Fourth and Long
While sitting in the living room discussing the NBA with my son I couldn’t help but notice how old I sounded outlining for him why the NBA was best “back in my day.”
My love affair with the NBA began during the ‘88-‘89 Eastern Conference semi-finals. I had liked the NBA before and despite the Charlotte Hornets’ first year in the league I was already a Chicago Bulls fan.
They had a guy named Michael Jordan, aka…G.O.A.T. Greatest Of All Time.
The ‘88-‘89 Eastern Conference semi’s featured Jordan and the Bulls against Patrick Ewing and the Knicks. New York won two out of three at home in front of that Madison Square Garden crowd, but couldn’t get past the Bulls in Chicago. Bulls went on to win the series, but lose to eventual champion Detroit.
What I remember most about that series was how personal it all seemed, especially for the Knicks. Ewing seemed intent on not letting Jordan get in his way to a title… again. The Knicks played physical and passionately and Jordan took it as a personal challenge so he took over. His ability to “take over” at will was nothing short of incredible.
That’s when I fell out of like and in to love with the NBA.
In the coming years the league was at it’s all time best. Chicago had Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant trying to learn the now famous Triangle Offense. Detroit had a bunch of “Bad Boys” that went on to win it all again and the Celtics were older and wiser. The Knicks had Ewing, Charles Oakley, Rod Strickland and Mark Jackson. The Garden was seeing its best basketball in years. The Hawks had Dominique Wilkins, and he was reason enough to watch a game all by himself. Wilkins alongside Moses Malone made watching very fun.
Charles Barkley was as good as ever and much like Wilkins he made Philly worth watching, if for nothing else than to just to see him play. Cleveland had Brad Daughtery, Mark Price and the high flying Larry Nance. Unfortunately for Cleveland, they too seemed to always fall victim to Jordan’s heroics.
The Eastern Conference was loaded with talent and played a tough, defensive, grind it out style of basketball. The Western Conference was loaded with talent as well, but defense was the furthest thing from their minds. The west coast game was about “Showtime.”
The Lakers were Showtime with Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on his farewell tour and “Big Game” James Worthy in his prime.
The Phoenix Suns featured All-Star Tom Chambers and a young Kevin Johnson. The ‘88-‘89 season also brought rookie “Thunder” Dan Majerle to the Valley of the Sun. Phoenix was an exciting team to watch as well.
Seattle was playing well that season behind the likes of former Chowan Brave (they were called that back then) Nate McMillan and teammates Dale Ellis and Xavier McDaniel.
Karl “The Mailman” Malone and John Stockton were perfecting the pick and roll in Utah and Hakeem Olajuwon was honing his skills in Houston. He would later use those skills to embarrass and take Shaquille O’Neil to school.
Golden State had Mitch “I Can Score From Anywhere” Richmond and Chris “Me Too” Mullin ready to shoot at anytime. They were a Tim “Killer Crossover” Hardaway away from being special.
It was a special time in the NBA. There was a changing of the guard from Magic and Bird To Jordan and Company. It was awfully fun to watch and the beginning of what I feel was the heyday of NBA basketball.
My son is only 11 months old, but already he is getting his first “It was better back in my day speech”. Oh well… kid’s gotta learn early.
David Friedman is a long-time contributor to Roanoke-Chowan Publications. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.