‘The Last Dance’ episodes 5 and 6 will stink for Knicks fans
Well, look: We are nothing if not kind and generous souls here at Open Mike, so it’s probably best that you hear it from us:
Sunday night is going to stink.
If you are a Knicks fan, and if you are enjoying “The Last Dance” on ESPN, then you know that the inevitable is likely to happen with Sunday’s Parts 5 and 6 of the 10-part documentary. You are going to be transported back to Wednesday, June 2, 1993, Eastern Conference finals, Madison Square Garden. The first time in their history the Knicks ever played a game in June.
Known eternally as “The Charles Smith Game.”
That isn’t entirely fair, of course. Yes, that game ended under the Knicks’ basket with the ball in Smith’s hands, accidentally, because first John Starks and then Patrick Ewing tried, too early in the shot clock, to force shots before passing off — Starks to Ewing, then Ewing to Smith. The Knicks were down 95-94 with just under 10 seconds to go.
Smith, 6-foot-10, 230 pounds, is alone under the basket for a fraction of a second as the Garden, in full, frothy frenzy, waits to see him dunk the ball for a Knicks lead. Except, in the space of five harrowing, haunting seconds, five things happen:
Horace Grant blocks his first shot. Smith gets the rebound.
Michael Jordan strips him on his second try. Smith gets it back again.
Scottie Pippen blocks his third attempt. Smith gets it back again.
Pippen blocks Smith’s fourth shot.
Grant grabs the ball. He finds Jordan. Jordan finds B.J. Armstrong for the icing-on-the-cake layup at the buzzer that makes the final 97-94.
There are a slew of what-ifs that litter the nightmares of New York sports fans, and the worst of them are totally subjective and instantly recallable. But this game stands out simply because of what was lost by the Knicks’ mere inability to hold serve at a time when they were virtually invincible at home.
Because playing a game of sliding doors here, and playing forward a parallel universe in which Smith is able to lay (or slam) the ball in, is almost too wickedly masochistic to ponder if you’re a Knicks fan waiting 47 years for a championship, and who still has a hard time believing that splendid stretch of the ’90s didn’t yield a title.
(And let’s be clear here: this isn’t necessarily what WOULD have happened, merely one logical thread of what COULD have happened …)
The Knicks win that game (and yes, that would’ve meant dodging a last-second Jordan shot), probably lose Game 6 back in Chicago Stadium but win Game 7 at the Garden, where they were 37-4 during the regular season and 6-0 in the playoffs before Game 5. They advance to play the Suns, who would’ve had home-court, with whom the Knicks split two games during the season.
It’s no gimme that the Knicks beat the Suns, in what was easily Charles Barkley’s peak year, and with Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle as his chief wingmen. Still, Ewing would’ve been matched up with a Mark West/Oliver Miller tandem, and it’s hard to believe Ewing — also in peak form — wouldn’t have utterly decimated Phoenix. It’s certainly fair to believe they would’ve matched what the Bulls did: win in 6.
It’s what happens after that which, to me anyway, is truly fascinating. It’s impossible to believe Jordan retires after such a gut-wrenching loss (assuming you don’t believe the Oliver Stone theories attached to his first departure). So he remains a yearly presence — and threat — to the Knicks. And over the next six or seven years, the Bulls win their share of May and June battles, and so do the Knicks. The rise of the Pacers and Magic makes things interesting, too. The Heat probably never rise, because Riley likely never leaves.
But let’s focus on Bulls-Knicks, which was always the greatest of all theater even though, at full strength, the Knicks never — not once — beat the Bulls in five playoff tries. But if both teams were armed with O’Brien Trophies — maybe multiple ones — the dynamic is completely different. And the whole ’90s NBA landscape looks entirely different.
Anyway. Enjoy “Last Dance” Sunday night.
I understand that it’s fun for the old Bulls to pile on Jerry Krause now, and his record is fair game. But I have two questions for Phil Jackson in particular: 1) If Krause hadn’t personally rescued you from the CBA, how would you have enjoyed your career as the most popular phys ed teacher in Woodstock, N.Y.; and 2) Remind us again how did you do when you took a crack at being a GM?
Love him or hate him, you have to say this about Jerry Jones: He sure knows how to live his best life. I’d have to say the same thing about Kliff Kingsbury, too.
“Waco,” now available on Netflix, is a six-part limited series that feels like it flies by in six minutes. And it’s sure good to see whatever happened to old Tim Riggins from “Friday Night Lights.”
Good on SNY, which will be airing all five games of the 1969 World Series on all five nights this week at 7:30 p.m., including Game 1 Monday (and I don’t mean to be a spoiler here, but let’s say that flies in the face of the kinds of games team-affiliated networks normally show).
Whack Back At Vac
Howie Siegel: I am a long suffering Knicks fan (1966). Ken Atkinson is a fine selection, but my vote goes to Mike Miller. Remember how the team lit up so dramatically when he replaced David Fizdale? I guess this makes good bar-room debate. No matter what, James Dolan will stick his fingers in this and mess up any plan. Just ask Donnie Walsh.
Vac: Sadly, I fear that when things ever do break well for the Knicks — whatever decade that might occur in — their fans will be too stunned to be able to enjoy it much.
Robert Papp: As for Lookin’ Good New York Logos: Does that Devils logo not look like a wrench out of a Craftsman tool box? Just sayin’ …
Vac: That may not quite be the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo or the hidden “31” in Baskin-Robbins’ … but that’s not bad.
@JoeStatMan64: Great story on the Chernoffs. It shows the love between parent & child. I never had the joy of playing catch with my dad, he passed away July 18, 1966, I was 20 months old. The first time I saw “Field of Dreams,” was with my friend John at his home in New Jersey. He said, “pay attention to the ending.”
@MikeVacc: Whenever people debate the merits of “Field of Dreams” as a movie, I always find it irrelevant. Whatever you feel about what comes before, if you aren’t moved by the ending, you don’t feel, period. Having a simple catch just strikes to the very heart of so much about who we are, doesn’t it?
Richard T. Dunne: Mike, love the column, but the Lion was cowardly and, hence, no longer scared after he got his testimonial in the form of a badge of courage! The Scarecrow got a brain! He was never scared.
Vac: I should be sentenced to having those terrifying flying monkeys invade my dreams for making that mistake.
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