Wednesday, March 01, 2006

4.6.87 & 4.14.93: call it a comeback, or two

This week MSG, probably in response to a big ratings boost courtesy of this blog, has decided to run 2 episodes of "Knicks 101" instead of 1. Which means I will be watching 2 episodes instead of 1. MSG, you could rebroadcast the entire '86-'87 (24-58) season and I'd suck down every minute like it was one big banana milkshake.

But I cannot and will not watch your crummy '05-'06 edition. Nothing personal, I swear. I have no anger towards them. They're just bad in a way that to me is intergalactically depressing. All that money. All those problems.

Let's get on to the games. The first game, chronologically by original game date, is the Knicks-Sixers contest from 4.6.87. Oddly, sadly really, I HAVE THIS GAME ON A VHS TAPE FROM ITS ORIGINAL AIRDATE.

The significance of this game is that it was Dr. J's last game ever at MSG. Now I hate it, hate it, hate it when people refer to anything from the world of sports or pop culture as "important," but I am going to go ahead and say this: Julius Winfield Erving III was one of the most important basketball players of all time. Maybe THE most important.

There were other guys who did it first, sure, and maybe there've been lots of guys since who did it better, but nobody did it the way he did it when he did it. Dr. J singlehandedly brought the game into the modern era. If you want proof, go back and watch some of his highlights from the 70's. He was a man among boys and a true artist soaring above a league of clock-punching pick and rollers.

His move against the Lakers in the 1980 finals is way better than Jordan's nifty but seriously overrated dipsy do against the Lakers in '91. Hopefully everyone knows this so I don't have to explain why.

And what do you make of this?

Jesus. That looks like a cartoon. The dimensions of the photo can't even contain his afro. I think Lonnie Shelton retired immediately following that play.

So this game, this otherwise meaningless game from the end of the lost '86-'87 season, was New York's chance to show some respect to one of their own. Doc was from Long Island and was also a Rucker fixture in the wild summers of the 70's. One of my favorite Dr. J stories was about a game at Rucker where an opponent undercut him. The next time Doc got the ball on the break, that opponent was back on defense to challenge the shot. Doc dunked on his arm and broke the guy's wrist in the process. "It was at that point," Doc said, "that I realized Damn, I'm nasty."

4.6.87 was an emotional game, as it should have been. The fans were going nuts for Doc; they understood. The NBA was just getting to the point where they were smart enough to give a retiring star of Erving's magnitude a victory lap around the league. In each city, the fans would turn out and cheer him and the team would give him some sort of stupid gift. Even when it was ridiculous, it was kind of nice. This was a typical scene:

Predictably, the Knicks botched the ceremony in such spectacular fashion that I might not believe it if I hadn't seen it again today.

First of all, they gave Erving a trip to Australia that they announced by presenting him with a baby kangaroo. Then a giant aspirin supposedly signed by every NBA player (although it looked like it only had like 30 signatures on it). Then, and here's the good part, they brought out a series of famous "doctors" to send him off into the sunset. The roster:
-DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) - wtf?
-Dr. Joyce Brothers - wtff?*
-Dr. Ruth Westheimer - wtfff?**
-Doc from Snow White - wtffff?***
-Dr. Frank Field - isyn****

The game itself was exciting, the Knicks came back from 24 down to win, the greatest comeback in franchise history. Observations:

1) This was a tremendous game for Kenny Walker. He was scoring and jumping and he had one of the greatest blocks I've ever seen (on Steve Colter).
2) Steve Colter. That's all I need to say about that.
3) Rory Sparrow was the co-host for this game, and he remains an appealing, sweet man twenty years down the road. He was also Deion's favorite Knick for some reason.
4) The on-screen factoids are getting good (although they look terrible). One of tonight's mentioned the video game "Dr. J and Larry Bird go one one one." I loved that game. Deion had it on the computer at his dad's office. Remember how you could break the backboard? I also remember reading at the time how the game designers had spent countless hours with both players, studying their moves so they could incorporate them into the game. Please.
5) I don't want to get into a whole era vs. era discussion, but I think it's safe to say that the bad players then were MUCH worse than the bad players now. Today, the NBDL and the overseas leagues are chock full of really good players, guys who were big stars at major colleges but just aren't quite good enough to make the NBA. Then, the CBA was full of plankton, and the Knicks were the hungriest whale in the league. Listen to these names: McNealy.***** Cavenall. Bannister. Cofield. Thornton. Now try to remember any of them ever doing anything that demonstrated a measurable basketball skill. You can't.
6) Erving gave a great speech at halftime, despite being awkwardly flanked by Dr. Frank Field and DeForest Kelley (wearing a stethoscope!).
7) Sneaker watch: Converse Weapons, Nike Air Force II's, and Avia 830's. In my life, I've owned multiple pairs of each. To tell you the truth, they all look kinda good to me now.
8) This game featured about ten great dunks, several by Walker and a couple of fierce ones from Roy Hinson. I thought he'd amount to more, but I guess the knees caught up to him.
9) You hear all the time that Barkley wasn't really 6'6" as listed but was actually closer to 6'4". I never really believed it but then tonight I saw him standing next to Gerald Wilkins and he was definitely a couple inches smaller. Wow. What a specimen. About 280 gravity-defying pounds, and in short shorts he was a sight to behold -- I haven't seen that much flesh jiggle that dangerously underneath so little fabric since I saw Hookers at the Point on HBO a couple of years ago. Still, an amazing and entertaining player. He finished this game with 27 points and 22 rebounds.
10) John Andariese on Kenny Walker attempting to shoot free throws when Barkley had actually fouled Bill Cartwright and not Walker: "Walker definitely felt something. Maybe it was Barkley's breath." This was a follow-up to an earlier discussion between Andariese and Marv Albert in which they said that Jawann Oldham had been very intimidated by Barkley's physical play, particularly his breath.
11) Jake O'Donnell worked the game. I miss Jake.
12) At 37, Dr. J was still one of the most athletic guys on the court. He was sort of basketball's answer to Nolan Ryan, a physical marvel who refused to give in to age. He never became a three point shooter, he never became a 15 minute a night guy. He did switch to guard but he would still flush it in your grill if you gave him a seam. Here's a fascinating 1976 interview with Doc. You're welcome.

That's about it. A fine entry on MSG's part. And now on to game 2, from 4.14.93, Knicks-Charlotte. Another great Knicks comeback. Just some observations on this one:
1) Every time Starks checks in I am filled with anticipation the same way I am when Christopher Walken walks on screen in a movie. You know you are about to see something. It might be good, it might be terrible, but it will be memorable.
2) Greg Anthony had a few good moments but for the most part reminded me how much I hated him. He was pounding the ball incessantly, and at one point he attempted to break the press with a behind the back dribble between two defenders. Turnover. Knucklehead.
3) Of all the players in this game, only one remains active, and interestingly it's the guy with the life-threatening disease: Alonzo Mourning. He was really a robust young player then and tremendously intense.
4) Ro Blackman was pretty much toast, although he did have a good game with like 12 points, almost all of it on wide open jumpers. I never really saw him much when he was at his best. In this game, against the backdrop of the steroid-inflated 90's Knicks front line, he was definitely a man out of time with his saggy boddy and shorts and his funny haircut. Still, I liked him a lot and I wish we had gotten him three years before we did.
5) Mason was breaking the press in this game. Remember when we all first learned that he had a handle? At first it was just a novelty, a cool sight to see a tank like that spinnning and putting it between his legs, etc. But eventually, it became an important feature of his game.
6) Marv was testy all game, it makes you wonder if he was on the receiving end of some angry hotel sex earlier that day. Or if one of his ladies had called to cancel on him. Or if his panties were too tight.
7) Larry Johnson looked like the second coming. Much better than everyone else. Between him and Mourning and Gill and Bogues, they looked set for the next twelve years. But things often don't happen the way they should.
8) Sidney Green was so bad you wonder how he could ever have been a schoolyard legend in NYC.
9) An aging Gminski briefly considered going after Oak following a flagrant foul, then wisely reconsidered.
10) Allan Bristow was a whiny bitch on the sidelines and he had a constant scowl that seemed to say, "I have no idea what I'm doing, but maybe if I look angry enough nobody will bother me about it."

Keep 'em coming, MSG!

* wtff = what the fucking fuck
** wtfff = what the fucking fuckety fuck
*** wtffff = what the fuck fucking fuckety fuck
**** isyn = i shit you not
***** BJL thinks McNealy was the first-ever NBA player on steroids.