With the Knicks current dormancy, let's take a nostalgic look back at the heated matches of yesteryear.
Almost a month ago, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, fwho many fondly remember as playing uber-dweeb McLovin in 2007's 'Superbad', trashed Knicks writer Frank Isola in a series of vitriolic tweets for, essentially, being Isola. Fast-forward to 24 hours ago, and Isola uncovers these tweets and responds in kind.
Two things worth mentioning here: firstly, that CMP is a Celtics fan; a team who have had their beef with New York dating back to the 70's, and thus has no real reason to be sticking up for the Knicks. I would assume his hatred for Isola and his deadshit writing style trumps (pun intended) his hatred for New York, and that I can respect. Second, nowhere in CMP's initial tweet did he @ Isola, meaning Isola absolutely searches his name for mentions on Twitter. That doesn't necessarily make Isola a Hitler facsimile, but it does make him one of those dudes who screams "I don't care what you think of me" so often that it's clear that he cares, quite a lot actually. We get it, you're a contrarian.
I'll admit, this brief but intense all-caps Twitter hoo-haa was the first time in a while the Knicks devoted got anything a resembling a rivalry; albeit via a Celtics fan shitting on someone who most Knicks fans also loathe. It was some honest-to-goodness, straight from the Cold War, 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' shit. I couldn't care less about the Celtics, but I'll give up my seat for anyone who wants to pick fights with Isola.
Come to think of it, the last time the Knicks were relevant enough to have rivalries with other teams, it WAS against the Celtics. Specifically in the 2012-13 season, when New York won the Atlantic division for the first time since 1994 and Carmelo Anthony wins the scoring title. The Knicks go on to face the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs and win the first three games of the series. In Game 4, JR Smith elbows Jason Terry in the face, giving JR a one-game suspension and the Celtics enough motivation to take the series to six games before eventually succumbing to the Knicks, four games to two.
That was only a few years ago, but it feels like an epoch. Since then, we've undertaken a dramatic rebuild that started with the hiring of legendary Bulls/Lakers coach Phil Jackson, and then the drafting of Our Lord And Saviour Kristaps Porzingis. To find the last great Knicks rivalry, we have to jump into the Back-When-They-Played-Defence-Goddamnit Machine all the way back to those glorious pre-Isiah years in the late 90's, when it was the Miami Heat that were the perpetual fly in the Knicks ointment.
Some context: In 1992, former Lakers coach and Showtime architect Pat Riley is named the new Knicks head coach. In a short time, he builds the Knicks into a contending team, culminating in their 1994 trip to the NBA Finals. Unable to make the Finals the following year, Riley steps down as coach, only to become head coach (and Team President) of the Miami Heat shortly after. Then in 1997, and Riley's second year in the Miami regime, the Heat dethrone the Knicks as the Atlantic Division champions. The Knicks and Heat eventually meet in the playoffs, with New York gaining the upper hand; by Game 5 the series was tied 3-1.
Then in Game 5 something interesting happens. Depending on your how well-adjusted your tin foil hat is, you may argue that Pat Riley told Heat player P.J. Brown to deliberately instigate a brawl with Knicks scrub Charlie Ward, thereby drawing key players John Starks, Allan Houston, Patrick Ewing and Larry Johnson off the bench to help break it up, and then of course being punished by the league in the form of suspensions for the remaining games. Miami would win game 5, and the rest of the games.
But it was in 1998 that this rivalry would reach its zenith; bolstered by their efforts in the previous year, Miami would again capture the Atlantic Division crown and meet New York in the first round of the playoffs. Despite injuries to key player Patrick Ewing, the Knicks still made the series competitive: Game 1 went to Miami, then New York would come back to win Game 2, only to get the ol' Don't Argue from Miami in Game 3 in another Heat victory.
Game 4 contained the most pivotal (and easily most memorable) sequence of events however, in arguably the entire Knicks-Heat rivalry. In the final seconds of the game, with New York up 90-85, this happens. I'm still not even clear on who started it, but the facts are these: Larry Johnson (Knicks) and Alonzo Mourning (Heat), both former teammates on the Charlotte Hornets, start throwing hands. Everyone on the court is involved, trying to force the two behemoths away from each other, including Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, who is shown desperately clinging to 'Zo's leg in an attempt to weigh the Miami C down. Perhaps inspired by either their coach's fearlessness or bizarre sloth-like fighting style, the Knicks would go onto win the final Game 5, finally defeating the Miami Heat in a playoff series.
Which brings us to the most well-known and probably the most bitter rivalry the Knicks have had with another team in the past 30 years.
To be honest, the 30 For 30 documentary "Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks" explains the origins and key points of this feud far better than I could hope to succinctly do so here, but i'll boil it down for anyone who still hasn't seen that brilliant doco. Seriously, even if you're only a casual basketball fan, give it a look. If only for the instance of a middle aged John Starks rhetorically asking, "Did dis dude just did dis?"
It'll make more sense if you watch it. Anyway,
1993: Pacers and Knicks meet in the first round of the playoffs, Pacers take one game to the Knicks three, but some foreshadowing of the next few years occurs in Game 3 when Starks is ejected for head-butting Miller after Miller just, keeps, on, roasting him.
1994: Pacers acquire legendary curmudgeon Larry Brown as coach, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals where they meet New York. The Knicks would again prevail in this series, but not before Miller firmly cements himself as a thorn in New York's Upper-East Side (I know MSG is located in mid-town Manhattan but nonetheless, that pun was buttery) by defeating the Knicks in game 5, scoring 25 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter, all the while taunting a courtside-seated Spike Lee. To this day, the Pacers still make money off selling shirts emblazoned with the "choke" sign Reggie made famous.
1995: Pacers acquire former Knicks point guard Mark Jackson, ratcheting up the feud. The Knicks, determined to reach the Finals again, stepped up in production: Anthony Mason would receive the Sixth Man of the Year Award for his season-long efforts, and New York would take home court advantage with a 55-27 record, meeting the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Again, Reggie Miller would make the Knicks pay, this time with an improbable 8-point scoring outburst in the final 18 seconds of Game 1. Maybe it was Miller Time setting the tone for this series that gave the rest of the Pacers a boon, but Indiana would finally defeat New York in a 4-3 playoff series, solidifying Reggie as the Knick-Killer.
It wasn't until 1999, that the Knicks would finally catch a break against Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers. It would be New York this time though, who would finally get to drive a stake into the Pacer's heart in the form of a ridiculous 4-point play from Larry Johnson. Maybe it was karma from the multitude of Miller 3's, or the Basketball Gods finally giving poor Larry Johnson some good news (LJ would only play another 2 years in the league before retiring due to injury), but the Knicks would defeat the Pacers and go on to the NBA Finals.
Even in writing this, it's hard to actually WANT this kind of emotional turmoil again; I don't think anyone really would like to see their favourite team constantly come up short against another. But sports isn't really rational like that, and things that aren't sport inevitably get attached to it. What I really miss is more everything else that comes along with a good, honest rivalry: having that "SUCK IT, DICKHEAD" text primed and ready to go as soon as them Knicks win against your friend's team, the endless amount of what-if scenarios that are debated and butterfly-effects that are analysed. Rivalries make sports interesting, and I hope the Knicks get another one soon.