Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Unsung Knick History – How Greg Anthony Killed the Knicks’ 1996-97 Season

This is the twenty-seventh in a series (of indefinite length and regularity) of examinations into different games, events and decisions that impacted Knicks history in some way, shape or form. Stories that are not as famous as, say, “The Dunk” or Willis Reed playing Game 7, but still have a place in Knicks history, especially for die-hard fans. Here is an archive of all the stories featured so far.

John Lennon once said that “Instant Karma’s gonna get you, gonna knock you right on the head.” However, in the case of the Knicks and their infamous 1993 brawl against the Phoenix Suns, the karma was not instant. Instead, it knocked the Knicks right in the head over four years later, when the Knicks fell victim to a series of reactions set off by Greg Anthony’s actions on March 23, 1993.

Let’s find out how it all happened!

The Knicks’ 64th game of the 1992-93 season was a statement game. Not just for the Knicks, but for the team that they were playing, the Phoenix Suns. For the Knicks, it was a chance to show that they could win on the road against a formidable opponent (the 1992-93 Suns were a 4th Quarter collapse away from going to a Game 7 in the 1993 NBA Finals) and separate themselves from the Chicago Bulls, who the Knicks were vying with for the best record in the Eastern Conference. For the Suns, it was an opportunity to show that they were physical enough to handle the “tough” teams from the Eastern Conference. You see, at the time of the March 23 game, the Suns had played four games against the prototypical “tough” Eastern Conference teams – the Knicks, the Cavaliers and the Bulls. The Suns lost all four games, including back-to-back losses on January 18th and 20th against the Cavs and the Knicks (the Suns only lost consecutive games four times all season – twice the losing “streak” involved the Cavs). The Suns won the game easily, 121-92, but the 29-point blowout was not the story. The story was the brawl that took place at the end of the first half.

Suns point guard Kevin Johnson and Knicks point guard Doc Rivers had been jawing each other throughout the first half and, naturally, this being a Knick game, there was also a ton of hand-checking. It was only in the last 25 seconds of the game, though, that things took a turn for the worse. Johnson stole an inbounds pass from Rivers and the two got tangled up with each other and had some more words for each other. They almost came to blows right there. Both players were called for technical fouls, as were John Starks and the Suns’ Danny Ainge. The Suns now had possession, but Rivers drew a charge from Johnson. Again, neither player was thrilled. So on the last possession of the first half (Knicks down six), with Rivers setting a pick to get John Starks open for an attempt at a buzzer-beating shot, Johnson tried to get in front of Rivers to draw the charge to return the favor of the last possession. Instead, Johnson ended up delivering a strong forearm to Rivers’ jaw. No foul was called, but Rivers took exception to this and chased after Johnson and punches were thrown by both players. Both players were ejected but things seemed to have calmed down. The Knicks’ Bo Kimble had Johnson basically restrained. Well, the scene did not please the Knicks’ back-up point guard, Greg Anthony, who was in street clothes that day due to an ankle injury. He felt that Johnson had not properly answered for his “crime.” So about 20 seconds after the fight (and the half) seemed over, Anthony raced up to Johnson and got in his face. After some shouting between each other, Anthony proceeded to punch Johnson in the face.

Naturally, the brawl re-commenced. By the end of the brawl, Starks, Anthony, Anthony Mason, Danny Ainge (and the previously ejected Rivers and Johnson) were ejected from the game. Now without their starting backcourt and a key member of their frontcourt, the Knicks were destroyed by the Suns in the second half.

After the game, the Suns were livid at Anthony. Danny Ainge laid a verbal beatdown on Anthony (choosing, of course, to gloss over the fact that Johnson threw the first blow in the fight):

“It was between K. J. and Doc. You see that type of thing in tense games. Anthony is when it got out of hand. I don’t consider the Knicks thugs. The way John Starks and Anthony Mason and Doc Rivers play, I’d love to have them on my team. We have nothing personal. The only thing some have personal — I know our whole team is not fond of Greg Anthony. The other stuff happens. But a guy coming off the bench in street clothes and throwing a cheap shot on the star of our team? I’m told as Anthony was walking off, he said, ‘I got him good.’ K. J. was so angry with Greg Anthony. He wanted to talk to the official and ask why he’d been ejected for being punched by Greg Anthony and he wanted to go after Greg Anthony. Like I said, I love the way Starks, Mason and Rivers play. But Greg Anthony goes overboard. He’s not that good a player, either.”

I love the extra shot at Anthony at the end.

So anyways, the NBA suspended Rivers and Johnson for two games apiece and Anthony five games. The Suns had been pushing for Anthony to be suspended for the rest of the season.

Knicks coach Pat Riley responded to the punishment by complaining, ” Greg was wrong, we have voiced that to him, he knows he was wrong. But if Anthony Mason did to Dan Majerle what Kevin Johnson did to Doc, he would’ve been throw out of the game. That’s the double standard. The forearm smash in the face by Johnson was unconscionable. He should’ve been suspended more than that because he was the instigator. For them to cry for a year’s suspension for our guy is bull.” Interestingly enough, a month or so later, Anthony Mason leveling Dan Majerle a couple of minutes before the fight was cited as provocation by Rod Thorn, the league’s vice president of operations, for the fight itself, stating “After that, you could see the change in the way that game was played.”

For his part, Anthony issued a statement:

“It was a very immature act on my part. I got involved emotionally. It was really unfortunate. I want to give apologies to the Phoenix Suns’ organization, to fans and to Kevin Johnson. Emotionally, I just got caught up in what I saw happen, but that’s still no excuse for my actions.”

Clearly, the NBA felt that the worst aspect of the fight was the injured Anthony coming off of the bench. In addition, besides Anthony, fourteen players left the bench during the brawl, receiving $500 fines. They were Charles Smith, Rolando Blackman, Charles Oakley, Herb Williams, Hubert Davis, Eric Anderson and Bo Kimble of the Knicks; Cedric Ceballos, Tom Chambers, Frank Johnson, Tim Kempton, Negele Knight, Mark West and Richard Dumas of the Suns.

In a bold move, before the 1993 NBA Playoffs began, the NBA changed their rules regarding fighting:

Any player who throws a punch now immediately ejected from the game, suspended for at least one game, and fined an appropriate dollar amount. Any player throwing a punch that connects with another player will be ejected from the game, suspended for a minimum of one to five games, and fined an appropriate dollar amount. Teams will also be fined an amount equal to the total sum of their players’ fines. Any player leaving the bench area during a fight will be fined $2,500, up from $500, and that player’s team will be fined $5,000 for each of its players who leave the bench area.

Clearly concerned with giving players a disincentive to not leave the bench, in 1994-95, the NBA makes another change:

Any player who leaves the bench during a fight automatically suspended for a minimum of one game and fined a maximum of $20,000; in addition to losing 1/82nd of his salary for each game, he is suspended.

On May 14, 1997, over four years after the Knicks/Suns brawl, the Knicks were about to lose Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Eastern Conference Semi-Finals to the #2 seeded Miami Heat. The #3 seeded Knicks were about to be headed back to New York up 3 games to 2, with a chance to close the series out in New York (and get their last, perhaps best, chance at defeating their rivals, the Chicago Bulls, in the Eastern Conference Finals). Instead, a fight breaks out between the Heat’s PJ Brown and the Knicks’ Charlie Ward, leading to multiple Knick players leaving the bench and multiple Knicks being suspended for Games 6 and 7 of the series, including Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson, John Starks and Charlie Ward. The Knicks lost the final two games of the series, killing their season.

And if it had not been for the PR black eye of the Knicks/Suns brawl (and Greg Anthony’s street clothed symphony of violence), that rule likely would not have been instituted yet.

Let’s all go thank Greg Anthony!

Thanks to Clifton Brown, Tom Friend and Harvey Araton for their reporting work during this incident, including the great quotes!

If you folks dig these stories, you’d probably also get a kick out of my Sports Legends Revealed site. There is an archive of the ones about basketball here. I also have one Sports Legend featured every Tuesday at the LA Times.

If you have any suggestions for future Unsung Knicks History pieces, drop me a line at cronb01@aol.com! I’d prefer you share your suggestions via e-mail rather than in the comments section, so we can keep them a surprise! Thanks!

27 comments on “Unsung Knick History – How Greg Anthony Killed the Knicks’ 1996-97 Season

  1. chrisk06811

    I wonder if any of our current players are passionate enough to throw a punch at the garden when things get heated. Oh wait….I think Melo did that once.

  2. The Infamous Cdiggy

    I remember that fight almost like it was yesterday… or last month. Speaking of Greg Anthony, he reminds me of all the somewhat lousy drafting (or draft luck) we had in the 90’s. Even though we never had high draft picks because we were good, it would’ve been nice if we could’ve plucked a few late round gems other than Hubert Davis.

  3. alsep73

    @2, I’d chalk Anthony up more to bad draft luck than bad drafting. Terrell Brandon, who went one spot earlier, would have been a better floor general for the Knicks than Anthony. On the other hand, the only player taken after Anthony who would’ve been clearly better was Dale Davis, and (unlike the current team), burly, defensive-minded rebounding PF was not an immediate or long-term need for that team.

    And speaking of Hubert Davis, he had a decent career, but imagine if we’d taken Sprewell, who went four picks later.

    On the other hand, you want a combo of bad luck AND bad drafting for the Knicks? Look at 1996, where we were one pick too late for Jermaine O’Neal, then passed on Ilgauskus not once but twice (for John Wallace and Walter McCarty), along with a variety of useful role players like Jerome Williams, Derek Fisher, Travis Knight, Othella Harrington, etc.

  4. alsep73

    Mike Kurylo: Anthony should have been ejected from the arena for his poor choice in clothing. Did he get that shirt from the Clown’s Warehouse?  

    God, I loved that shirt, because it made it easier to laugh off that horrible brawl, in a way. Without it, ugly. With it, ridiculous.

  5. BigBlueAL

    I know its probably irrational to think but to this day I still truly believe the 97 Knicks wouldve beaten the 97 Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.

  6. Z

    That fight was one of my best high school memories. Not only was it the two best teams in the league going at it, but Kevin Johnson vs. Doc Rivers of all people. I read a book called 48 Minutes about a game in the life of the NBA and one of the refs interviewed said Kevin Johnson was so honest that if they didn’t see a play they would ask KJ and he’d tell them which call to make. (KJ has since been elected mayor of Sacramento and will probably be Governor one day…) And, of course, Doc Rivers is universally considered the nicest guy to ever live, so between the two of them, makes for a truly great story.

    Great job recapping the fight AND tying it to the rule change. Hadn’t realized it was the beginning of the end, not just of the Knicks, but of the D’Antoni Suns too!

  7. Z

    BigBlueAL: I know its probably irrational to think but to this day I still truly believe the 97 Knicks wouldve beaten the 97 Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.  

    The great thing about losing, unjustly, to the Heat is that it keeps this irrational belief alive and well :)

    Fact is, if memory serves me well, that wasn’t a great team. LJ had fallen off a cliff that year, Houston wasn’t all that impressive, and the team basically relied on Ewing, Starks, and Oakley to get them to 55 wins. They matched up well with the Heat, but going into the playoffs, I don’t remember having high expectations to come out of the East (not only because of Jordan, but because of the Knicks too).

  8. Robert Silverman

    I hit the motherlode.

    For those who’d like to re-live more Knicks history both sung and unsung, this youtube channel has about EVERY important Knick playoff game for the last 30 years. It’s the whole game too. Take a look, but believe me, you can end up watching games for hours (like I did last night and killing any chance at being a productive member of society).

    http://www.youtube.com/user/tjhunt76

    The whole finals v. Houston is there. As are the playoffs against Indy in 94 and 95, plus (and this is what I was going kaboobernuts watching last night), King’s incredible run v. Detroit/Boston in ’84 (and for those too young to have seen Bernard play, check it out), Ewing’s great series against Boston in ’90, a ton of Knicks/Bulls games from ’88, ’90, ’92, ’93, ’94, ’96, ’97

    The Charles Smith game is there, so is Starks’ 2-18 game, the leaving the bench game that Brian talks about above.

    Everything.

  9. Nick C.

    Wasn’t there a game where Starks was going shot for shot with MJ for the first half before crashing to earth in the second. It would have been during the Jordan 1.0 era.

  10. hoolahoop

    Greg Anthony was wrong. He admitted it and apologized. I follow your logic but that’s a lot to throw on him, that he was the reason the knicks got thrown out of a game four years later. Greg Anthony had a bad reputation, and I didn’t think much of him. Then, I met him in the Knicks locker room as a nervous young guy looking for a story. He was the nicest guy on the team to me.

  11. BigBlueAL

    Z:
    The great thing about losing, unjustly, to the Heat is that it keeps this irrational belief alive and well :)Fact is, if memory serves me well, that wasn’t a great team. LJ had fallen off a cliff that year, Houston wasn’t all that impressive, and the team basically relied on Ewing, Starks, and Oakley to get them to 55 wins. They matched up well with the Heat, but going into the playoffs, I don’t remember having high expectations to come out of the East (not only because of Jordan, but because of the Knicks too).  

    They won 57 games and were 2-2 vs the Bulls that season including famously winning in Chicago in the final game of the regular season to keep the Bulls from winning 70 again.

    They swept the Hornets who many believed could upset the Knicks then went up 3-1 against the Heat and couldve easily swept them since they blew a late lead in Game 2. LJ and Houston were great in the playoffs compared to their regular seasons.

    Let me keep my dream alive damnit :-)

  12. Brian Cronin

    The 1996-97 Knicks were a very good team that should have been better. They won 57 games with all three of their high profile additions having worse years than they did the year before. Imagine that Knicks team if Houston, LJ or Childs played like they each did in 1995-96? Heck, just imagine if Houston and LJ had merely played as well as they did a few years later for the Knicks! Things would have been a lot different. As it was, the Knicks had a dominant front court (Ewing, Oakley, Buck Williams having his last hoorah and LJ, who was still a good player, just not as good as he was the previous year) but had a relatively weak back court.

    In any event, they matched up well against the Bulls (who had problems with dominant big men – they luckily never had to play the Rockets or Spurs during their six titles). Would they have won? I dunno, but it would have been close.

  13. Mike Kurylo

    1997 Knicks: 2nd ranked defense. 25th ranked offense. If this blog existed then, we’d be arguing over Allan Houston’s value: 16.1 pts/36 on 53.1%. I can hear it now “How can Houston be a good scorer if the Knicks are 25th on offense?” – “He can score from anywhere on the court – he’s awesome.”

    Actually to dig deeper, the Knick offense was last (by a large margin) in turnovers. Ewing had a high number per/minute but turnover rate is much higher for guys like Ward, Childs, Wallace, Oak, and Buck. Houston is near the bottom.

    Honestly can’t this franchise get (and hold onto) a young PG that can run the offense? One that doesn’t find oil based lubricants to be a tasty treat would be a plus.

  14. BigBlueAL

    Robert Silverman: I hit the motherlode.For those who’d like to re-live more Knicks history both sung and unsung, this youtube channel has about EVERY important Knick playoff game for the last 30 years. It’s the whole game too. Take a look, but believe me, you can end up watching games for hours (like I did last night and killing any chance at being a productive member of society).http://www.youtube.com/user/tjhunt76The whole finals v. Houston is there. As are the playoffs against Indy in 94 and 95, plus (and this is what I was going kaboobernuts watching last night), King’s incredible run v. Detroit/Boston in ’84 (and for those too young to have seen Bernard play, check it out), Ewing’s great series against Boston in ’90, a ton of Knicks/Bulls games from ’88, ’90, ’92, ’93, ’94, ’96, ’97The Charles Smith game is there, so is Starks’ 2-18 game, the leaving the bench game that Brian talks about above.
    Everything.  

    Good stuff, just added both of his channels to my subscriptions.

    Thanks to a torrents website Ive been able to download full/original broadcasts of a bunch of 90’s Knicks playoff games. Ive only kept saved on my hard drive games they won though lol. I have the 3 wins in the 1992 series vs the Bulls, Games 1/2/7 vs the Bulls in 1994 and all 4 wins vs the Pacers from 1994 too.

    Have the Game 3 OT win vs the Bulls in 1996 and all 3 wins from the 1998/1999 series vs the Heat plus Game 6 of the 1999 series vs Indiana. Also have the Game 7 win vs the Heat in 2000 but its a Greatest Games version which isnt the complete broadcast obviously.

    Plus of course I have the Knicks History DVD which is great too. Evidently I have way too much time on my hands……..

  15. Brian Cronin

    1997 Knicks: 2nd ranked defense. 25th ranked offense. If this blog existed then, we’d be arguing over Allan Houston’s value: 16.1 pts/36 on 53.1%. I can hear it now “How can Houston be a good scorer if the Knicks are 25th on offense?” – “He can score from anywhere on the court – he’s awesome.”

    Exactly. They brought in Houston and LJ specifically for their offensive abilities, and neither really brought it in that first year.

  16. BigBlueAL

    Brian Cronin:
    Exactly. They brought in Houston and LJ specifically for their offensive abilities, and neither really brought it in that first year.  

    They brought it in the playoffs though. LJ had a .662 TS% and a 124 offensive rating. Houston also raised his TS% to .583% in the playoffs.

    Weird looking back at the advanced stats for these teams since they werent even available to look at back then I assume. Hell I didnt start looking at advanced stats in basketball until a couple of years ago lol.

  17. art vandelay

    Personally, out of ALL the heartbreaking playoff debacles in the 90s, the two that still hurt to this day (even more so, at least for me, than the two defeats in the finals of ’94 and ’99) were the 1992-93 and 1996-97 seasons:

    In my opinions those were the two best teams of the Ewing era…that neither one made it to the finals is the grandy irony of it all while lesser teams (the 94 and 99 incarnations) did….I really believe these two teams possessed the best balance of killer D and at least moderate to potent offense…the other teams of the 90s didn´t have nearly as much firepower as those 2 teams..and the fact that we didn´t win it over 4 missed layups in a row (charles smith) and a bench-clearing brawl (this is debatable, since we would have had to face MJ in the next round, but I, too, believe we had an excellent chance of taking them out that year) is truly a tragedy!!!

  18. daJudge

    Brian, I enjoyed your piece very much. Thank you. It also made me ponder athletes then and now. At the risk of being reactionary, there seems to be a huge ‘dude gap’ between the players back then and the folks who now seek to entertain us. Of course not all, but as a general trend. On the other hand, maybe that’s why those old Knicks were 2nd in defense, but 25th on offense. My own preference is the tough D.

  19. BigBlueAL

    I always felt the same way but statistically the 1994 Knicks really were an excellent team and by far the best team of the 90’s. The 1994 Knicks “only” won 57 games but their point differential says they shouldve won 60. The 1993 Knicks won 60 but shouldve won a couple of games less.

    Like you I always thought the 1993 team was much better than the 1994 team but statistically its not really the case. Ironically both teams had much tougher times in the first 2 rounds of the playoffs than they should have. One thing I appreciated about Van Gundy’s Knicks was when they faced an inferior opponent in the playoffs they didnt mess around and swept all of them (96 Cavs, 97 Hornets, 99 Hawks, 2000 Raptors) something Riley’s Knicks never did (sweep a playoff series).

  20. Jim Cavan

    Great piece Brian. I remember watching this game, but had completely forgotten how it was all set off. It’s funny watching Greg Anthony on the tube now and thinking his reputation was always so sterling. Which, of course, you can also say about Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, and a number of other really decent commentators who had to live down certain life episodes.

    I was like 10 at the time, and a huge Ewing fan, and seem to remember Ewing throwing a lot more punches (I may have deluded myself into believing he’d laid out Barkley). But he really didn’t do much outside of restraining. Did they have another brawl at some point around the same time? Maybe it was just my rose-colored glasses.

  21. BigBlueAL

    “On the other hand, maybe that’s why those old Knicks were 2nd in defense, but 25th on offense.”

    All about personnel. Riley’s Knicks couldnt score much because they had extremely limited offensive players in my opinion. Van Gundy’s Knicks to me had the ability to be much better on offense but his philosophy (and lack of a real good PG) limited them offensively.

  22. BigBlueAL

    Jim Cavan: Great piece Brian. I remember watching this game, but had completely forgotten how it was all set off. It’s funny watching Greg Anthony on the tube now and thinking his reputation was always so sterling. Which, of course, you can also say about Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, and a number of other really decent commentators who had to live down certain life episodes.
    I was like 10 at the time, and a huge Ewing fan, and seem to remember Ewing throwing a lot more punches (I may have deluded myself into believing he’d laid out Barkley). But he really didn’t do much outside of restraining. Did they have another brawl at some point around the same time? Maybe it was just my rose-colored glasses.  

    Only other brawl I remember vividly besides the 97 one vs the Heat was the 94 one vs the Bulls in the playoffs between Harper and White. Of course back then players were allowed to push and shove and get in each other’s faces w/o any suspensions or even ejections like happens now. I believe also in Game 1 of the 95 series vs the Pacers Harper and one of the Davis boys I think get ejected for some physical stuff but it wasnt a fight just technicals if I remember correctly.

    Ewing also was ejected from a playoff game in 94 vs NJ too but for arguing with the refs not for fighting.

Comments are closed.