By Craig Kwasniewski
After a 95 day road trip, the Lakers return to Staples tonight to face the Knicks.
BTW - Screw the damn Grammy's! Why can't they hold the Grammys in the summer and interrupt the LA Sparks home schedule? Instead the Lakers, Clippers and Kings (They play a game called "hockey," it's really big in Canada, I heard it's like soccer on ice... whatever.) get sent on a brutal two week road trip that ends up killing any momentum. Does anyone besides bitter housewives even watch the Grammys?
Anyway, I always roll out when the Knicks come to town. The NY transplants show up in their Starbury or Ewing jerseys bringing that east coast attitude. The game somehow feels a little more important despite the Knicks sucking since Van Gundy left. Maybe it's nostalgia for the Ewing-led Knicks or the stories my dad told me of Clyde Frazier, but I've always made sure I catch the Knicks when they face the Lakers. In fact tonight will be my 12th Knicks @ Lakers game in a row.
So looking back I ask myself, what was the best game in the last 11 years? Was it Alan Houston dropping 53-points on the three-time defending champs? What about the Kobe-Chris Childs fight? Or maybe it was the 1997 game, where the Lakers rallied to tie the game causing my friend and me to run back to the Forum from the parking lot to catch the OT.
Actually my favorite game of all time was the 1999 encounter. Let's set the stage: It was the strike-shortened season. Every team was to shoehorn a 50-game schedule in three months. The players were out of shape and bitter.
The Lakers had fired head coach Del Harris and replaced him with Kurt Rambis; they traded fan favorite Eddie Jones for Glen Rice; the players started turning on Kobe with Shaq rumored to have punched him in practice. Oh by the way, a guy named Dennis Rodman came to town, got married to Carmen Electra, divorced Carmen Electra, sat out a few games for mysterious reasons (which was code for Vegas) and was then dismissed after playing in 23 games. It was a circus and very fun to watch (in fact one of my all-time favorite Laker seasons).
The Knicks came to town with their own internal problems. The team with Ewing, Camby, Sprewell, Houston and Larry Johnson were woefully underachieving at 16-14. Their fans were expecting a championship run, but instead they were treading along as an eight seed.
The game matched the typical NY-LA hype... very entertaining. Dennis Rodman got under the skin of several Knicks players and turned the game into a slugfest. Here's a video of Rodman getting into it with Knicks bruser, Kurt Thomas:
He got Kurt Thomas ejected for the throw-down. Soon the GW Forum faithful starting chanting, "Rod-man... Rod-man... Rod-man..."
The rest of the Lakers followed Rodman's lead, making the game very physical. Shaq later threw down a thunderous jam right on Chris Dudley, landed on him and shoved him on the ground. Check it out (as they say, Dudley went down like a Tijuana whore):
Chris Dudley got up, grabbed the ball and fired it at Shaq who was walking away at half-court. The ball hiliariously tapped Shaq on the ass, no force at all. The refs immediately ejected Dudley from the game.
It's hard to remember the rest of the details from the game (THC, alcohol, age... who knows), all I know is that the Lakers ended up beating the Knicks 99-91.
To me the game best represented the Rodman era, a circus atmosphere with the feeling that you never knew what to expect next. I didn't know it then, but the crowd chanting Rodman's name was the peak of Rodman's Laker days. In less than three weeks, the Lakers waived him. The Lakers season started to unravel, culminating with the implosion against the Spurs in the playoffs. Phil Jackson and three championships were right around the corner.