There is something about a good brawl that gets the fan loyalty going. Maybe it’s the togetherness of a team in combat, the us vs. them ideal, or perhaps the scrappy underdog fighting mentality. No matter the cause, a good brawl and it’s proceeding rivalry brings a team and its fans together on a deeper level. No longer are we rooting for the team to win, we are rooting for them to survive and conquer. Victory in the game becomes secondary to victory in battle. Brawls may be bad for a game’s image, but nothing beats the intensity of a good physical rivalry highlighted by a few haymakers.
Now I have had my complaints about Isiah Thomas. Honestly, I wouldn’t be more pleased if he was no longer associated with the Knicks. However, after this weekend’s throwdown between the Knicks and Nuggets, I am much more likely to pull for this team. No, I am not ending the boycott. But I do like the thought of a hardnosed fighting team that might lose every game compared to a well-behaved undefeated team.
Watching the Knicks fight the Nuggets brought back memories of brighter, more violent days when the Knicks took no guff and threw down with little hesitation – consequences be damned. Whether it was a Starks headbutt, an Oakley elbow, or a Van Gundy leg-lock – whatever it took to win. In honor of the Knicks showing some life and togetherness, The Serious Tip presents the best Knicks fights of the last 13 years.
Knicks vs. Suns, April 1993: Twenty-one players were fined and three suspended when former Knicks guard and current Celtics headcoach Doc Rivers went a round with Suns guard Kevin Johnson. And in a clip you might not see on ESPN too often, then-injured Knicks backup guard and current ESPN analyst Greg Anthony left the bench in his street clothes to join the squabble.
Knicks vs. Pacers, May 1993: The Knicks-Pacers rivalry was always like a good opening act before the Eastern Conference’s headlining Knicks-Bulls series. One year before Reggie Miller went lights out and drew the ire of Spike Lee and Knicks fans everywhere, he was the recipent of a flying headbutt by John Starks. Give credit where credit is due – it wasn’t Mike Tyson or Zidane who made the sports headbutt famous, it was John Starks.
Knicks vs. Bulls, May 1994: Although the Knicks and Bulls engaged in possibly the most intense NBA rivalry of the mid-90s, only once did they come to blows. During the game better known as “The Game Scottie Pippen Sat Out”, Derek Harper and Bulls guard JoJo English duked it out at the top of the key. Although only Harper and English were involved, the fight eventually spilled into the stands right in front of Commissioner/Fuhrer David Stern. (Ranked 4th in a pre-Artest melee SportCenter Top Ten here).
Knicks vs. Heat, May 1997: With the Indiana Pacers sliding from playoff significance, the Knicks found a new opening round rival in former coach Pat Riley and the Miami Heat. While none of these games could ever be confused with the recent high-scoring Suns-Nets game, they made for great entertainment in their own plodding, tight defensive ways.
Of all the Knicks-Heat skirmishes, perhaps none was more intense than Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. With the Knicks down by nearly 20 points and the game winding down, Charlie Ward attempted to box out Heat forward P.J. Brown after a free-throw. Angered by what Heat fans refer to as an “undercut”, Brown picked up Ward and flipped him to the ground. Conveniently, as the referees stood in front of the Heat bench preventing the Miami team from joining the ruckus, the Knicks players came to the aid of their fallen comrade. Consequently, every Knicks player who left the bench was suspended, costing the Knicks the following game and eventually the series.
Knicks vs. Heat, May 1998: In Round 2 of the Heat-Knicks War, former Charlotte Hornet teammates Larry Johnson and the Alonzo Mourning threw down in Game 4 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Yes, this was the game former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy clung to Mourning’s leg like a pitbull. In what a Knicks fan can only call poetic justice, Mourning was forced to sit out the deciding Game 5 and the Knicks defeated the Heat and moved on to face the Indiana Pacers. (Ranked Number One in the SportsCenter Top Ten here.)
Knicks vs. Lakers, April 2000: Although I never had much positive to say about Chris Childs (I thought Charlie Ward was clearly better), I disliked him a little less when he exchanged fisticuffs with Kobe Bryant. First a headbutt (a Knicks tradition), then a right, then a left – word to the wise, never mess with a sober Chris Childs.
Knicks vs. Spurs, January 2001: After a physical game of elbows and jostling for position, Marcus Camby attempted to take his anger out on Spurs forward Danny Ferry. Unfortunately, this is the most embarrassing of the Knicks battles as Camby not only tried to sucker punch Ferry, but as Jeff Van Gundy stepped between the two players, Camby’s punch missed and he inadvertently headbutted Van Gundy, cutting open the coach’s face and requiring numerous stitches. (Ranked Number 2 in the aforementioned SportsCenter Top Ten here). No wonder Camby wasn’t a factor in the recent fracas, he might have knocked out Carmelo Anthony.
Knicks vs. Bulls, January 2006 – In a game that can only be described as eventful, Maurice Taylor and Chicago’s Chris Duhon mixed it up and Antonio Davis went into the stands to the defense of his wife. Not at the same time of course.
(Interesting side note: A few years ago I attended an FSU-Duke game back when Chris Duhon was playing for the Blue Devils. Through a connection I was able to get seats three rows from the Duke bench in the Duke family section. Great seats. So my friend Zheke and I are sitting there cheering on the Seminoles and Chris Duhon’s mother turns around and yells at us for sitting where we were and not rooting for Duke. We tried to explain that we weren’t bad-mouthing the Blue Devils or her son, we were just rooting for Florida State. Apparently this wasn’t good enough for Ms. Duhon. Whatever, lady. Needless to say I am a little biased against Chris Duhon. But I digress.)
So that brings us to this weekend and the first NBA brawl since Ron Artest took on Detroit Rock City. Although the pundits, analysts (including the aforementioned Greg Anthony), and prognosticators may all bemoan the return of pugilism to the basketball hardwood, for Knicks fans it’s just like old times.