Relitigating the 1994 NBA Finals: Game 5 — A Dream You Dream Alone

Originally interrupted by a critical moment in American culture, Abe Beame surveys this significant Knicks/Rockets game.
By    April 21, 2020

Please support the uncrowned champions of pop culture writing by subscribing to Passion of the Weiss on Patreon.

Abe Beame wore his mint condition John Starks jersey for his viewing of ‘The Last Dance’ premiere.

At this point it’s a cliche, bad journalism and lazy writing to make everything we’re trying to discuss, no matter how flimsily tied or arcane, to the insane global quarantine we’re currently mired in. No, Lebron dancing to “Walk Down”, 5G and “Karen as a racial slur” is not about this no matter how many lengths of yarn you try to connect them with on a corkboard. But I have to admit, sitting on a porch, on a bizarre remote acre of land in upstate New York, watching my children working out their energy after spending a few hours in “school” on my laptop, it feels appropriate that we’ve reached Game 5 in this series.

The OJ Simpson saga, as has been covered ad nauseum over the past five years, was a sea change moment in American life. It was a microcosm of many of the strands whipping around our society and collective consciousness: Race, class, the criminal justice system, celebrity and civility. The story of OJ was in many ways a national metaphor, the dying warmth emitted from a television recently turned off.

But I remember it as the first ahistorical, disruptive moment in my life. Before OJ, something as sacred and holy as network television could only be interrupted by a president dying. I was 6 when the Gulf War was in full swing, 10 the day of game 5, it was a big difference. I was shocked and dismayed that they would interrupt a critical rubber match with the Knicks in the NBA Finals in New York, that anything could be important enough to do that. Suddenly the news wasn’t this white noise, wasn’t something you suffered through during social studies, it was this living breathing thing that had come for me and the squad. 

The moment was shocking, the most surreal moment of my young life as a fan, besides the end of the Charles Smith game, of course. The white Bronco crawling down the freeway was a nuisance for us fans trying to live through an ahistorical moment of our own, but as details began to stream in it rivaled my attention. It was stunning. It was pulp. It was soap. Were we really about to watch OJ Simpson from The Naked Gun series commit suicide on live television? Did this mean he had actually murdered his ex-wife? You could hear Simpson in the static of Al Cowling’s dispatches.

According to urban legend, OJ had Al slow the Bronco so they could hear the conclusion of the Knicks game they were interrupting, but the high drama of the moment from the outside makes it hard for me to believe they were capable of considering any external factors as ancillary as a basketball game. I remember the mental picture I painted of OJ in the back of the car with a gun placed to his sweat drenched temple, finger twitching as it hovered over the trigger. 

And it was only the beginning. The trial would grip the nation, it dominated David Letterman’s monologues when I was able to stay up late enough to sneak some in — same for Saturday Night Live. It dominated every newspaper and magazine front page for the entirety of the ordeal. When the verdict was finally announced a year and four months later, I would watch it live, on a television my 6th grade teacher wheeled into the classroom in the middle of our school day. It was a part of our lives, and eventually, it wasn’t an unwanted intrusion. I was fascinated by it. 

I believe that while subsequent events like 9/11, the beginning of Shock and Awe, the housing collapse in 2008 and this world-altering mind and body fuck are much more serious and life changing, in many ways OJ primed us for these moments. It was the end of a century and the beginning of a rapid scrambling of our way of life, an introduction to new, frighteningly volatile times. Before that moment, my life and routine seemed like an implacable incontrovertible fact. In the grand scheme of things it’s incredibly banal, but having game five interrupted by O.J.’s Bronco was the first time I became aware of the fragility of my existence. How suddenly, and stunningly, everything can change.

1:05: Costas is coming in hot with a schmaltzy intro. Entirely focused on Riley and the ghost of the 70s championship Knicks. A LOT of wordplay. Pretty sure Andy Borowitz wrote the copy on this.

1:28: If you actually get the chance to run this back and watch, it’s wildly offensive. They’re setting up this NBA Finals matchup between the two best teams in the league and some of its most talented players like it’s a WWII tank battle, or an NCAA game in the 50s, like this is all about the coaches playing chess and matching intellect. Real pundit narrative horseshit.

2:01: I haven’t been in the city for a few weeks and the helicopter shot of the Garden just made me extremely homesick. 

2:23: Costas’ suit is 35% shoulder pads. 

3:38: Marv and Guokas are coming in by making the story of the series one determined by the backcourt, which as we discussed previously, has been the margin. 

4:55: They’re painting this series as the Hakeem show thus far with no support which was not really the case. The Rockets won two games in which Hakeem completely and totally disappeared in the fourth. It’s been a full team effort. 

5:25: When I was a kid I used Speed Stick deodorant and I now wonder if it’s because they were a sponsor of the NBA on NBC and if advertising actually works and if my whole life is a lie. 

5:41: I’m at a point in the quarantine where the sight of the garden completely packed for a playoff game hurts my heart.

5:45: How fucking sad is this sign + mustache combo?

9:39: A few days ago, Oak came out and blamed Patrick for our inability to win a title and it is seriously affecting my ability to love him unconditionally with all of my heart which is really inconvenient. 

10:23: Hannah Storm is wearing three layers tonight, a blazer, a bottom white crewneck undershirt, then in between, what appears to be a V neck print that looks like it was maid out of Eddie Murphy’s crown piece in the “Remember the Time” music video. 

11:32: For years, I have had these worshipful, deified memories of Derek Harper and I always kind of questioned if maybe I had built him up to be more than he was, but watching this series I now only feel badly for not loving him as much as he deserved. 

12:06: Welp. Sorry but I still love Oak. Mom and Dad fight sometimes. Get over it.

14:12: Completely insane loose ball on Ewing. I really feel the league did not want the Knicks to win this series. 

15:04: The 94 Rockets were one of the most boom or bust teams I’ve ever seen. When analytics guys tell you momentum isn’t a real thing and it doesn’t exist make them watch this series.

15:19: Kenny Smith hit a 3 and it was like Mclellan finally winning a battle. 

15:32: Derek Harper was such a brief and special presence in my young life. He was Peter Pan.

16:54: Rockets are trying to break rhythm, they’re whipping the ball around, getting up and down and trying to control the pace. 

17:15: I don’t understand how this late in the series you can let Patrick step into a pullup when he’s been torching you four straight games. Automatic bucket.

18:06: When Oak was dialed in his jumper was just as deadly. Harper is forcing tempo and taking the fight to the Rockets. I love it.

18:48: There’s something about Oakley’s jerseys in particular that made it look like he got it along with a $40 Gucci clutch on Canal Street.

20:48: The Charles Smith experience allows me to empathize and sympathize with what it must’ve been like for my parents to raise me growing up.

21:07: The Knicks just played matador and Mad Max destroyed a small village.

21:55: Great news New York: Kenny Smith is looking for his shot. 

22:42: The Knicks are unconcerned with the pace you think they need to play at. They can push with the best of them.

22:58: Wow. Missed this until the replay. Oak threw an overhand outlet bounce pass strike to Starks in stride between bodies to set up an easy transition layup. King shit.

25:11: Derek Harper on Kenny Smith: “I don’t think he likes ball pressure”, “You can bother some guys, and Kenny is one of those guys.” Fellas………….. Lmaooooooo

25:24: Starks bodying up and drawing an offensive on Mad Max on some Lowry shit.

26:05: My god Derek. Here’s Marvelous: “To this point Derek Harper has been the most valuable player of the Finals. He has put together three terrific games.”  

27:01: Otis Thorpe just bent at the knees and is visibly upset for the first time in his entire life.

27:40: Carl Hererra was such a fucking clown. Of course Sam facilitates the whole thing.

28:26: The Knicks staff mopping the floor and working courtside are wearing full body Knicks Starter windbreaker suits and look like they could be hanging out outside of Satriale’s.

30:53: Riles is discussing benching Mase during the season, and basically he says the reason he reconciled with Mase is not because Mase did anything to make amends or Riley hates him less but because he didn’t want to cost the veterans a shot at a championship which is hilarious. 

31:40: Fucking Guppy.

32:03: I seriously recommend checking this time stamp to see this Ewing putback. 

32:33: I’m surprised what a nonfactor Elie has been in this series. I remember hating him but at least up to this point he’s done nearly nothing. 

33:09: Cassell in this series is a great instance of why stats can be misleading. His numbers don’t tell the story of what a crucial spark plug he was to this offense in basically every game.

33:39: I don’t think three generations of Carl Herrera’s family have typed his name as much as I have working on this series. 

34:22: Mase was so fucking good. It’s back and forth right now but feels like we’re up 20. 

34:47: Welcome to the Carl Herrera show folks.

36:13: In a pre-taped interview Carl just said if the Rockets win the chip it’s going to be a big wild party in the streets of Venezuela. I really hope he went through with this and no one showed up.

37:00: Oak just punked Chris Jent, and Hakeem late on a double with a crazy hook. Fuck. Sorry. I still love Oak.

37:53: First OJ sighting. It comes in off a commercial break, sounds like Brokaw on the call? I’m going to write this as I’m watching to try to replicate the experience of watching it live, which I haven’t in 26 years. For reference: This was the day OJ was served with the warrant for killing Ron and Nicole. He disappeared earlier in the day with Cowlings and now has resurfaced on the freeway. I thought maybe I was dramatic thinking OJ might kill himself at the time but the newscast just reminded me OJ said in a letter, “I can’t go on.”

40:29: So from that cut away at 6:39 left in the second half we tune back into the game with 5:57 left to play. Pretty wild. 

41:22: We were deadass Chris Jent hunting on offense.

41:50: Who was putting up more in the weight room: Mase or Oak?

43:50: *Hits blunt* It’s crazy that the Knicks were built around Patrick, but then secondarily around these twin bulldozing yet skilled forwards who could do a little of everything on both sides of the ball (particularly Mase). Is there any other team in the history of the league with similar construction? I’ve wondered this before but what is Anthony Mason’s evolutionary scale? Is he just one of one? 

44:21: Man, what a two way play. Ewing denies Thorpe coming in for what would’ve been a blatantly disrespectful dunk, Harper pushes in transition, gets fouled and gets a goaltend on the layup. 

48:10: Patrick CLEANING THE GLASS.

48:50: We’re back on the Bronco going down the Santa Ana Freeway. NBC cut out with 1:40 to play in the half and the Knicks up seven. OJ has allegedly told a dispatcher he wants to go see his mother. Totally normal stuff. 

50:20: Back to the game, 50 seconds left on the clock. Missed an altercation between Hakeem and Mase after Hakeem caught Mase in the face with an elbow on a pivot holding the ball up in the post. Despite the reach, gotta believe Mase would be a 4-1 favorite if they squared up in a ring.

51:03: The answer was to give a personal and tech to Mase, which makes no fucking sense. His personal was getting caught in the face with an elbow. Some real Kobe/Bibby shit right there.

51:21: My bad, he actually hits Mase in the jaw with BOTH elbows as he swings them over the top. 

51:58: I’ll take an aside here for a moment and just say I really am not sure what Oak was talking about referring to Patrick’s leadership. He is directly in Mase’s grill right now dressing him down and calming him down and he’s constantly doing shit like this on the sidelines with the entire team on camera both this year and last. What do you want from the man Oak?

53:19: Getting chippy folks! Horry takes a cheap shot on Mase going up for a dunk, and you’ll never believe this, but Starks and Mad Max take it personal, elevate the situation and get hit with double techs.

56:23: This cut completely skips halftime, which presumably was a lot of OJ, which is a bummer. 

56:53: I said this before but it bears repeating: this series was a story of the backcourts. 

57:48: Wonder what it was about these two teams in this series that produced so many second half lulls, players or whole teams coming out of the locker room flat.

59:04: Starks with a fucking ridiculous reverse layup going up and under the rim along the baseline. Knicks up 10. 

59:31: It wasn’t just Kenny Smith, Mad Max has been off the last few games. Will be interested to see how he responds as the Rockets regain control of the series.

59:38: Charles Smith just drew a foul on Horry under the Knicks basket. Horry was attempting a charge and ended up against the stanchion and I’m pretty sure you can hear him castigating himself as “Fucking stupid!” Which I thoroughly agree with. 

1:00:05: Charles Smith’s mediocre free throw shooting speaks to his general inability to capitalize on inconceivable physical gifts and just underscores my belief he was a lazy human being. 

1:01:41: On cue Smith with a fantastic strip on Hakeem. Then takes it to the rack on the other end and draws a shooting foul on Hakeem and misses the first free throw. His career in a sequence.

1:02:38: Knicks are throttling Hakeem and the Rockets, who are also kind of flat, continuing the trend. 

1:03:43: Guokas just made an actual great point that one of the main issues holding back the Rockets offense was Kenny Smith’s inability to penetrate. Harper and Greg Anthony did a fantastic job keeping him out of the paint and moving laterally. It’s why Cassell was such a crucial table setter for them.

1:05:27: I have no justification for this imagery but Ewing just looked like Jaws on this fucking MONSTER slam.

1:05:38: Ironically, Rockets call timeout and before heading to the sideline Patrick approaches Oak and pumped him up at halfcourt. I’d like to remind Charles Oakley we lost this series by the slimmest possible margin. If we had this chip “Patrick’s leadership” is a complete non-issue. Such a bummer to see these guys putting in work together with this bullshit story in the back of my mind.

1:05:54: Back on OJ. We’re now on the San Diego Freeway. The crazy shit is there were other people ahead of OJ on the freeway who were constantly pulling over. Wonder what would of happening if someone was just like, “Fuck it, ima beat the traffic.” Back to coverage of the game just after the timeout. I wonder if they delayed for a moment or two to sync up with the coverage. 

1:08:40: Patrick just drilled a fucking three. Do we really have to keep playing?

1:09:33: No one in the history of human events has been more scared than Kenny Smith was in traffic in this series. 

1:11:52: Back to OJ in a particularly smoggy and dystopian Brentwood. We’re the virus people. OJ’s mom was waiting for him at the house apparently? He also straight up told the dispatcher he was going to hurt himself. Somehow I had forgotten all of this. OJ is now in the driveway and it’s very apparent the media and police on scene are basically waiting for him to kill himself. 

1:14:00: The legend that OJ slowed the ride to listen to the game on the radio should be fully debunked because we’re still in the third quarter with plenty of game left. Brokaw keeps playing up the death penalty angle.

1:19:00: Wow. Brokaw just called end of the third. Somehow it’s a tie game when the Knicks were in control. There was 3:54 left in the third with the Knicks up six when they called time out and went to commercial break before this cut away

1:20:01: OJ released what Brokraw described as a suicide note to the public earlier this day, and adjusted his will. In the note OJ says he couldn’t go on because regardless of the outcome for the rest of his life people would stop and point. Pretty accurate, to the point Brokaw responded “No one could argue with that conclusion.”

1:23:19: It is high key nutty how much of this NBA Finals game we’re missing. I watched it live in 1994 and am currently writing on it and did a little background before I started and was still completely unprepared for the amount of time we’re spending in Brentwood. 

1:28:14: I’ve stayed in hotels smaller than OJ’s crib.

1:34:02: Finally back. 6:55 in the fouth. Knicks up one, 72-71. Missed nine minutes of game play. 

1:34:14: Marvelous is basically apologizing for the broadcast coming back to an NBA Finals game in full swing. It was just helicopters drifting aimlessly over OJ’s house and partked Bronco. Goes to show you how inevitable it seemed something fucked up was about to go down.

1:34:36: Aaaaaand almost immediately a check in with Chuck Scarborough at the local desk recapping all the OJ shit we just saw. 

1:35:24: For anyone who was curious the Rockets got back in the game by closing the third on an 18-5 run. 

1:36:06: Patrick has been extremely active around the basket. 

1:38:22: Hakeem was about to have an extremely damning series of possessions where he was squared up with Patrick on both sides and got the best of the exchange but Oak just bailed out what was on the verge of what could have been a lethal turnover. 

1:38:51: I have absolutely no clue why Kenny Smith is in the game. Absolute non-factor. 

1:39:42: There was just an egregious bare contact shooting foul called on Oak guarding Hakeem. I gotta say, Last year I expected to be way more pissed off at the way Jordan was officiated against the Knicks in the ECF, but at least now, having sat through four games, it seems like the league was legitimately in the bag for the Rockets in this series. 

1:41:09: Interesting how thus far in the series, the nights Hakeem really has had it going, the Rockets have lost. His stats in the series are phenomenal but I think watching this start to finish would surprise those who remember it as a dominant performance. 

1:41:19: And on that note, series scapegoat John Starks just hit what must be his 30th huge shot in this series. 

1:43:00: NBC and Miller Genuine Draft really twisting the knife with a throwback to 1970 when we beat the Lakers in an iconic performance without Willis Reed. 

1:45:00: Starks just pulled up in Max’s face for the over the hump three to put us up one. 

1:45:05: Some real malpractice here by Rudy T keeping Kenny in.

1:45:23: Kenny bricked a three then Herrera got blocked going up after an offensive rebound. Rudy is bugging with this lineup and I’m pretty sure the Rockets just pissed this game away. 

1:48:44: Cassell and Thorpe back in with 1:37 left but absolutely bizarre patterns by Rudy in what I think they looked at as a must win at the time. 

1:49:07: Once again, for a team that was so rote and listless in half court sets, we were pure magic in transition.

1:51:56: Starks is impervious to situation and conventional wisdom. He’s a ray gun forever set to kill. 

1:53:28: Rockets just had a bit of a Charles Smith Game moment. So many opportunities at the rim and nothing doing.

1:54:55: Cassell just fouled out. How many times has that ever happened?

1:57:47: Hakeem just hit a three with what has to be the most revolting form I’ve ever seen. Looked like a guy pulled out of the crowd heaving a half court shot to win a Prius. 

 1:58:49: In addition to the OJ mishegas this was the day of the Rangers ticker tape parade. 

2:02:20: Starks basically single handedly won this game for us in the fourth. So unfair he has to wear this series for the rest of his life. A very against brand snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat. Great win. 

Ewing v. Olajuwon Watch: Patrick: 25 points, 12 rebounds, 1 assist, 8 BLOCKS. Hakeem: 27 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 blocks. 

Another blowout, this time going the other way. Patrick absolutely owned Hakeem. He was a menace on the boards, dominant protecting the rim, was an inside/outside threat, it was all working. Hakeem got bullied. Ewing now is up in my game by game scoring 3-2. 

Final Thoughts: The Rockets simply have few answers for the Knicks when they’re playing at this level. It’s slow erosion over 48 minutes and by the last quarter there’s nothing left. Derek Harper is a backcourt unto himself. Max, Kenny Smith and Elie are all but invisible. The front court is a push but you can see Hakeem is starting to break down. The Knicks are one win away from an NBA Championship. What could possibly go wrong?

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!