’93-94 New York Knicks In Review
Ex-players, coaches and others close to the ’93-’94 Knicks remember the season.
The 1993-94 regular season
No major roster changes were made before the ’93-94 season, although ’92 first-round pick Hubert Davis was given a more prominent role in what was his second season. The team’s core remained largely intact.
The Knicks went 15-4 in their first 19 games, with win streaks of seven and five games. The first quarter of the season appeared to have gone without incident when looking at the box scores on basketball-reference.com. That wasn’t the case.
The first hit came in the Knicks’ third loss, when they fell to the Rockets 94-85 at the Garden. Of course, those teams would meet in the Finals, with the Rockets gaining home court advantage due to their 58-win regular season, surpassing the Knicks’ 57 victories. Jeff Van Gundy, an NBA color commentator for ESPN/ABC who was an assistant coach under Riley in ’93-94, recalled that November loss to the Rockets playing a more pivotal role than it seemed it would at the time.
“To have had that home game back in November…that’s why every game matters. To me, as much as we lost the [Finals] in seven games, we lost it in November when they beat us at home,” Van Gundy said via telephone from his home in Houston.
The second hit came on December 16, a 108-85 home win against the Los Angeles Lakers. The night began with a milestone.
Ewing, who had been the first overall draft pick by the Knicks in 1985, knocked down a 12-foot jumper with 9:39 left in the third quarter to pass Clyde Frazier as the Knicks’ all-time leading scorer at 14,618 points, according to a December 17, 1993 New York Times game recap written by Clifton Brown, then on the Knicks beat. The good vibes didn’t last long.
With 5:53 left in the third, Doc Rivers drove into the lane to attempt a layup when he collided with Anthony Peeler and Vlade Divac. Rivers collapsed to the ground after landing on his left leg. He had torn ligaments in his left knee and would be out for the season. Gone was the Knicks’ steady, veteran point guard. (Rivers declined to comment for this story.)
In his place as the starter for the next 36 games was Greg Anthony, a Knicks first-round pick in ’91. Yet the the Knicks struggled during that time, going 21-15. Anthony said during a telephone interview from Atlanta that his role didn’t change even as the season progressed.
“I was a young player and, for the most part, you got to control your own destiny as a player, which is one thing I loved about playing for Pat Riley,” said Anthony, who works as a commentator on NBA TV’s GameTime and for Turner Sports’ and CBS Sports’ March Madness coverage.
Nevertheless, then-Knicks vice president and general manager Ernie Grunfeld and then-team president Dave Checketts sought a way to replace Rivers. They achieved it January 6 when they traded Tony Campbell and a 1997 first-round draft pick (which ended up being John Thomas) to the Dallas Mavericks for 10-year vet Derek Harper.
“It was a big move for us,” Van Gundy said of the trade. “I felt bad for Doc Rivers that he didn’t get to participate in something he was such a big part of.”
The fit was a struggle for Harper, who was a two-time pick for the NBA’s All-Defensive second team and who averaged between 16.0 and 19.7 points for the Mavericks from 1986-87 to 1992-93.
In his first 27 games as a Knick, all off the bench, Harper scored 10-plus points six times and collected six or more assists just four times. Yet change was coming.
The Reno Trip
Toward the end of February, it was apparent a shakeup was necessary. A 92-78 loss to the Suns in Phoenix on February 27—the third game of a four-day trip out West—represented the Knicks’ fourth straight defeat and eighth in 12 games. The team was on the verge of an important 13-day stretch from March 9-22 in which they would play the Atlanta Hawks in Atlanta and then the Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers and Bulls at the Garden. (Each of those teams finished the season with at least 47 wins.)
The Knicks had one more contest on their four-game Western swing—a Tuesday, March 1 matchup against the Sacramento Kings. After that Sunday beating at the hands of the Suns, Riley had a couple things in mind. One was to replace Anthony in the starting lineup with Harper. The other came before that Kings game in which Harper entered the starting lineup. It’s known as the Reno Trip.