Eighteen years ago today, former All-Star forward Larry Johnson became a New York Knicks and NBA Playoffs legend with just one amazing shot.
The date of June 5, 1999 will forever hold a special place in the hearts of all New York Knicks fans. Game 3 of the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals series between New York and the Indiana Pacers provided drama, controversy and an iconic visual of Madison Square Garden.
Dealing with a lockout shortened season, many teams were not able to get players fully back into shape leading to lackluster play around the league. The Knicks were heavily affected by this as well, struggling to the No. 8 seed in the playoffs after nearly missing out. Injuries and speculation regarding head coach Jeff Van Gundy’s job status helped fuel the team to a shocking upset series victory over the top seeded Miami Heat thanks to Allan Houston‘s own dramatic shot.
Sweeping easily by the Atlanta Hawks in the semifinals set up the matchup with known Knicks killer Reggie Miller and the Pacers. After splitting the first two games in Indianapolis, New York received the unsettling news of losing franchise center Patrick Ewing for the rest of the playoffs with an Achilles injury.
New York played valiantly without Ewing but faced a three-point deficit with seconds to play and possession. This is where the magic happened for Larry Johnson and the Knicks as the veteran forward made his move into team history. Johnson connected on a three-point shot while being fouled, sending the arena into a frenzy and somehow finding a way to compose himself and sink the game-clinching free throw.
It is fair to note that after plenty of reviews of the replay it may not look like a good foul call, but you will never convince the sell out crowd there that night of such a thing. New York would go on to defeat Indiana in six games and enter the NBA Finals against the heavily favored San Antonio Spurs. There would be no magic this time around as Tim Duncan and company would go on to clinch their first title.
As part of the Knicks’ 70th anniversary celebrating legendary players to ever wear the orange and blue, Johnson spoke on the shot with the team website.
“I had shooting on my brain from the start I got it, I was going to be the hero or I was going to be the villain. But I was going to shoot that ball.”
Members of the 1998-99 team joined Johnson in a special discussion of the playoff run and his infamous shot. Allan Houston, Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and Latrell Sprewell chimed in on the team’s reaction 18 years ago.
Johnson may have only averaged 12.3 points per game in his five seasons with the Knicks, but he was forever embedded in New York history with that shot.
The Knicks haven’t had much to celebrate this past season, so an anniversary of better times should bring small relief to the many diehard fans watching Cleveland and Golden State battle in another NBA Finals.