to do so. It wouldn’t be long before LJB was getting GOAT talk. In May of 1984, today’s consensus would be considered nonsense.
do you think it's reasonable to claim larry bird is the greatest nba player ever?— Miranda (@MatthewEMiranda) February 26, 2023
You can either remember or imagine why the folks at 33rd and 8th were feeling so good that spring, even after losing the series. Bernard King went toe-to-toe against the best player in the world minute for minute, bucket for bucket. The Knicks led the league in defensive rating that year. That balance meant that spring spirits were high. The next season started with nine losses in 11 games and ended with 58 Ls and King tearing his ACL, a career-threatening injury. In one year the pride of Fort Greene went from the masthead to the margins as the next big thing arrived care of Dorothy Ewing. That quickly.
May, 1989. The folks at 33rd and 8th are feeling good about the future even after losing a tough second-round series to the best player in the world. Rick Pitino is the Brad Stevens of his day: the bright young vanguard of coaching, Alexander the Great with nothing in front of him but time and worlds to conquer. New York’s Bomb Squad are explosive* from deep and anchored on both ends by Patrick Ewing. Mark Jackson followed up his Rookie of the Year in ‘88 with an All-Star selection that season. Charles Oakley averaged a triple-double in points, rebounds and contusions caused. Future so bright you gotta wear shades.
*They averaged not quite five 3s a game, but it was a different world. We still had to get up to change the channel. One 3 a quarter was excitement enough, thank you.
By May 1991 the folks at 33rd and 8th are wearing night-vision goggles, it’s so dark. The Knicks are coming off a losing season and a first-round sweep at the hands of the best player in the world, including a 41-point loss in the opener. Ewing is suing the team as part of his greater strategy to get the hell out of New York (years later it’d turn out he had eyes on Golden State — that would have been something, the big man and Run TMC). In two years the Knicks went from Chicago’s peer to their doormat. That quickly. At the end of the month the team hired Pat Riley as head coach, and things changed even quicklier.
On May 9, 2019, the Warriors hosted the Houston Rockets in game 5 of their second-round series. Late in the third quarter, Kevin Durant started limping after a non-contact injury that knocked him out of the game. 33rd and 8th inhaled sharply. Initial fears were he’d suffered an Achilles injury, but the MRI showed a calf strain. 33rd and 8th exhaled long and slow. KD was only two months away from joining the Knicks and quite possibly bringing the second star of his choice to join him. The draft lottery was five days away, with the Zion dreams a-feverin’. Future. Shades. You know.
May 2020. The Knicks announce the hirings of Brock Aller, Walt Perrin and Frank Zanin to the front office of new team president Leon Rose. Rose has no experience working in an NBA front office, but as one of the league’s preeminent player agents the man has more connections than Kevin Bacon. His is the rare gravity powerful enough to send stars spinning. Durant and Zion may not have ended up at 33rd and 8th, but the team Rose inherited? A losing outfit led by Julius Randle, he of the 27% 3-point (in)accuracy and the 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio? Yeah, you know what’s gonna change? That. Quickly.
May 2023: the first two weeks of the month see the Knicks and Celtics face off seven times in the second round of the playoffs. The Celtics were the league’s best team that year, winning 62 games and advancing to the conference finals for the fifth time in seven seasons. Jayson Tatum is in year one of what could become an MVP three-peat, joining Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird as the only NBA players to do so. Randle went toe-to-toe against the best player in the world minute for minute, bucket for bucket. A number of Knicks had breakthrough showings that postseason. Brunson. Mitch. Oh, that Quickley. That spring, spirits were high.