Thanks to my brother Miguel Rodriguez for the assist on jarring this memory.
Tommy DeeOne of my early tangible Knicks memories was in the summer of 1988 while on vacation at my uncle’s house in Florida. Needless to say pre social media and 5 ESPN channels it was your duty as a sports fan to find out news, generally on the local news cast or in the local papers. You HAD to be diligent to find out news about the Knicks in the summer when you were out of state, especially if you didn’t have access to the USA Today’s agate page.
I remember having breakfast before heading out for family vacation responsibilities, which in Clearwater, Florida in June, consisted of running around until feeling like you were going to pass out from heat exhaustion. I remember my older brother coming in saying that the Knicks had traded center Bill Cartwright. Cartwright and Patrick Ewing had been paired together originally by Hubie Brown as they were dubbed “the Twin Towers” except it failed to work. Much like (and I use this analogy very loosely) Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry, Ewing and Cartwright were both post players who loved to do their work on the low blocks. That antiquated idea along with the drafting of guards Mark Jackson and Rod Strickland and the hiring of Rick Pitino the season before, who promptly implemented a high-paced, up-tempo, run and gun style that would be labeled “The Bomb Squad,” meant the Knicks needed some major changes starting with dealing the slow-footed Cartwright.
My brother and I liked to play this game whenever a trade happened. To us, trades made by our favorite teams were like opening a birthday gift. There was something exciting and magical about trades that I still feel to this day, even if they turn out dreadful. The game would start by announcing who got traded followed by trying to guess for who not immediately asking. The immediate question would always be, “Where?”
“Chicago,” he said.
“Pippen,” I said, referring to the young spagetti-legged Pippen who finished runner-up to Mark Jackson for rookie of the year. This Pippen.
“Darn…Oakley?” I said with equal excitement and tone as I asked in reference to Scottie.
I loved Oak with the Bulls and I couldn’t believe the Bulls did that trade. Were they drunk? Oakley was a tough guy and a rebounding machine. He was Jordan’s bodyguard. I kept thinking, what a trade, man…what a trade!
That trade took the Knicks to a new level. That trade gave Patrick Ewing the support he needed up front and it gave them the rebounding it took to get out and run. And after Pitino left for Lexington, Kentucky the Knicks managed to have a pretty strong 1990 season under Stu Jackson. The front office made another trade, this one was more controversial, trading Rod Strickland, who had a terrible time getting along with Mark Jackson, for veteran 76ers point guard Mo Cheeks. It was a head scratching deal to many because Cheeks was 33 at the time, but he was a wiley and savvy playoff veteran and the Knicks wanted to make the next step. As the playoffs approached, like in 2013, the Knicks would face their rivals the Boston Celtics.
Here’s where the parallels begin as they relate to this year’s Knicks team. The 1990s Celtics still had Bird, McHale, Parish and DJ, a core that was one of the best teams in NBA history. They had won 52 plus games and featured a young, slick scoring forward in Reggie Lewis. They were still very dangerous.
But this Knicks team had a different vibe about them. They were heavy underdogs in the series and rightfully so. But they didn’t think so and they didn’t believe it to be so even after giving up 157 points to Boston in game 2. Yes 157 points and no Mike D’Antoni wasn’t coaching them.
Crawling back to New York with their tails between their legs the Knicks rallied to win games 3 and 4, forcing a game 5 at the Boston Garden and left with the biggest win that the franchise had in decades. Oakley was brilliant with 22 points and 25 rebounds. Cheeks steered the ship and Patrick Ewing officially reached superstar status that series.
Game 3- 33 points, 19 rebounds, 14/34 FG, 5/10 FT
Game 4- 44 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks, 7 steals, 18/24 FG, 8/9 FT
Game 5- 31 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists, 4 blocks, 14/26 FG, 1/1 3P, 2/2 FT
The Celtics would get out of the first round the next year and they would lose to Isiah’s Detroit Pistons thus ending their run atop the NBA’s Eastern Conference, but for all intents and purposes the Knicks really put a crack in the foundation the year before. Why? Because they didn’t care about the tradition. They weren’t afraid of Bird or the floor or the jerseys in the rafters. These Knicks are equally though and they are ready to step on the Celtics and push them aside and take the next step.
It’s going to be a great series and I can foresee a similar result. These Knicks are primed, they’ll have home court in a deciding game, and they are focused.
It’s going to be some series.