The 90s Knicks: Enter the paint at your own risk

Blood in the Garden: The Flagrant History of the 1990s New York Knicks
By Chris Herring
Atria Books, 2022, 349 pp.

5 Stars

I became a New York Knicks fan in 1968 at the age of twelve, just in time to experience those great Knicks championships in 1970 and 1973. Well, it’s been slim pickin’s since then, although the blue and orange had some nice runs in the Patrick Ewing era (1985-2000).

In this book, Chris Herring, takes us back to the 1990s when the Knicks were the scourge of the NBA. Knicks management brought Pat Riley to New York City in 1991 after he had coached the Los Angeles Lakers to four championships. The Lakers had won with finesse, but the Knicks didn’t have that kind of offensive talent, so Riley had the Knicks focus on defense. No opponent looked forward to dribbling into the paint with Ewing, Charles Oakley, and Anthony Mason swinging their elbows beneath the basket. Besides being a good defender, Ewing had also turned himself into a scoring threat, but he didn’t have much help on offense besides an erratic John Starks. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls constantly stood in the way of the Knicks’ championship aspirations, although the blue and orange did go to the Finals in 1994, losing to the Rockets, because Jordan had opted to play baseball that year.

Riley had enough after the 1994-1995 season and took the coaching job down in Miami. Assistant Jeff Van Gundy eventually got the Knicks head coaching spot and did a very decent job leading the team from 1996 until 2001. The Knicks made it to the Finals again in 1998, losing to the San Antonio Spurs. The Ewing era ended after the team traded the big man following the 1999-2000 season.

The Knicks advanced to the playoffs only five times after Van Gundy’s departure, making it past the 1st round only one time (2013). Over the span of 2001 to 2022, few professional sports teams have displayed the kind of mismanagement, ineptitude, and futility we have seen from the hapless Knicks.

I enjoyed reading this book and recalling the Riley-Van Gundy years. The Knicks had some real “characters” in that span. Ewing needed one, just one, All-Star caliber player to complement his Hall-of-Fame game so that he could lead the Knicks to an NBA championship, like Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen, but for some strange reason, Knicks management wasn’t able to deliver.

Postscript: Charlie Ward was a two-sport athlete at Florida State University and won the Heisman Trophy as quarterback of the Seminoles in 1993. Ward was drafted by the Knicks in 1994 and played nine years for the team. Charlie was a born-again Christian and was a faithful witness of Jesus Christ and the Gospel in his tenure as a Knick. After each game, he joined with other believers on both teams for an on-court prayer.

14 thoughts on “The 90s Knicks: Enter the paint at your own risk

  1. Excellent, Tom. Like you, I became a Knicks’ fan that same year. I moved to New Mexico in 1979, and soon lost interest in them. However, I continued to follow the NBA through the 1990s, and well remember those rugged teams.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, David! Yup, the 68-69 Knicks were right on the cusp. What a great group that team was with Reed, DeBusschere, Frazier, Bradley, and Barnett. They definitely don’t play team basketball like that these days.
      The Ewing Knicks were definitely a tough bunch.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow this was basketball history for me! I didn’t know the Knicks streak of winning in the 70s until I read this post. The 90s were a great time with NBA I think, compared to the more PC driven and commie supporting NBA of today

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I got home from work last night in my usual zombie state and watched the lengthy preliminaries of the NBA All-Star game. So bad. In the old days they just played the game. That reminds me that many churches have added all kinds entertainment peripherals to fill the seats and it ends up diluting the message.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. RE: Even stadiums I think is focused on “perks” more than game itself it seems?

        Yeah, games (especially slow-paced baseball) are viewed as boring by the younger crowd so teams/stadiums must augment with flashy entertainment. Old sport “purists” are appalled.

        Liked by 2 people

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