David Robinson and Patrick Ewing, two of the iconic big men of the 1990s, perched on director’s chairs, flanking that goofy talking ball, recounting the epic battle they had at the tail end of their careers, both expending every last bit of energy in their aging bodies, resulting in championship validation for one and another close-but-not-close-enough tragedy for the other … it would’ve been the perfect talking ball moment if it had ever materialized.
The 1999 NBA Playoffs are mostly an afterthought. A lockout shortened the regular season to 50 games. Jerry Krause’s insistence on blowing up the nucleus of the Chicago Bulls—because, after all, organizational decisions such as signing Brent Barry are really what win championships—robbed the league of the easy-yet-compelling “Bulls chase four-peat” storyline. The Eastern Conference’s top team, the Miami Heat, was ousted in the first round of the playoffs. The Los Angeles Lakers had a still maturing duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant learning to play together without Phil Jackson around to guide them.
Instead, the Knicks didn’t really have any business making the Finals, considering they were the eighth seed in the East, upsetting top-seeded Miami, Atlanta, and Indiana prior to the Finals. Then, two games into the Eastern Conference Finals, Ewing injured his Achilles tendon, ending his season and forcing him to watch arguably his best chance at a championship pass him by. Robinson, though still a very good player, had ceded control of the Spurs to the up-and-coming Tim Duncan (the Finals MVP). Robinson was a key player in the series, just not the key player.
Minus the Ewing-Robinson matchup, with both teams still dealing with the a lack of cohesiveness caused by the lockout— which prevented a reasonable amount of training camp time—and with coaches Jeff Van Gundy and Gregg Popovich in love with the clutch-and-grab defenses of the era, the series was far from a monument to beautiful basketball. No team scored more than 90 points in a single game. In game two, the Knicks couldn’t even crack 70 points. The Spurs clinched the series in game five and only needed to score 78 points to do it. Avery Johnson is credited with hitting the “game-winner” in game five even though the Knicks still had 47 seconds to come up with an answer.
Robinson and Ewing deserved to have their moment immortalized in a cheesy NBA commercial. Instead, the series that should have been the pinnacle of both careers will forever be the forgotten championship between Bulls and Lakers dynasties.
—Photo via Fanbase
More from “Talking To Talking Balls Week” at the Good Men Project:
Bethlehem Shoals: The Absurd Talking Balls
Peter Schrager: The Great Frank Brickowski
Tim Burke: A Cavs Fan’s Love for Laimbeer
Tom Ley: The Ballad of Adam Morrison
Andy Hutchins: Nice Try, Kobe
Eric Nusbaum: Lakers Flags
Graydon Gordian: Sprewellian Anxiety
Alan Siegel: The Hypocrisy of Jordan’s Ball
Andrew Bucholtz: Chuck, This Is Goodbye
Holly MacKenzie: Everything Is Possible
Kurt Helin: Lee’s Layup