Michael Jordan and the New York Knicks' 20 Worst Enemies in NBA History
I've been a Yankees/Knicks/Giants fan since 1995. If I was to make a list of my 10 favorite games in the last 15-plus years, some obvious submissions would be included, such as Super Bowl XLII or Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.
For me, however, a mostly meaningless regular season game between the invincible Chicago Bulls and mediocre New York Knicks that took place on March 10, 1996, easily secures a place on the top-10 list.
On that day, Patrick Ewing scored 26 points to lead the Knicks to a 104-72 evisceration of the Bulls. Michael Jordan had 32 points and eight rebounds, of course, but it didn't matter to me. The Knicks had crushed their archrival, forcing Jordan to commit seven turnovers.
But this game made no difference in the standings. Ultimately, the Bulls finished with 72 wins and beat the 47-win Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals that season. But since it was Jordan, the team's fiercest rival in its history, this contest has a much greater significance and was that much sweeter.
Jordan isn't the only player Knicks fans especially reveled in beating. The following are 20 of the Knicks' mortal enemies that many fans despise to this day.
20. Kobe Bryant
File this submission under the "I had trouble coming up with 20 legit enemies in Knicks history so this choice is a bit of a stretch" department.
Kobe Bryant scored 61 points, a Madison Square Garden record, on February 2, 2009, leading the Lakers to a 126-117 win over the Knicks. He shot 19-of-31 from the field and made all 20 of his free throws. That other-worldly performance makes him an enemy...sort of.
19. P.J. Brown
P.J. Brown makes the list for sabotaging the Knicks' championship chances in 1997 by bodyslamming Charlie Ward after a free throw attempt in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Heat and Knicks.
His WWE move encited a bench-clearing brawl that led to one-game suspensions for leaving the bench for five key Knicks, including Patrick Ewing, that were spread out over Games 6 and 7. The Heat won Games 5 through 7 to overcome a three games to one deficit and advanced to the Conference Finals, where they were promptly swept by the Chicago Bulls.
Brown was suspended for the rest of the series. Big deal.
18. LeBron James
James isn't on this list because he broke the rose-colored glasses of many Knicks fans, myself included. I do, however, foresee the King being an annoying thorn in the Knicks' side for the next 10 years, a la Michael Jordan. We can only hope that James doesn't make a habit of routinely eliminating the Knicks from playoff contention every season.
James' best game against the Knicks occurred in February 2009, when he recorded 52 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in a 107-102 Cavaliers win.
17. Hakeem Olajuwon
Olajuwon is part of the Knicks' Axis of Evil for being the last road block to the Knicks' best chance at an NBA title since 1973. He blocked John Starks' championship-winning three-point attempt in Game 6 of the 1994 NBA Finals, and eventually won the NBA Finals MVP after leading the Rockets to a series-clinching 90-84 win in Game 7 with 25 points and 10 rebounds.
He averaged 26.9 points per game in the 1994 Finals, dominating Patrick Ewing (18.9 PPG) throughout the series.
16. Bob Cousy
Cousy's Celtics were eliminated by the Knicks for the first three seasons of the former Holy Cross point guard's career, but when Bill Russell came on the scene, he began to dominate New York. Cousy won seven titles with the Celtics before retiring.
Two notes from the video:
1. Kind of reminds you of Steve Nash, no?
2. He was a driving instructor between leaving Holy Cross and joining the Celtics. I wonder if John Wall applied for a DMV job to make ends meet after being drafted.
15. Wilt Chamberlain
If Wilt Chamberalin's 100-point game against the New York Knicks was the only time he ever suited up for an NBA team, he would still make this list. Check the radio call of his 100th point here.
Chamberlain scored 100 points in a 169-147 win as a member of the Philadelphia Warriors in March 1962, but his most memorable contests against New York occurred while he was a Los Angeles Laker. He played the Knicks in three separate Finals series, winning it all in 1972 and losing in 1970 and 1973.
14. George Mikan
George Mikan was the NBA's first big star, and the New York Knicks' worst enemy in the NBA's early stages. He led the Minneapolis Lakers over the Knicks in both the 1952 and 1953 NBA Finals.
At least Mikan had a sense of humor.
13. Scottie Pippen
Scottie Pippen makes this list for being on five different Chicago Bulls teams that eliminated the Knicks from the playoffs, and for ruining Charles Smith's reputation as a solid, hard-nosed basketball player in just five seconds.
As a quick recap, the Knicks and Bulls were tied at two games a piece in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals. In Game 5, New York was down one with the ball and time winding down in the fourth quarter. You can watch the video for what happened next.
The Knicks lost Game 6, and the series, in Chicago. That 1993 Knicks incarnation, which went 60-22, was probably the best team they had since 1973, but they don't even have a conference title to show for it.
12. Jason Kidd
Doug Benc/Getty Images
Jason Kidd ruled the New York city metro area and embarrassed the Knicks on multiple occasions in the beginning of the previous decade, routinely schooling any mediocre point guard New York threw his way. With Kidd at the helm, the Nets won two Eastern Conference titles in 2002 and 2003 while the Knicks struggled to come close to .500.
The Knicks went 4-24 against the Nets between 2001-2007 in the six full seasons Kidd was in New Jersey.
Personal Note: The apathy surrounding the Nets makes me that much madder about the Kidd era. I live in northern New Jersey, and most people don't care about the Nets, even when they are good. I went to Game 1 of the 2004 Eastern Conference first round series (the infamous Tim Thomas "fugazy" game) between the Nets and Knicks at the Meadowlands. Not only did the game fail to sell out, but it was a 50/50 mix of Knicks and Nets fans at best. Keep in mind the Knicks were 39-43 and had no chance in hell of winning this series. They were promptly swept.
11. Dolph Schayes
Dolph Schayes played in an era where centers could be Hall-of-Famers at under 200 pounds. Standing at 6'7" and 195 pounds, Schayes was a scoring and rebounding robot, averaging over 18 and 12 per game for the Syracuse Nationals, the precursor to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Schayes and the Nats eliminated the in-state rival Knicks from the playoffs four times.
10. Julius Erving
During the Julius Erving era (1976-1987), the 76ers went 52-16 against the Knicks, handing them four-game sweeps in both the 1978 and 1983 Eastern Conference semifinal rounds.
This was undoubtedly a case of karma kicking the Knicks in the ass. The Knicks forced the then-New York Nets to pay a $4.8 million territorial fee after the Nets joined the NBA in 1976. The Nets could not pay that fee without selling Julius Erving's contract to the 76ers for $3 million. That worked out well for the future of New York basketball.
9. Pat "The Rat" Riley
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Before LeBron and the Decision, there was Pat Riley and the Desertion.
Riley is the second-best Knicks coach in team history behind Red Holzman, but he resigned after the 1994-95 season and took his talents to South Beach. He has been with the Heat ever since. The Knicks accused the Heat of tampering and trying to steal Riley while he was under contract with New York. Eventually, the Knicks received $1 million and the Heat's 1996 first-round draft choice in response to their accusations.
Of course, the Knicks and Heat engaged in a bitter, physical feud that lasted for the rest of the 1990's. Today, of course, Riley is the architect for a Miami Heat team that will give the Knicks fits for at least the next five seasons.
8. John Havlicek
John Havlicek won eight NBA titles during his career and helped eliminate the Knicks from the playoffs three times. During his era (1962-1978), the Celtics went 100-53 against the Knicks. Wonderful.
We can only hope that Landry Fields, who Knicks GM Donnie Walsh recently compared a young Havlicek, returns the favor and becomes one of Boston's biggest enemies in team history.
7. Kevin McHale
Kevin McHale is a two-sided enemy, because not only was he the second-best player on the 1980's Celtics, who routinely destroyed the Knicks, but as the Minnesota Timberwolves GM he traded Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics in one of the dumbest trades in NBA history. That move cemented the Knicks as second-class citizens to the Celtics in the Atlantic Division 15 seasons after McHale was done playing.
By the way, if the above clothesline happened today, McHale would be suspended for five years.
6. Alonzo Mourning
The Knicks vs. Heat rivalry in the mid-to-late 1990's may have been the least aesthetically pleasing matchup in NBA history, but fans of ugly basketball and violence weren't disappointed.
Simply put, Mourning was the best player on the Knicks' fiercest rival since Jordan's Bulls. His most famous moment in this rivalry occurred during his fight with Larry Johnson in Game 4 of the 1998 Eastern Conference first round. The Knicks were about to win and force a deciding Game 5 when Grandmamma and 'Zo, former teammates with the Charlotte Hornets, got into a fight, presumably because Johnson was picked over Mourning for a Space Jam acting role.
Balding Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy then took it upon himself to break up the fight, and went for a ride as he held onto Mourning's leg.
Johnson and Mourning were suspended for Game 5, which the Knicks won fairly easily.
5. Larry Bird
Bird's Celtics went 65-26 against the Knicks between 1979-1992, the length of Larry Legend's career. This includes 14-1 and 16-3 stretches. The Celtics also knocked the Knicks out of the playoffs in 1984 and 1988, though New York got a measure of revenge by defeating Boston in the 1990 playoffs.
Bird's most famous game against the Knicks was a 39/12/10 performance in Game 7 of the 1984 Eastern Conference Semifinals at the Boston Garden.
4. Bill Russell
I have nothing but the utmost respect for Bill Russell, and think he deserves much more consideration for the best basketball player of all time debate. But he certainly was the Knicks' greatest enemy in the late 1950's and 1960's. He led the Celtics to 11 NBA titles as the Knicks struggled as cellar dwellers or fringe playoff teams.
Also, the Knicks went 36-104 against Boston during Russell's 13 NBA seasons. Ouch.
3. Reggie Miller
Before the Knicks vs. Heat rivalry, Reggie Miller and the Pacers fought the Knicks for Eastern Conference supremacy. The Knicks and Pacers faced each other in five separate playoff series between 1993 and 2000, with Indiana winning three times.
The 1994 and 1995 series were so heated that ESPN dedicated a 30 for 30 documentary about Miller's roles in them.
In Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, Miller scored 25 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter, and gave the choke sign to Spike Lee (see above).
In Game 7 of the same series, he wildly missed a series-clinching shot that would have given the Pacers a 92-91 lead with five seconds left, and committed a questionable flagrant foul on John Starks that effectively ended the game.
Miller got his revenge the next season, when he scored eight points in nine seconds to turn a 105-99 deficit into a 107-105 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Pacers eventually beat the Knicks in seven games.
I hate Reggie Miller and his Dumbo ears, but you have to admire his unabashed competitive nature.
2. Isiah Thomas
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Isiah Thomas is the only enemy on this list who tried to sabotage the Knicks from the inside. He traded for Steve Francis, Eddy Curry and Stephon Marbury while mortgaging 7,000 first round draft picks to do so. Thomas signed Jared Jeffries, Vin Baker and Jerome James to mid-level exception contracts, and none of them lived up to their salaries. Thomas coached the team to a 23-59 record in 2007-08, and infamously had public spats during the 2005-06 season with Larry Brown, who also coached the team to a 23-59 record.
Worst of all, Thomas sexually harassed a married MSG employee.
On the court, Thomas knocked the Knicks out of the 1989 playoffs, but was eliminated by New York in the 1984 and 1992 postseasons. According to basketball-reference.com, Thomas averaged fewer points per game against the Knicks than any other NBA team between 1986 and 1994.
Perhaps Thomas wanted revenge against the team that got the best of him during his career.
1. Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan and the Bulls knocked the Knicks out of the playoffs five times between 1989-1996, and yet his most famous performance against New York was a 55-point effort in his first comeback season, when the Bulls struggled and lost to Orlando in the playoffs. Ugh.
Ultimately, Jordan's Bulls went 61-26 against the Knicks in seasons when he played with the team.
Unless LeBron James somehow matches Jordan's immense playoff success against the Knicks, no man will ever stand as a bigger Knicks enemy than M.J.
Hopefully, that never occurs. But even if LBJ becomes the next thorn in the Knicks' side, at least Knicks fans have this game to reflect upon.