The New York Knicks are not the team history will remember 1990s basketball by. Just because they weren't the Chicago Bulls doesn't means that they weren't a defining team of the decade, one that turned over its personnel countless times yet had its hand in some of the most memorable moments. Together with the Bulls, Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, the Knicks in the 1990s formed the Mount Rushmore of Eastern Conference basketball, a necessary gantlet to run if you wanted to claim the Eastern title en route to the NBA Finals. The Knicks themselves claimed two conference titles in this time.
Unlike Chicago, Indiana and Miami — whose luck all faded at some point in the 1990s — the Knicks were remarkably consistent headliners during the decade's duration. This was smashmouth basketball, with the fights and even a coach clinging to a star's leg to prove it. The kicks were in tune with the times, from Patrick Ewing's eponymous, no-nonsense kicks, to Allan Houston's flashier Nikes as Y2K grew closer and fashion became evermore enmeshed with hoop dreams.
Were the Knicks' glory teams under Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy playing the way Dr. Naismith would have wanted? That is ... debatable. But could even he have turned away from the rivalries and moments the Knicks created? No way.
No. 10 - Starks Sets the Three-Point Record
Date: April 23, 1995
Game: New York vs. Orlando
On Starks's feet: adidas The Intruder
Think about the paths the recent three-point kings have taken to NBA glory, and then remember John Starks's journey to the same place. Ray Allen, Reggie Miller and Steph Curry each were top-rated, name-brand guards out of college; Starks, in contrast, came out of institutions such as Rogers State, Tulsa JC and Northern Oklahoma before a year at Oklahoma State and some time in the backwaters of the CBA. He made his shot with the Knicks' count once he arrived, however, busting the franchise record for single-game threes with eight on March 31, 1992. On November 23, 1993, he drilled seven threes in the first half of a game. It all culminated with his 1994-95 season, when he became the first player in NBA history to make 200 in a season. He finished with a record 217 after making 5-of-9 in the regular-season's final game against Orlando on April 23.
No. 9 - A Brawl And An Upset Close Out Miami
Date: May 3, 1998
Game: New York vs. Miami, Eastern Conference playoffs first round Game 5
On Chris Childs's feet: Nike Air Max Uptempo 3.0
Though neither team knew it at the time, the 1998 first-round matchup would be the second in a run of four straight playoff matchups between Miami and New York. It would also be the second consecutive showdown to involve a brawl. After P.J. Brown body-slammed Charlie Ward a year before, Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning took out their frustrations from a fraught tenure together in Charlotte in Game 4. You may know the '98 brawl by another name — the Jeff Van Gundy leg-hold brawl. This entry, however, is about Game 5. Just days later, with the series tied and Miami missing Mourning due to a suspension — they had to turn to someone named Duane Causwell in his stead — the seventh-seeded Knicks dumped the No. 2 Heat in a 98-81 blowout on Miami's home floor. After years of being pushed around by Chicago, New York finally knew was it was like to own a contentious rivalry in the '90s.
No. 8 - Ewing's 40-point Run of Destruction
On Ewing's feet: Ewing Athletics 33 HI
Even though Ewing served as the Grand Central Station of the Knicks offense -- everything ran through him -- for 15 years, few seasons compare to his out-for-blood 1990 season. The then-27-year-old ran up nine 40-point games between Jan. 7 and May 12, including two in consecutive March games when he dropped 51 and 18 boards on Boston and 41 and 12 on Washington (don't sleep on his combined 23-of-27 from the free-throw line in those games, either). He'd finish third in points per game that season with 28.6 per game, a historic mark that still ranks as fourth-highest in Knicks history. It was an incredible show of force for the center, who never missed a game in the regular season. That consistency and durability meant his feet became a yearlong billboard for his first shoe model, the 33 HI.
No. 7 - The Knicks Finally Take Down The Bulls
Date: May 22, 1994
Game: New York vs. Chicago, Eastern Conference semifinals Game 7
On Oakley's feet: Nike Air Force Max CB
It didn't exorcise the demons of playoffs past quite like the win over Indiana just weeks later in the 1994 playoffs, but beating Chicago in the Eastern semifinals, and in a Game 7, ripped the monkey from New York's back. You can apply an asterisk the size of Madison Square Garden to this if you prefer given that Michael Jordan was playing baseball, but Scottie Pippen (20 points and 16 boards in this game) and his squad were hell-bent on continuing their three-peat legacy. They nearly continued their playoff torture of Knicks fans, too, until the tag-team of Ewing (18 points, 17 boards) and Charles Oakley (17 points, 20 boards) controlled the paint like they had the deed for it. Meanwhile on the perimeter, John Starks and Derek Harper ran Pippen into an 8-for-22 shooting night and sharpshooters B.J. Armstrong and Steve Kerr into a pair of putrid 65 offensive ratings.
No. 6 - Latrell Sprewell Goes for 35 on San Antonio
Date: June 25,1999
Game: New York vs. San Antonio, NBA Finals Game 5
On Sprewell's feet: And1 Fingerroll
This was the night San Antonio won the first of its four titles under Gregg Popovich but it wasn't without a huge performance in Knicks playoff history. Sprewell hadn't done much to clear his name since his choke of coach P.J. Carlesimo two years earlier, but he went off in the series finale for 35 points and 10 boards. It's still the fourth-most points scored by a Knicks in the NBA finals, the fourth-most of any Knick in the playoffs of that decade. It included a third-quarter dunk over a fully-extended Jaren Jackson that made the Garden's howling masses sound like every subway train in Manhattan was passing through the arena. Unlike Allan Houston's 34 four nights earlier in Game 3, however, the Knicks didn't produce another victory to complement a star's monster game. After rocking a pair of blue And1 Fingeroll's in the conference finals, Sprewell donned a blacked-out pair for Game 5.
No. 5 - New York's Triumphant NBA Finals Return
Date: June 5, 1994
Game: New York vs. Indiana, Eastern Conference finals Game 7
On Ewing's feet: Ewing Athletics Image
What you heard was 21 years of waiting let out in one breath from Madison Square Garden. This was the night New York returned to its first NBA finals since 1973 (though no one knew both it and the '99 finals team would go home empty-handed) with Ewing replacing Willis. Just as they did a round before against Chicago, the Knicks didn't make it easy after trailing 3-2 in the series. After tying it up in Game 6, the Knicks took the decicing game, 94-90, with Ewing dropping 24 points and getting 22 boards (remarkably, with 11 each on the offensive and defensive glass) to go with seven assists and five blocks. He led his team in all four categories and out of 21 years of walking through the NBA's desert, right into the finals. He wore the Image in the playoffs' entirety (seen here against the Bulls one round earlier), a rare pair that haven't been seemingly seen again since 1994-95.
No. 4 - John Starks Dunks on Chicago's Head
Date: May 25, 1993
Game: New York vs. Chicago, Game 2 Eastern Conference Finals
On Starks's feet: Air Ballistic Force Mid
In a decade where Chicago mostly pushed the Knicks around, the Bulls tried to do the same thing to John Starks with its Game 2 pick-n-roll defense. It backfired in the most exultant moment in the Knicks' 1990s history. Let's back up: To get an accurate depiction of the Knicks' playoff runs in the 1990s, break the decade in half to show two very different outcomes against two constants in Chicago and Miami. From 1990 to 96, New York was 1-4 in series versus the Bulls, and 0-4 when Jordan wasn't busing around baseball's minor leagues. (New York was 3-1 in series versus Miami between 1997 and 2000) Jordan, to pull out the broadest of paint brushes, not only beat New York every chance he got come the playoffs, but loved it. It was the rare moment when the Knicks could stuff all the frustration back in Jordan's face, and Starks's dunk wrapped up all that aggression, teeth gnashing and more into a play that released years of anger at feeling like the Bulls' little brother. The smash dunk over Grant and a late-arriving Jordan gave the Knicks a 2-0 lead that ultimately went for naught: Chicago won the next four games.
No. 3 - Larry Johnson's Legendary Four-Point Play
Date: June 5, 1999
Game: New York vs. Indiana, Eastern Conference finals Game 3
On Johnson' feet: Converse
If you've never been pump-faked into the air early by a shooter, congratulations, you're either a bold-faced liar or you've never actually played basketball. So, there is empathy for a guy like Indiana's Antonio Davis for getting caught in the air by Larry Johnson's faked three late in Game 3. Chances are, however, that you've never been taken like that with as much on the line as there was on this possession. Up 91-88 with 5.7 seconds left, Davis fouled Johnson during the shooting motion after trying to recover once Johnson got him up in the air. Grandmama drilled the triple and got a free throw to take the lead in a series New York would win in six games to make the NBA Finals. In a game where an injured Patrick Ewing sat in an all-black suit on the sideline it looked like this would be another Knicks postseason funeral. Instead it goes down as one of the craziest momentum swings in NBA history an a 92-91 win. Yeah, oops. Alas, all we know about LJ's choice of footwear that day is that he was wearing blacked-out Converse not long before he switched to Fila.
No. 2 - The Knicks Make A Historic Playoff Rally
Date: May 6, 1990
Game: New York vs. Boston, Eastern Conference playoffs first round Game 5
On Ewing's feet: Ewing Athletics 33 HI
An already remarkable season by Ewing ended so well we had to showcase the 33 HI a second time. Fresh off his prodigious scoring run the whole season, Ewing kept it rolling in the playoffs against a Celtics team whose Larry Bird-Robert Parish-Kevin McHale trio was hitting its sunset. Ewing pulled the Knicks from the grave in the first round, becoming just the third team in NBA history to win a series down 2-0 in a best-of-five. As if on cue in Game 4, Ewing's 44 points tied up the series in New York. Winning at Madison Square Garden, however, wasn't the problem for the Knicks that year — being 0-5 in Boston that season, including the regular season, was. Ewing strolled into Boston Garden on May 6 and engineered a 121-114 win in which he poured in 31 points, 10 boards and four blocks.
No. 1 - Allan Houston Stuns The Top-Seeded Heat
Date: May 16, 1999
Game: New York vs. Miami, Eastern Conference playoffs first round Game 5
On Houston's feet: Nike Air Vis Uptempo
It's never remembered this way, but 1999 was an absolute free-for-all in the NBA, the kind of chaos we're not likely for possibly another decade when LeBron James retires. The power vacuum left by Jordan's second retirement broke the NBA's caste system as everyone scrambled to take over the Bulls' former throne. Throw in the confusion, hurt feelings and haste with which the lockout forced the regular season to start with and you have a bizarre brew of circumstances that allowed New York to pull off just the second 8-beats-1 playoff result in NBA history at the time. Houston took an inbounds pass, ducked in to the free throw line and lofted a floater that bounced off the rim twice before sinking Miami in a seemingly preordained outcome that typified the weirdest NBA season of the past 20 years. In case you were shell-shocked by Houston's jumper, his sprint to the court's other end and massive right hook to the air should have brought you back to reality that, yes, this was actually happening.
It's fitting he was wearing the Vis Uptempo. The wave-like outsole above a full-length Air pod resembled blue waves crashing on a beach, yet another visual representation of the Knicks ruining Miami's party if Houston's punch wasn't enough. Also, the same power struggle that enveloped the NBA extended to players' feet, too, once Jordan backed out and his signature sneakers lost some of their significance. Everyone from Reggie Miller, Mitch Richmond and Shareef Abdur-Raheem rocked the Vis Uptempos this season — but they'll only live on through Houston's jumper.