It seems impossible to believe now, but it has been 21 years since the New York Knicks faced the Boston Celtics in the NBA playoffs. Seems so, but a closer examination reveals that time didn't stand still for me, either.
I was 10 years old on the glorious spring day when the Knicks defeated the Celtics, 121-114. Still not in charge of my own social schedule, I attended Cindy Greenberg's tenth birthday party. I believe mini-golf was involved. Now, of course, I would figure out a way to avoid any social interaction on the day of a deciding playoff game. Whether this is maturity or the opposite, I will leave to you.
For the first ten years of my life, the Knicks had been fleetingly good, and often terrible. Bernard King came before my consciousness. My first year of awareness, a rookie Patrick Ewing and the Knicks finished 24-58. And a few years later, I remember a late-game comeback to sink the Sixers. But it was only the Sixers. It mattered in my South Jersey school the next day, but meant little in the grand scheme of the NBA.
But the Celtics! The Knicks were decidedly a regional affair. I remember my dad taping a game in which Dallas beat New York, 113-93, and devouring it the next day, because the Knicks were on television. The Celtics were everywhere. A version of Larry Bird played on the Apple Jordan vs. Bird at my friend Jonathan Prober's house. Bird sold things, shoes, burgers. Come playoff time, Bird was everywhere. Kevin McHale was on Cheers. And the Knicks, especially at Boston Garden, were their Washington Generals.
I still remember how my father told me that the Knicks won, explained about Mo Cheeks' flawless performance and Patrick Ewing's unlikely three to seal the game. He was incredulous. Everybody was. Maybe I was most of all, since I didn't live through Walt Frazier and Willis Reed. I knew Brian Quinett and Eddie Lee Wilkins. (That's right- to my Knicks-centric eight-year-old mind, Gerald Wilkins was the good Wilkins!)
And everything changed with that win, though not precisely as I imagined. That was the last time I remembered the Knicks exceeding expectations, unfairly or not. The Knicks became a fixture in the playoffs, and not just at the start. Boston faded, as expected, but New York never made it to the summit.
Is it strange that the win over Boston still feels like the high point? Ahead of beating Indiana and making the finals, beating Pippen and the Bulls, Allan Houston toppling the Heat? Somehow, it does.
So maybe I am just projecting my life experience again. I never knew the Celtics could lose before, so now, with the Knicks on the edge of national relevance again- one can only imagine how they will explode with a win over Boston, but it figures to be on par with how it unfolded in 1990.
It feels like something huge is about to unfold.
So let me be clear. If the series extends to a full seven games, even though I haven't been invited, nor do I know that Cindy Greenberg will be playing mini-golf on her birthday... I am sending my regrets.