Hate and Respect
MJ’s legacy, seen through the eyes of a Knicks fan.
“Thanks for the memories, even though they weren’t so great”
The name “Michael Jordan” requires no explanation: He is indisputably the greatest player of all-time. For 15 years, he dazzled basketball opponents, teammates and fans with talent never before seen in the NBA. He scored at will, and he did it with class. He played defense, and did so better than any one at his position. And he jumped so high that the air seemed to be his second hardwood.
Today is the day to remember it all: He will be inducted into basketball’s Hall of Fame. Every NBA fan can appreciate what he did for the game. Chicago can thank him gratefully. But for New York Knicks fans, remembering the Jordan years requires a balancing act. When Jordan is officially enshrined in Springfield, MA, the New York faithful will once again have to figure out how to reconcile two forces – hate and respect.
M stands for ‘Mike’s’ at MSG
For MJ, NY was a second home. The Brooklyn-born prodigy played his first game on the big stage (the seventh game of his rookie season) at Madison Square Garden. He squared up against the Knicks’ four-time all star Bernard King and stole the show. Thirty-three points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks later, Jordan handed the Knicks a 121-106 loss, and earned a one minute standing ovation for it. Only a select few opponents (all are future Hall of Famers) have earned that honor in the Garden since. Respect.
In April 1988, Jordan had what some consider his career-defining game. Against the Knicks, Jordan netted 47 points and gave the Bulls their first 50-win season, single-handedly ending New York’s postseason hopes with a 121-118 victory. He embarrassed New York legend Patrick Ewing by dunking over the 7-footer (see photo). After the game, the then-Knicks coach Rick Pitino was still in awe: “You can’t stop Jordan. He was like Superman, and I didn’t have any Kryptonite.”
The funniest part is Jordan had the flu that week, did not practice, and barely slept before Tuesday night’s game. Respect.
There never seemed to be any Kryptonite to use against Jordan in MSG. Coming into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 1993, New York won 27 consecutive games at the Garden. Jordan was impervious. After a 54-point performance the night before against NY, he recorded a triple-double (29 points, 10 rebounds, 14 assists) and blocked a potential game winning Charles Smith lay-up at the end of regulation to end the Knicks run. Hate.
Roughly two years since sinking Spike Lee’s heart that 1993 postseason, Jordan returned to the Garden in what became known as his famous “double nickel” game. “His Airness” scored 55 points in only his fifth game since his 17-month retirement. He also scored what proved to be the game-winning jumper over John Starks. During the game, Marv Albert recalled how MJ always turned things up an extra gear at the Garden. After the first six shots of the game, Albert prophesized, “He wants 50 to 60.” When well on his way, Albert knew retirement didn’t affect his game at all: “He’s going for the throat.” Respect.
John Starks, Defensive Enforcer (*cough-cough*)
While every team in the NBA realized the futility of guarding Jordan one-on-one, New York never really got the picture. John Starks, a Knick for eight seasons, will always be one of New York’s most appreciated players. The sharp-shooter was fearless, and he won the hearts of Knicks fans through his tenure. Against the Bulls, the squad and fans alike thought the 6-5 guard would be the key to shutting down Superman. He never really measured up. Starks played his first full 82-game season with New York in ’90-91 (two years into his NBA career). Jordan’s split stats against New York in the “Starks-led” defensive era — 31 ppg (’90-91), 27.3 ppg (’91-92), 26.7 ppg (’92-93), 41.5 ppg (’93-94), 30.8 (’95-96), 38.5 ppg (’96-97) and 39.8 ppg (’97-98, Starks’ final season in NY) — say it all.
What many of us realize now is John Starks was simply a name we boasted loudly in an attempt to blot out what we did not want to hear and what was inevitably going to happen: MJ was gearing up for another inexhaustible scoring outburst on the Garden floor. Jordan’s Bulls ended up winning the championship title in each of Starks’ first three seasons in New York and in each of his final two seasons as a Knick. Hate.
Jordan had a deeper, longer-lived rivalry with Patrick Ewing than he did with Starks. In the 1982 NCAA Finals, MJ, then a North Carolina Tar Heel, hit the game-winning shot (winning 83-82) to send Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas home. After college, Ewing had an outstanding career in the NBA and is arguably the greatest Knick ever. He is the all-time franchise leader in scoring, rebounding, blocks and steals, and his No. 33 jersey hangs in the rafters at MSG honoring that excellence.
But you don’t have to be Jordan fanatic to remember one play against the Bulls that will be shown over, and over, and over. At the Garden, as the end of the half wound down, Jordan effortlessly shook off a Knicks double team on the baseline, drove right at the 7-1 center, elevated with one hand and posterized Patrick Ewing forever. Hate.
Thank you, Mike
Still a Knicks fan in 2009, I have found at times it is almost soothing to recall Michael Jordan’s career. After all, I would rather suffer that heartbreak all over again than watch any of the lackadaisical (thanks, Walt) Knicks teams since MJ left the NBA for good. He was the rivalry. He was the six NBA championships. He was the greatest. While part of me will always hate him for the pain he caused us Knicks fans, I will always respect the way he did it.
Mike – Thank you for making all those games at the Garden what they were, and congratulations on the Hall of Fame. Reverence.