Religitating the 1993 NBA Eastern Conference Finals: Game 3, the Phantom Menace

Abe Beame continues his in-depth look at the 1993 series between the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls as it moves to the Windy City.
By    December 4, 2018

Abe Beame has a pair of Air Jordan VIII’s the same color as Darth Maul.

One of the main reasons I wanted to embark on this exercise was to challenge both my memories and the popular narrative from this period of history. It’s so easy to simply accept the monolithic legend of MICHAEL JORDAN, the iconic greatest player of all time as his legacy become encased in marble and gets further away from us with each passing year. To watch a series like this, where he met real struggle and had to fight his way through stiff opposition, to apply context and watch him grind it out in this random year in the middle of his dynatic run and see if the performance matches the results. I’ve also been considering that context, as the early 90s and particularly this season was fascinating, the end of the beginning of the NBA’s modern era.

This was pre-expansion, there were a quaint 27 teams in the league. Shaq was a deserving Rookie of the Year. Barkley won his lone MVP in 1993 and it was the right time for it; he brought his team through a loaded West into the Finals where he ultimately fell to the Bulls in a tough series. As we discussed last time, Riley won Coach of the Year honors. But 1993 was also the last gasp of old league economics. Aside from the Celtics. every team came in under 20 million for total salary. David Robinson had the most expensive contract in the league at nearly six million. The salary disparities are what I find most fascinating.

There are some aberrations: with his tops in the league deal The Admiral made 40x more than Avery Johnson’s 140k(!) which is pretty much in line with the gap between Russell Westbrook’s 35 mil and Hamidou Diallo’s 838 k for the Thunder this season, but the league was more in line with teams like the Bucks, where an aging top earner Moses Malone at 2.3 mil made a little more than 4x Jon Barry’s 500 k.

This is why when we get into the Jordan v Lebron GOAT conversation, I feel there’s an entire crucial element missing. The CBA, the cap, the way contracts were structured and the widening gap between the haves and have nots. Jordan shifted the league to a superstar model. Now every team has at least one focal point, and yes the history of the league suggests you always needed one, but compensation, the way players would gel with each other, the way the casual fan viewed the inner workings of a team based on compensation and billing was revolutionized with incredible speed and I’m not sure if we’ve all even caught up yet. Was it harder for Jordan to command Paxson’s respect when Paxson was *only* making 20% of his salary, or was it harder the season Jordan made an incredible 33 million dollars in 1998, making more than 19 teams in the league and 44x the salary of his teammate Steve Kerr?

I don’t have the answers to these questions but I think it’s the big urgent smoking gun when we discuss greatness across the generations. The 90s were a period of particular unrest and transition. It came in realizing the groundwork Magic and Larry laid down showing us all how a superstar driven league would operate, then either finding or inventing its perfect expression in Jordan. And it ended in chaos and turmoil. The superstar system run amok with flashy and rich egotistical beneficiaries of a new model and scale of fame and financial success. The players weren’t quite ready to be thrust into a system with no precedent, and let’s say the more conservative among us pushed back and invented the classic “I like College Basketball because they play hard”, “Pull up your pants” brand of out of touch, predominantly white sports fan who cares less about the game than the narrative.

Anyways, recapping the last two game was a true joy. I got to journey back to my ancestral home, The Garden of the early 90s, the Knicks were clicking on all cylinders, and for a brief moment we were in the driver’s seat against Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Now we head to Chicago and the pain and agony of my childhood returns with it.

0:00: Aaaaaand we’re back to Ahmad on NBC. I think just comparing Game 1 and Game 2 coverage I prefer MSG’s regional coverage. Way more funny local references in terms of pure random ass 90s Tri-State nostalgia.

0:30: Apparently the popular narrative surrounding the Bulls going into Game 3 was that they were whiners. Between Phil’s bullshit and Michael’s constant jawing I kind of see where they’re coming from. They were like a prehistoric version of Doc, Chris Paul and Blake Griffen’s Clippers. To quote the great Anthony Mason, “If I was the Champ, I would shut up and play basketball.”

2:05: The Bulls are literally pressing off the tip. Knicks broke the pressure and Ewing got an open jam under the basket.

2:41: Horace Grant opens scoring for the Bulls with an And 1 and just fist pumped and flailed like he just hit a game winner in the Finals. Grant has more or less been absent from the proceedings thus far. Something tells me that’s about to change.

3:48: Foul on BJ who is also keyed up. Starks made 1-2 from the line and the Knicks continue to be horrific with FTs. I wonder why they never considered answering the Bulls pressure with pressure. I don’t know that the Bulls had the same top to bottom roster of guys who could handle under pressure that the Knicks did. Maybe they were scared of the pace and mismatches Jordan could create in a full court, reactive situation?

5:12: Very early impression, the Knicks are letting the Bulls suck them into the kind of game they want to play. They’re way too hype and playing off adrenaline, making dumb passes and pulling bad shots early in the clock. On the Bulls side Jordan is patient and making a point of getting Horace and BJ involved early.

9:22: Here we go. Bullshit grazing foul on Charles Smith playing off Pippen. Last time down there was a foul on Oak during an inbounds where he ran through a Jordan pick and Jordan flopped. Meanwhile on the other end the Bulls are swarming Knicks ball handlers and they keep responding with stupid decisions and bad passes.

10:02: Aaaaaaaand they called Starks for a shooting foul on Jordan pulling up from three.

10:29: Knicks respond perfectly. Starks beats Jordan up the floor, entry pass to Ewing, Ewing passes out a quick double team in the post hitting a cutting Charles Smith knifing through the paint for an easy lay in. It doesn’t seem like there are enough designed plays like that Riley had ready to beat the pressure. If you know you’re going to be facing a team that presses like this one does I’d think there’d be a number of motions drawn up to make them pay and grab some easy buckets. This was more the exception than the norm so far.

11:03: I don’t think I’ve ever heard BJ Armstrong speak but for some reason I always imagine him sounding like Crazy Legs from Don’t Be A Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.

12:25: What the fuck. During a commercial break Jordan went to the refs to complain about the basketball the Knicks apparently picked out for the game. 90s Deflategate???? There was yet another phantom call on Starks last time down. I think the Bulls have gotten a minimum of one foul call on every possession so far this game.

12:50: Mase clocks in for the first time to a chorus of hearty boos. What kind of Midwestern corn fed psychopath could hate Anthony Mason?

15:06: Conversely, everyone just went nuts when Will Perdue checked in for Bill Cartwright. Something tells me there’s a shitload of Richard M. Daley voters in the stands today.

16:54: Doc just badly bricked two FTs. You can really see the pressure getting to the Knicks. They need Patrick to step up and takeover.

18:50: Jordan just got his first FG. He has eight points. Knicks were never winning this game.

21:54: Something I can’t blame the officials for, Knicks are 3-8 from the FT line.

23:32: Jordan is 1-5 from the field and it hasn’t been particularly close. Once again Knicks were so good at forcing him into bad shots, at least in this series. The rest of the team has been hot from outside.

23:59: Pretty sure Paxson’s Mom still gives him haircuts.

25:03: Paxson looks like an unsuccessful 50s era Greenwich Village folk singer.

26:32: Whoa Hubert Davis sighting. Why the fuck did Riley wait so long to play him this series?

27:07: Patrick damn near just took the rim off on a put back. Needs to be more aggressive on offense. Knicks should be pounding it into him but I guess you kind of need to take what the defense gives you when you’re playing a press like this.

28:40: End of the First Quarter. Bulls up 34-23. They pressed the entire quarter which is pretty impressive and the Knicks basically allowed them to control tempo. 34 is the most they’ve scored in a quarter this series so far. Jordan has been way off with his shot but has a pretty impressive six assists and it’s been a whole team effort, very different than games 1 & 2 where Jordan and Pippen were pretty much do it all by themselves. The number I’d really like to see is the foul discrepancy. It felt like the Bulls got a call every time down, but I can’t find the number anywhere.

28:55: Scenes from Celebrity Row: No one because we’re in fucking Chicago.

30:30: Another great pass out of a double by Ewing. Nothing came of the possession but his vision was a seriously underrated component of his game.

32:35: Completely fucking bizarre offensive foul on Charles Smith I don’t even see the idea behind what they might’ve been calling there.

33:07: Oak just took a charge to get the ball back. My guy.

34:08: Another great look on a back door from Patrick. I wonder what it would’ve been like trying to run the offense through him on some Jokic shit.

34:34: Knicks are absolutely killing themselves between the bad FT shooting and the stupid turnovers. This wasn’t even a result of the press it was just being careless with the ball.

35:34: LOL. Bulls are some petty bitches. Doc is from Illinois and they always hook him up with tickets for friends and family when he’s in town to play but they said no for this game.

38:33: You’re a Wizard, Horace.

40:16: Paxson wet a three. He looks like one of Brendan Fraser’s anti-semitic classmates in School Ties. This is a direct rebuke of the debate in Game 2 over which team has the better supporting cast. The Bulls have a ton of shooting when they get going. Jordan has barely been involved and its a rout. You will not be seeing this game on NBA TV anytime soon.

43:30: Starks just almost had a steal but lost it out of bounds thren punted the ball into the stands. Awesome.

46:41: Paxson looks like the guy from Nirvana who isn’t Cobain or Grohl.

47:27: Pippen cookin’ with a baseline bank shot. If he’s hitting those it isn’t fair.

49:17: Great anecdote from Marv. At some point during the season Oak’s minutes were down, so he approaches Riley and tells him, “When I play at least 30 minutes we win 80% of our games.” So Riley checks out the numbers and tells Charles, “Actually it’s 79%”. His minutes went back up immediately.

54:17: Completely ridiculous foul on Doc, clearly should’ve been an offensive on Jordan. I’m not gonna say the refs are dictating this game because the Bulls are just better right now but you get a sense for the insidious way officiating can discourage and slow drip the fight out of a team trying to claw their way back in.

55:30: End of the first half. 62-43. Woof. Knicks got cream pied. Bulls got out to a hot start and didn’t really have to even check their rearview at any point during the first half. It seems impossible because the Knicks currently have a two game series lead but they look like beaten dogs, besides Ewing who had 15 and was really all we had going for long stretches of time. And worse than that, they’re not aggressive, there doesn’t seem to be any real plan or sense of purpose. They are letting the Bulls completely and totally dictate the terms of engagement. Not great, Bob.

56:54: I forgot to reference this in Game 2 but Marv just did. There was a lot of noise in the ether during this period related to Jordan’s gambling troubles. Some shmuck he played golf with released a tell all saying he’d won over a million off Jordan on the golf course, and before Game 2 in New York Jordan went to Atlantic City which was a storyline for that game the Bulls lost. A lot of fuel for the conspiracy fires that Jordan’s forthcoming “retirement” was a shadow suspension because his gambling addiction had spiraled out of control.

58:32: Start of the third, bad officiating, dumb turnover. Someday I’m going to have these posts printed and bound in a book which will be titled Bad Officiating, Dumb Turnovers.

59:39: Man Jordan is fucking ice cold. It’s a miracle they won this game. Or I should say, the Knicks lost it. Patrick has been the lone bright spot. Dude is a rock.

1:00:29: Some dip shit in the crowd is hold up a sign that reads “No M.S.G. here”. Racist and stupid, bravo Chicago!

1:05:05: Knicks continuing to get bullied. Just a real lack of imagination on Riley’s part. They keep doing this thing all game where they beat the press at half court, have some numbers or maybe an angle, but then pull back and wait to get into their half court set, which is greatly strained because they spent time and energy getting to the half court so they have to figure something out with a short clock. It’s resulted in sloppy passing and desperate shots. If they would just push when they have the press beat and force something at the rim they could make it untenable for the Bulls to keep pressing. It seems like they’re just scared of going down that road and engaging in a track meet with the Bulls but it’s not like this controlled approach is very successful.

1:07:36: Riley looks like he’s in a commercial for indigestion medication.

1:08:08: Some guy named Tony Campbell is in for the Knicks and just hit a J. I have absolutely no recollection of this guy. In my defense, it’s his second appearance of the playoffs.

1:09:07: Pippen is a monster.

1:09:21: The Knicks cracked the press so many times ending with these easy Ewing dunks under the basket. They really should’ve been pushing that from the opening tip, the Bulls are so press and trap happy, use that against them with some dummy motion, bait a trap and look to get in downlow to Patrick I don’t get what Riley is trying to do here.

1:09:46: Starks about to jump bad in this bitch. Just got right up in Pippen’s shit, or about as much as you can when you’re shoulder height. Starks doesn’t understand the concept of fear. It’s an abstract construct to him. The play that instigated the incident is hilarious. Pippen sets a screen but the Knicks have this mantra where they refuse to be picked, so they don’t go above or below a screen, they will actually just try to run straight through the guys. For the most part this results in Oak and Mase trucking dudes because the Knicks are generally bigger and stronger than most teams, but in this situation it was Starks getting picked by Pippen. Doesn’t matter, he lowers his head and basically spears Pippen, moving him back 5-6 yards like Khalil Mack on a sled. I highly recommend going in and checking this out. It’s awesome.

1:10:27: Hubert Davis just swatted Jordan. I can not remember him ever looking this bad against us.

1:12:19: Getting chippy. Sucks we couldn’t bait Jordan or Pippen into doing something stupid.

1:12:55: Mike Fratello just compared the Bulls newfound toughness on their home floor to Marv puffing his chest out as a child when kids would come onto his block and try to push him around. I’m imagining Fratello as a Bronx Tale like racist street tough and it’s more entertaining than this game has been for the last two quarters.

1:16:13: Ahmad is interviewing Jerry Krause who looks like an extra in Miller’s Crossing. He also looks like he has an index card in his pocket with his name, home phone number and address in case he gets lost. He also looks like a sentient triangle.

1:19:06: Kukoc wasn’t officially on the team yet but the Bulls have his rites or something. He isn’t at the game because he’s getting his tonsils taken out.

1:21:57: I spoke too soon, Woody Allen actually traveled to watch the game. Figures that the Bulls needed to borrow celebrity fans from the Knicks.

1:24:58: What kind of a name is Hubert? Have you ever met any other Huberts? Is it like an Anfernee thing where a regional accent led to a phonetic spelling of a mispronounced proper name? If so, and his name should’ve been Herbert Davis, the 90s Knicks would have incredibly had two black Herberts on their team.

1:26:32: Paxson looks like an Andy Kaufman character.

1:27:02: Oh shit, here we go. Ewing and Scott Williams square off, then Starks uses it as an excuse to go back after Pippen. He really does not like Pippen man. I could not imagine wanting to pick a fight with early 90s Pippen that guy was a beast.

1:29:15: Jordan is back and incredibly only needs to rebounds for a triple double. He’s currently 3-18 from the floor. The triple double is a fucking stupid statistic.

1:29:34: They just called a totally bogus charge on Starks, Jordan wasn’t even close to in position. Riley should pull Starks before a vein in his forehead explodes.

1:30:04: Now Starks and Jordan are getting into it on the other end. They just called Starks for a tech. This is unraveling quickly.

1:30:40: Aaaaaaannnnnddd they just tossed Starks. It was weird though the altercation was basically over and they had assessed him with the first tech, then Jordan randomly tried to charge at him and as a result of that there was a double tech and Starks got tossed. He didn’t really do anything else though. They’re escorting him out through a different tunnel because they don’t want him to go back through the court and I don’t blame him. Man, I forgot how great Starks was. Jordan’s lucky they held him back I bet you Starks would fuck him up.

1:33:25: Scott Williams seems like a fucking jerk off.

1:35:11: Paxson’s head looks like the reservoir tip of a used condom.

1:36:10: Oakley just checked back in for the first time in a while. Bet he’s under 30 minutes tonight.

1:36:45: Paxson looks like a guy Richard Linklater didn’t like in high school

1:40:23: It’s garbage time and Paxson just pulled up for a J and the crowd let out a huge audible groan when it bricked. You can’t underestimate Bulls fans’ love for white players.

1:40:45: Marv and Mike are so bored they just did a good five minute bit on Tony Campbell.

1:42:30: Paxson just walked off to a huge ovation similar to the one Jordan just got as he was pulled. He looks like Brad Pitt could’ve etched a swastika into his forehead.

1:44:46: Pippen is out for blood. 28 on 10-12. Five Bulls in double digits. Yuck.

1:47:18: Miller Genuine Draft sponsors this segment called “Genuine Moments” and they featured Phil Jackson on the Knicks swatting Riley on the Lakers when they met in the Finals in 1971. Kind of cool. Riley and the Lakers won in 73 then the Knicks took it when they ran it back in 73. That was our last title. Going to be pretty miserable celebrating the 50th anniversary if we still suck in five years.

 Final Thoughts: Well that was fucking gross. What the fuck did I just watch. I need a shower. You’re not going to get much evidence here for the Jordan GOAT debate. If anything this was Phil’s triumph over Riley as the Bulls had a much clearer idea of how they wanted to attack this game and executed pretty flawlessly. So much so that they won in a blowout on a night where their superstar didn’t have his fastball, his curve, really anything but free throws. The officiating was consistently horrible but I can’t put the result on that. Tonight we stunk. Still, a one game series lead and you can’t play any worse than we just did so surely we can expect to bounce back in Game 4. What could possibly go wrong?

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