Looking forward and looking back to where we have been where the NBA future is...
John Starks and memories of Finals gone by
My basketball guilty pleasure has always been my love of the 1991-1995 New York Knicks. The Denver Nuggets have always been my favorite, and rarely has my eye wandered to another team. Yet, one of those few occasions I was genuinely a fan of another team it was those Knicks. My favorite player? John Starks.
It's an odd dichotomy, admittedly, as a Nuggets fan to like the Knicks. It was a brief time in my basketball viewership but definitely did. Hated the Chicago Bulls too, though I always respected Michael Jordan. Starks, to me, represented a bit of excitement in a very defensive oriented team. At times, he would absolutely have a terrible shooting percentage for several straight games, and then he would just explode. Like in the first two games of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals vs the Bulls where he rained threes down on the Bulls in a very Stephen Curry - esque way. You know, without the efficiency.
Starks was a fire cracker and could explode at any moment. Like his Dunk on Horace Grant in the 1993 ECF Game 2
Left handed Dunk? Yes please! Also, even though there are those (including my long time colleague Andrew Feinstein) who would argue the 1994 NBA Finals were a bad championship series ... I'd argue that any series where each game was within 10 points in a final margin (largest margin was 9 points) and most came down to the final minutes it IS a good Finals! Anyway, Starks exploded in the 4th quarter of Game Six, one that tipped the balance of the series as Starks was "blocked" by Hakeem Olajuwon (he got a finger on the shot) to keep the game from being tied. Still, Starks had a great game (and then completely crapped the bed in Game Seven going 3-17 shooting).
(Also, in the 1994 season 10 of the 16 playoff teams had over 50 wins. Compare that to this season. Let that sink in a bit)
Memories, right? All I know is I look fondly on that time. 1994 was the last year before the NBA Expanded two more teams (Vancouver and Toronto) and seriously diluted the overall talent in the NBA. Unfairly the Late 1990's Bully ball (featuring the Knicks and Miami Heat and their many brawls) is conflated into the early 1990's. This is not fair. The first three Championships that the Bulls had were likely their best, as they had to slog through the last of the Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers (who were good), Knicks, and three tough Finals opponents in the Los Angeles Lakers (Magic Johnson's last full season), Portland Trail Blazers (Drexler, Robinson, Kersey, Duckworth, Porter) and Charles Barkley's MVP season Phoenix Suns.
I suppose we all hold our memories close, and that's a moment in time I'll always treasure.
What does the future hold?
I'm reluctant to embrace the overly three-point-centric era of the NBA, that was inspired by former Denver Nuggets coach Mike D'Antoni. I think, upon reflection, that is because I've seen my memories of my favorite time watching basketball, the early 1990's, get trashed over and over again by people who never watched it or were never around at that time. There are extremely good reasons for teams to play the way they do now (analytic based three's and layups) I just think I've rejected it because I don't like my memories invalidated ... or perceived as much.
Maybe that's what the likes of Barkley, Shaquile O'Neal and others take such an aggressive anti-analytics approach? I really don't know. I've done some extensive thinking about this subject recently in an effort to process my own thoughts on the matter. The fact is, I've been being largely petty about this. While my dislike of the Golden State Warriors is heavily rooted in what Andre Iguodala did during his last days as a Denver Nugget, I've come to at least appreciate their accomplishment this year and understand they are on the precipice of something huge.
Threes, twos, whatever. The goal is to get the ball in the hoop and in reality that's all that matters.
Now enjoy this amusing interview with John Starts done last year.