It was a season to forget for most, one miscast among a decade of supremacy and legitimacy for a league that had once feared expulsion. Money rained down from sponsors, consumers, and television networks into the hands of the league's glowering tyrant, a media maven whose sanguine expression hid a more sinister disposition. This sport, once dismissed by Madison Avenue because of its inability to take root in the national myth was now being embraced by these same white collar types, men eager to market a new American hero in the image of their watershed creation, one Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
This team was an ugly team, one riddled with eccentric personalities and wayward castoffs. For years they had played villain to the hero, the archetypal Legion of Doom to the championed Justice League (Bulls). The de facto leader (mostly due to tenure) was a much maligned center, a man whose career was unfortunately tethered to the success of this team, his team. Over the previous summer, he was at the center (no pun intended) of the league's one unsightly blemish of the decade, a work stoppage that pit he and other talented (mostly black) players against the league's dominant (and mostly white) oligarchy of officials and executives. Standing in proxy for the league's interests was the phantom menace, Mr. David Stern, an evil genius with a bevy of resources and tactical devices at his disposal. Stern quickly asserted his dominance and dismissed the disorganized collective of million dollar slaves, crushing the ill-timed revolt.
But there were many onlookers angered by the proceedings carried on by these men paid to play the game that they loved and those select few capitalists that owned their rights. They wanted to see the game of basketball, unrestricted by litigation and manufactured "good ole boy" loyalties, captured in an effervescent array of grandeur by standard definition cameras, and (if necessary) presented neatly to them by the network synonymous with Seinfeld, Friends, and the widely popular "Roundball Rock". They wanted fewer distractions. They wanted to see the next Jordan. But our center and his NBAPA cronies represented gratuitous chaos. And they hated him for it.
No doubt the smell of defeat singed his nostrils. But he was too proud to show it. His former coach fled the Big Apple for sunnier skies, and a younger, meeker – less experienced – teacher replaced him. Younger centers, more agile and spry than he, fought constantly for their share of his reputation. Older centers, those of his generation, had owned him for his entire professional career. And after more than a decade of carrying the hopes of a city on his shoulders, Ewing's knees finally began to give way.
The coach of this ragtag bunch was a young professional, a guy seeking to elude the shadow of his former boss and to shake the notion that he was a mere B-O-Y coaching a man's game. He carried with him a pure shooter, a Christian in word and deed that sank jumpers and guarded perimeter superstars with aplomb. The other wing boasted a real hothead, suspended by the league only a year prior for choking his head coach following an intense practice. He wore decorative braids (a hairstyle unknown to most NBA spectators and worn only by he and a young guard from Philadelphia) and seemed to always sport a scowl, almost relishing in his reputation as a crazy man. An undersized big controlled the low block. Once a man known for his great leaping ability, it seemed as if this pudgy forward's newfound wealth sucked the athleticism right out of his game. A Heisman recipient and a waiver wire castoff shared duties at the point, and a young, wiry understudy (the new sort that frustrated Ewing) patrolled the paint and spelled the franchise center for increasingly longer stretches of game time.
Ewing, Houston, Sprewell, Johnson, Ward, Childs, Camby. Van Gundy.
We had no business being there. But we...were...there.