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Abe Beame is looking for a good deal on a Pat Riley jersey in decent condition.
And then we came to the end. The 1992-1993 season was a point of divergence for the Knicks and the Bulls. For one team, a period of historic wealth and prosperity seemed to be approaching its conclusion. For another, it appeared to be the beginning. The insurgent Knicks had pushed the Bulls to the brink two seasons in a row in the playoffs. The Bulls had to deal with an expensive roster, saddled with myriad unhappy personalities; they were burdened by spendthrift, shitty ownership and appeared on the brink of collapse. In many ways, this is exactly what occurred.
After surviving the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1993 and beating the Suns to win a third straight championship, Michael Jordan would retire (for any number of reasons depending on how deep and dark your NBA message board habits are). The Bulls, suddenly adrift, would fall to the Knicks the next year in what could’ve been disastrous, team-destroying fashion. They would lose a disgruntled Horace Grant at the end of the next season and Scottie Pippen’s tenure would be tenuous and year-to-year even once Jordan returned.
The Knicks seemed to be on the precipice of a Chicago-like dynasty, or at the very least a team who would be a perennial contender. The next year, after vanquishing the Jordan-less Bulls, they would finish agonizingly close to a title in a bitter 7-game-Final with the Houston Rockets. They solidified their backcourt with the God Derek Harper. For a time, with the exception of the emerging Orlando Magic, the East appeared to be wide open.
But after coming up short in the Finals, Pat Riley stunned New York by decamping for the rival Miami Heat, a team that took Alonzo Mourning and the Knicks’ hard-nosed swag and along with the Indiana Pacers and the Bulls, would turn the East playoffs into a yearly dog-fight gauntlet. Jeff Van Gundy was a great coach, but as Patrick’s health suffered, the team came up short time and time again as the also-rans in the East killed each other for the chance to get beat by Chicago.
After their Finals run, the Knicks wouldn’t make another Eastern Conference Finals until their miracle 8-seed 1999 playoffs, where they survived a strike-shortened season and weak East field to make it to the Finals and promptly get their asses kicked by the first chip in the San Antonio Spurs dynasty.
The Bulls retooled on the fly. They shed some of their older and less athletic players and added guys like the long awaited Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper and Dennis Rodman, one of the all-time great free agent signings of the 90s. Equipped with a new edge and dynamic identity, Jordan powered them to yet another three-peat, starting with the mythic 72-10 squad in in ’96 and maintaining dominance throughout the run. The Knicks would never get another shot at them.
This century hasn’t been great for either team, less so for the Knicks who have wandered through a bleak and strange desert, with one better than mediocre year to show for twenty years of agony, false starts, disappointments, and would be saviors as we drafted well and were the worst team in the league when it came to free agency, salary cap management and working the trade market.
After nearly a decade of similarly star-crossed floundering, the Bulls “lucked out” by winning the lottery and drafting supremely talented piece of human sewage Derrick Rose, a talent they would build around as their new coach, a revolutionary defensive mind and neo-conservative offense and game manager Tom Thibodeau built the Bulls in his own grindhouse image. At long last Chicago fans got to experience what it was like being a Knicks fan in the 90s as their team would contend every year but could never get past the hurdle of LeBron.
A popular narrative is the Knicks got what we deserved. That the stink of Jim Dolan’s ownership has permeated every waking moment of this century and we’ll never succeed with him at the helm. And perhaps it’s true, but for me it’s an easy out. After all, has there ever been a more odious ownership group then fucking Jerry Krause and Jerry Reinsdorf? Throughout this century, the Knicks were continually hiring some of the greatest, most storied winners the game has ever seen, and one by one each legend was vanquished. Famously Isiah Thomas, the less about whom is said the better, but also Larry Brown, Donnie Walsh, Phil Jackson, Mike D’Antoni, Stephon Marbury and Carmelo Anthony.
Perhaps we fell into that old Knicks trap of getting the big name just on the wrong side of their primes. Perhaps.
The other night I went to the first Knick game I’ve been to in a couple years. Even with the Knicks playing some of their worst ball in recent memory, quite a distinction. The tickets are still incredibly expensive and a major reach for a guy with two kids in a crunchy Brooklyn daycare. These days when I want to watch basketball I have a much cheaper option a couple of subway stops away.
But it was last second on a Friday night, my Uncle had a pair he needed to get rid of and felt generous, so I went to go see them play those old accursed Pacers (Only they aren’t accursed. I actually like this new scrappy version of the Pacers, and the Heat. Basketball rivalries are different than blood feuds like Yanks Sox or Jets Pats. They change based on the era and the makeup of the teams). The Knicks predictably got stomped. But truth be told, that’s my goal for this season: To compete, to develop our young talent, and to lose every game.
But sitting in those seats, in the retooled but largely intact MSG brought back a flood of
memories. I thought about the highs of the 90s and the lows of the 2000s, the sad endings to those great seasons I had so much youthful hope tied up in and the random hilarious or brilliant moments I was privy to as a fan during the subsequent dark decades. I thought about the small matters of chance that determined our fate. Trading the draft pick that became Scottie Pippen, Starks missing that shot in 1994, Riley’s escape to Miami, Jordan pushing off on Byron Russell, Jordan taking two years of perfectly timed rest, Melo holding the entire Knicks roster hostage, all these trades and bad breaks and little fissures in time and space and circumstance that ended up breaking against us but easily could’ve broken differently.
The recurring mantra of this season’s True Detective, its “Flat Circle”, is a complex question: “Have you ever been some place you can’t leave, and can’t stay, all at the same time?” It rushes to mind as I put the finishing touches on this piece of pure unadulterated nostalgia. As fans of a tragic franchise, these nagging questions, disappointments and alternate realities pull at us, haunt our dreams and are insistent as we challenge the popular narratives that make up sports history.
The What Ifs aren’t a fun parlor game, they define us and our view of what could have and should have been. Today, Patrick Ewing is a doughy also-ran coach slugging it out in the backwaters of the NCAA. Like me, he is fighting for a history he left somewhere in his youth, yet another institution that has seen better days. He retired with no rings and will forever be left out of the Greatest of All Time conversations, even at his position for his era.
But I can’t stop, and will likely never stop, arguing for the greatness of these old Knicks teams and what should have been an iconic mix of raw, fun and gritty players and personalities. They left their hearts, souls, and my youthful optimism on the floor of the arenas where we fought noble fights and ultimately lost. But what I’ve realized is trying to make sense of these failures is a fool’s errand. I’ll leave that to the armchair historians and red faced pundits who want to peddle you books and opinion pieces, pat answers to why tightly contested series end the way they do. How Michael Jordan simply “Wanted it more”. Winning and losing is knife’s edge.
To all the Knicks fans for whom hope springs eternal, who have suffered through this long night and watched this series along with me, let’s watch this last game together and before you hit play, please say this silent prayer: Kristaps, Durant, Kemba, Zion, Knox, Franky, Mitch and Allonzo Trier. The rest of our lives begins next season. Let’s go Knicks.
0:04: Welcome back! We open with a close shot on actual physical printed tickets being held out of a very old model car window in Chicago. I went to an awful Knicks game a few weeks ago and had the tickets on my phone. For every think piece and movie that tells us how deleterious technology is on our culture are we allowed to occasionally acknowledge how convenient it has made our lives in thousands of ways both large and small? Anyone reading this old enough to ever live through the terror of leaving your apartment without the tickets? No fun!
0:20: What the fuck. It was 47 degrees in Chicago on June 4th in 1993???!!!! Can we just all agree this Godforsaken city should sink into the lake?
0:37: A new Jordan gambling scandal broke in the lead up to this game. A hustler alleged he’d lost over a million dollars gambling on golf. I badly want to read Michael & Me, for its impeccable cover art. I guess it was definitely the loss of his father that lead him to forthcoming retirement and nothing else. Jordan allegedly lost $1.25 million. He must be really fucking awful at playing golf. Wouldn’t you just stop at some point? Also, why is Jordan wearing my Bar Mitzvah suit and tie to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals?
2:16: Baby Mike Fratello looks like a gofer hanging outside of Satriales.
3:04: Wow. So they just asked Riley what his tangible strategy for this game was going to be after blowing a 2-0 advantage and he came up with this insane analogy about white water rafting and being the person who needs to bail yourself out of a life threatening situation. They didn’t air this part but just after saying this he said he smells toast. You’ll never believe this but we’re not going to win this game.
3:27: Mike just explained how series work. God you used to be able to get away with such inane bullshit working media for games.
3:43: Marv just set up the game by saying: “It will be Michael Jordan vs. John Starks of the New York Knicks with the season on the line.” This adds credibility to the intro I wrote for the Game 5 piece, which I like, but throws shade at team leader Patrick Ewing, which I don’t. So, conflicted.
3:53: The Bulls used to play at “Chicago Stadium”.
5:16: Based solely off crowd shots during intros I don’t really have words to articulate what a gross, uncool, ugly city Chicago was in the early 90s.
9:57: Insane loose ball on an offensive rebound opportunity against Charles Smith. Patrick also got mugged by Cartwright trying to establish position on the block. Will this be yet another Stern Special?
10:20: Impressed it only took Mike 10 minutes to reference the horrically sad ending of Game 5.
10:57: Yuck. Weak sauce And 1 for Ho Grant.
11:34: Starks clearly knocked out of bounds by Grant with no call on the contact. Here we go.
12:09: Smith just completely shut Jordan down at the rim. I really wonder what he’d look like against freaks like Durant or Gobert.
12:37: Pippen with a mid range dagger. Not a great sign.
13:35: The crowd roar that goes up when Jordan fires is pretty insane.
13:47: Starks cookin.
15:52: I can’t be sure but I think the Bulls just ran the first pick and roll of this entire series.
17:44: Completely insane pass out of a trap by Starks for a turnover. He might be drunk.
18:28: I’d like to take this opportunity to point out Jordan’s FG% for this entire series was 40%. It’s weird because when he’s on and pissed off you know it’s going in but he puts up so many frivolous shots I’m never scared of.
18:50: Cartwright just caught an And 1. Please spot the foul for me.
19:03: Cartwright incredibly still starting in NBA playoff games in his late 50s.
20:03: Pippen just pulled up for a 16 foot leaner and Riley looks like he needs to take a shit.
20:36: Cartwright looks like an orc.
22:01: Pippen just made an insane in the air interior pass to Jordan. This guy was a fucking freak.
22:25: And then Jordan comes back and hit an impossible ass smothered pivot fadeaway and you remember why you hated and feared him so much.
23:15: Starks pushes off a big Jordan three and throws up a complete garbage J early in the clock with zero chance of falling. Luckily Pat and Oak are under the rim and clean up. The shady plot line for this series is Riley just got blown off the court by Jackson. There was a clear, methodical lane for the Knicks to grind this series out and time and time again Riley let the team play with emotion and ended up suffering the ultimate consequence.
25:08: Cartwright looks like Major Paine.
25:21: What an insane stat. In New York the Knicks attempted 105 free throw attempts. In Chicago 58. Seems reasonable.
25:26: Oakley makes free throws look like 3s.
27:46: If I had to throw out everything else in my apartment I would keep the site of Anthony Mason running a fast break.
28:01: Part of me thinks GA should’ve started this entire series at point.
29:09: Michael Jordan’s sister Roselyn Jordan sang the National Anthem for this game and it was absolute garbage.
30:05: GA IS NOT PLAYING WITH THESE BITCHES.
33:05: Wow this is nuts. Scott Williams basically just begged off the Bulls mid playoffs, stating he has the rings and the awards and the compensation and now he wants to go somewhere and be featured. Is David Caruso this moron’s agent? What awards has he won? What the fuck is Scott Williams doing right now? I want to go to the White Castle on Atlantic Ave he’s managing and ask if he thinks that was the best career move.
34:17: I don’t understand how you can watch GA in this series and not conclude he needs more burn.
35:18: Rolando Blackman sighting. Knicks were so deep and I feel like Riley just was on his heels this entire series. Should be a serious black mark on his legacy.
35:32: WIll Perdue looks like a substitute Algebra teacher.
36:10: Insanely obvious defensive goaltending on the Bulls, no whistle.
36:51: Wow. Actual celebrity sighting in Chicago. Pre-Rodman Madonna ladies and gentlemen!
37:48: Dubious bullshit offensive foul on GA. Should’ve been blocking on Pippen.
39:17: When Paxson shoots free throws he looks like he’s edging.
40:46: Riley looks like he just rolled a condom on and the wind died in his sails.
42:37: Prior to this series only four teams had ever lost a series after going up 2-0. The last team to do it was the 77 Blazers vs the 6ers in the Finals. Fucking kill me.
43:36: The Knicks were insanely bad from the line in this series. They averaged 65% throughout and shot an unbelievable team average of 57.1% from the floor in the Charles Smith Game. Safe to say they left this series at the stripe.
44:06: Jordan just roasted Starks in post and it’s hard to understand why they didn’t just milk that every play. Looked like he was posting a parking cone.
46:06: Cartwright looks like a Munster.
46:22: Cartwright looks like he asks his kids if they want the belt or the switch.
47:28: Bulls just got called for a second illegal defense largely because they almost exclusively played zone in the half court the entire series.
49:45: This sequence is worth going back in for. The Knicks just bully the fuck out of the Bulls on the glass and Patrick ends up with an And 1. Ewing looks pissed let’s fucking go.
54:04: Cartwright looks like the barber no one wants to fuck with at the shop. Like every other chair is filled and there are people waiting on the bench and he’s just standing there looking goofy as fuck with his clippers in hand looking on expectantly and everyone is just averting their eyes.
57:30: 11:12 to play in the Third and a one point game. Goddamnit.
58:53: A reminder that Patrick Ewing was so good.
59:28: Armstrong’s role on the Bulls was fascinating. He was a nothing Guard most of the time, zero presence, no playmaking, but seemingly whenever the Bulls needed a spark he was Johnny on the spot, streaky like Starks but in the opposite way. He was the personification of the collective. When the Bulls were working so was he. In bullshit downtime he’d miss a bunny. Whereas Starks was a guy who could get you going in the middle of the second quarter when nothing else was falling because he refused to stop shooting, but with the game on the line you never felt good about him firing.
59:57: They just showed a replay of a ridiculous phantom loose ball foul on Smith and Fratello announces it like there was an actual foul. I wonder if the weather is nice on the planet he lives on.
1:00:20: Cartwright looks like the awkward straight edge punk no one wanted to hang with at the old CBGB.
1:02:22: I made a Magic comp to Pippen last time I felt a little silly about on a re-read but he just nailed a baby hook Magic would’ve been proud of.
1:02:48: Yeah Jordan in the post again. Drew the double and dumped off to Cartwright, who looks like a stretched out version of one of those Gremlin/Troll things from Ernest Scared Stupid, and it was just matchup nightmares abound. They should’ve just run the offense through Jordan in the post, the Knicks had no answers.
1:03:05: Pippen with the insane fast twitch block/contest response to save an easy basket. It looked like he was attached to a high powered magnet with the other piece on the rim.
1:04:54: How was that not a charge on Gumby’s cousin Bill Cartwright.
1:05:34: The Bulls lead the Knicks in points off turnovers 19-4. That is not great. I just wonder what a cool headed, master ball handler would’ve done to crack this press and derail this entire misguided strategy. It worked but I can’t help but feel the Knicks totally played into it.
1:06:27: Aside from basketball Starks and Pippen were embroiled in a shitty pencil mustache competition. I give it to Pippen whose looks absolutely drawn on with a magnet and metal shavings.
1:07:25: Ewing just picked up a steal off Pippen, lead a break with his off hand and went up for a layup which Jordan blocked by swatting at his arm. He drew a foul but just an incredible display of grace and skill from the Center.
1:09:17: This will be the first time the Knicks have ever lost four in a row under Pat Riley.
1:09:31: Thanks to a lane violation on Bill Cartwright Ewing had the opportunity to miss three consecutive free throws and did. Cartwright has a speck of gray in his beard, which makes most men look distinguished but makes Cartwright look like there a dollop of dry shaving cream in his goatee.
1:09:57: Watching Jordan in depth like this with the years of history in between you can really actually understand the Kobe parallels. I also think it gives us a good idea of what Jordan would’ve been like if he emerged 15 years later. He of course largely made the league Kobe came into but just his game, his personality. What just prompted this is Jordan bricked this awful contested fade away shot at the end of the clock to go 8-18, but he did it with this absurd, pronounced, dramatic follow through and landing, backpedaling before the shot dropped ready to make it look all graceful. It reminds me of Kobe’s obnoxious one hand bent wrist arm up frozen follow through his his leg stuck out, something he rehearsed millions of times a week and probably only served to look cool while making his shot way less accurate or effective. There’s some strain of performative arrogant cool they both have that makes me hate them both so much.
1:12:44: Ewing just roasting in the deep mid-range. Knicks down 2.
1:14:51: This was the Knicks best regular season in 25 years.
1:17:03: The missed free throws are driving me crazy.
1:19:16: Whereas Pippen just missed one and it breaks a streak of 15 straight free throws made by the Bulls. We seriously lost this at the line, which is extremely aggravating. Also Pippen is just hitting fucking everything.
1:21:32: Yet another illegal defense on the Bulls.
1:24:30: End of the Third. Knicks 68, Bulls 71. At one point Bulls had led by 10. This looks promising!
1:25:19: Marv just called this a legacy game for the Knicks and said they’d be remembered for winning or losing this game. What he meant to say is they will either be remembered for winning this game or forgotten by everyone on Earth besides one odd Jewish 9 year old.
1:25:39: Loose ball foul on King for hooking. We didn’t do enough to exploit the front court mismatches. I’ve said it before but such an extreme discrepancy in size and skill.
1:26:32: Please go to this time stamp, rewind about five seconds and watch the insane elbow Jordan drops into GA that completely levels him and frees up Paxson for a wide open three. Then because GA was understandably angry he got a tech. Game breaker and an absurd no call. This officiating crew actually had to switch sports after this game and just called the NFC championship game over the weekend. I’ve been working and not paying attention did anything worthy of mention happen in that game?
1:28:25: Knicks are back on top with a 20 rebound advantage but the points off turnovers is probably neutralizing.
1:29:37: Mase with a layin for a total of 13 points. Really solid, consistent contributions this series as a role player.
1:31:38: Knicks got a break with a gift blocking foul. Starks was such an easy mark for pressure. Never responded with smart, in control play, always wild erratic scrambling shit.
1:34:37: The Knicks shot 90% from the line in the first half and 44% from the line in the second.
1:34:52: Riley looks truly miserable on the bench, like a guy who is randomly going to quit his job and move to Miami in a little over a year.
1:35:44: Great anecdote from Marv discussing the upcoming Western Conference Final game between Phoenix and Seattle. Sonics coach George Karl coached in the CBA and loved it, so much so he still would occasionally call a CBA hotline in the middle of the night after NBA games to check up on scores.
1:35:55: Stacy King has had way too large of a role in this game.
1:36:47: Marv is talking up the job Riley did coaching the Knicks. Pretty wild. 60 wins this season, the next year Game 7 of the NBA Finals, then he leaves. But to be fair, the offer he got from Miami was nuts and I don’t even know if I would’ve seen the logic in matching it at the time. The new owner Arison would give Riley 40 million, and even crazier, a 10% ownership stake in the team. It seemed like Riley’s move was less about ownership than power. The guy proved himself to be a hell of a better executive than Ernie Grunfeld and other schmucks like Thomas and Jackson combined. Fucking Knicks.
1:39:43: Patrick’s midrange post game was such a thing of beauty. Two point game with seven minutes to play, almost entirely because of his J.
1:41:39: The Bulls should just foul the Knicks everytime down court. “Hack-A-Anyone-On-The-Knicks” has a nice ring to it. No?
1:43:46: NBC just advertised The Tonight Show with Jay Leno followed by The Late Show with David Letterman. Didn’t realize they were following each other on the network at the same time.
1:43:57: Jordan was 3-9 in the second half and hadn’t scored in the Fourth Quarter to this point. Aside from one game he was not his best self in this series. Starks did an incredible job on him and this very much supports the idea the Knicks were their toughest matchup throughout the dynasty. Would’ve loved to run into them again during the second run.
1:47:14: Really wild sequence. Jordan has been utter dogshit. You can’t call this another masterful Jordan closeout performance. Not getting his teammates involved either. He’s just gunning and missing everything. Pippen has had way more to do with their success but it’s also total team effort and Knicks blowing some opportunities. Anyways, on this huge possession Jordan goes up for a shitty contested fade, front rims it, Bulls get the offensive rebound but Jordan isn’t even paying attention. He goes to the nearest ref and melts down, screaming at him as the possession continues. The ball swings around and ends up back in Jordan’s hands, he drives at Doc Rivers, and before there is even really the suggestion of contact the whistle blows. It was such an obvious makeup call for a non existent foul even Fratello comments on it. Jordan was such a fucking baby and the league would just placate him for acting like a petulant child. This is in the fourth quarter of a series deciding Eastern Conference Final game. Fucking gross.
1:48:33: Ewing just got way up and ripped a tough rebound in traffic. In the unlikely event some analytics guy is reading this can you Tweet or post something that explains the argument why Patrick Ewing is a bad rebounder? I just can’t see it and don’t even understand where it came from.
1:49:44: Some static with Doc and Jordan. Personally I think Doc would whip his ass.
1:50:22: Off yet another shitty call and two free throws Bulls are up seven with a minute and a half to play. Not looking great. Officiating and Pippen have definitely helped the Bulls but also the Knicks just haven’t seized this one the way they could’ve. The free throws are the obvious disaster but they just haven’t been playing smart, head down basketball. I just keep going back to Riley. Where is he in all this? We’re not making adjustments or forcing the Bulls to pay for their mistakes or stupidity, haven’t been capitalizing on our mismatches, lost opportunities abound in this game and this series.
1:51:13: Man. Knicks 1-9 from three. Starks 1-6. Also makes it tough. Ewing hits yet another gorgeous runner under pressure. This was a great effort from Patrick.
1:51:40: Fuck. Pippen with a dagger in response at the end of the shot clock. This was a signature game from him. Holy shit. He averaged 22 points a game, shot 51% from the field, seven rebounds and four assists. Those are Lebronish numbers.
1:54:50: Cartwright just came out to a standing O. He looks like a black republican.
1:55:02: Yet another big shot from Patrick. He was the whole team down the stretch.
1:58:55: Welp. Bulls win by eight. Push it up the floor for a final meaningless dunk at the buzzer with no defensive pressure. Starks and Jordan briefly have the least sincere congratulations exchange in the history of human communication. I think Pippen tries to pull Mase aside for the same thing and he cold shouldered and blew past him. Everyone looks pretty raw and pissed off.
Final Thoughts: It was a wildly frustrating series. The Bulls pull off a historic comeback. The Knicks let a historic advantage slip through their fingers. I’ll say that I came into this imagining I’d be consistently besides myself at the officiating. There were some egregious and game swinging moments for sure, but ultimately it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it’d be and while we can’t know what would have happened had the Knicks seriously threatened to knock off Jordan, we’ll never know for sure because they had ample opportunity to win some of these games and never took advantage. I would like to be more introspective and analytical right now but I’m frankly angry and wrung out. I’ll leave the poetry for the intro I haven’t written yet.
Still, the Knicks leave this series knowing how close they got to the Bulls. A scandal ridden Jordan was a mess in this series, only really showing up and dominating one game. The Knicks on the other hand have a great coach in Riley and a system everyone has bought into. The future is bright indeed. What could possibly go wrong?