1998-99 Lockout Blues (and Orange)

Date Posted: 16 November 2011     0 Comments

NBA fans, from casual to hardcore, are certainly shaking their heads at this year’s lockout. For us here at NBA Premium TV, it certainly is no reason to celebrate. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to look forward to – it doesn’t mean we have to stop loving the game. I remember my experience in the past lockout.

It was 13 years ago; I had just received my copy of NBA Live ’99 for the PlayStation. Outside of seeing NBA games on television and the sports section of our newspaper, NBA Live was my best source for anything NBA. I couldn’t wait to see the changes, which players ranked higher or lower, who got traded to where, and who were the new players.

I was happy to find Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Roster Player (or Number 99 as the commentators called him) and the rest of the Chicago Bulls were all still largely intact despite what I had heard about the Bulls possibly breaking up for reasons I didn’t understand at the time. 

There was something about the videogame that bothered me though. The only rookie on the game was a European wingman that went by the name Predrag Stojakovic and he had the number 88 on his jersey. That’s when I knew that something must have been seriously wrong in the NBA.

Back then, I couldn’t follow the lockout the way I can now. All I remember is the following season signaled the dawn of a new era. Michael Jordan had just retired, again – and, as we’d find out some years later, not for the last time either – but this one felt like it was the end of his time. His partner, Scottie Pippen, went to the aging Rockets. Kobe Bryant was continuing to grow in talent and popularity as Jordan’s “next in line.” I also saw a game changer in Vince Carter as he performed one entertaining feat after the other with ease. Jason Williams had everyone waiting for that next unbelievable pass that would come out of nowhere. This was a new period of NBA basketball.

But what really made the season special for me were the New York Knicks. As a Knicks fan, I had to say goodbye to Charles Oakley and John Starks, though I gladly welcomed Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby. It was their playoff run that truly made it memorable for me.

They would first face their rivals, the top-seeded Miami Heat. I really didn’t like the Heat but I respected the hell out of them, and knew they could beat the Knicks just as much as the Knicks could beat them, but I didn’t like them.

When the Knicks dropped Game 4 and the series was tied at two apiece and going back to Miami, I didn’t have my hopes up, but I really had to see the game. I remember taking a mental note of the time this game was scheduled and that I forced myself to wake up early to watch it. And it was well worth it.

Like most Heat-Knicks games back then, the game was intense and close. In the last moments of the game, the Knicks were down one and needed a basket. Allan Houston ended up with the inbounds pass and shot the ball from the top of the key – I held my breath because it wasn’t a particularly good-looking shot, but it had a chance – it drew iron and I bit my lip, I wasn’t sure about that chance anymore – it kissed the glass high and finally fell through the ring to give the Knicks the lead with only 0.8 seconds remaining. The Knicks would come up with a stop to win the game and the series and I couldn’t help jumping and screaming for joy in my room – thankfully I was alone and nobody saw that.

The next great Knicks moment during this season came from Larry “Grandmama” Johnson in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the other great rivals of the Knicks – the Indiana Pacers. The Knicks were down by three with 11.9 seconds to go. I remember thinking, “I hope they nail a three, or a two-pointer with a foul,” and I even joked, “Or a three with a foul!” But that’s precisely what LJ delivered; he bumped into Antonio Davis’ body and shot that three-pointer like he knew it was going in – and again I went wild. LJ sank the subsequent free throw and the Knicks won because of that play.

They would win the series in 6 games and I couldn’t believe that the New York Knicks were in the NBA Finals once again. After learning that they were the first 8th seeded team to reach the NBA Finals, I was just overwhelmed.

The Knicks would face the San Antonio Spurs and they struggled to make it a series until Game 4, which the Knicks won, only to lose a very close Game 5 to a midrange jumper from Avery Johnson.

Still, I was proud of those Knicks, and I still am today. They reminded me that, even if the league ain’t perfect, there’s always something to look forward to if you truly love the game.

That was then, and this is now. While I don’t expect the Knicks to make the same magical run, I still expect to be captivated when I see the NBA players play. That’s just what the NBA is: it’s where amazing happens, and that, folks, is more than a tagline – it is an NBA fan’s Gospel. Though we now walk through the valley of the shadow of possibly missing the season, I shall fear no evil, for something amazing is with me. The dreams and the memories, they comfort me.

It is easy to get lost in all this talk of the lockout – the negotiations, the deals, the terms, and the lack thereof – but let us not forget why we watch these players do what they do. Let us not forget the game we love. Let us not forget the NBA.

--Miguel Hidalgo

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