The orange sphere danced around the cylinder, clanging violently against the metal, yelling for silence from the massive Miami-Dade crowd.
We hated them, and they hated us. It was simpler that way.It was before the years of intense AAU basketball, the unspoken meeting ground of future NBA superstars who meet time and time again in tournaments designed to bolster their draft stock. It was well before the Ron Artest melee, a black mark on the league's rep that forced Stern to eliminate even a pretense of anger between rivals. And it was right after the "end" of MJ, an uncomfortable time for fans and players alike that would shape the league over the next ten years.
It was back during the golden age of the NBA rivalry, when players despised their opponent right down to the uniform colors, when guys would refuse to sign with the city rival in free agency, and when guys would decline dinner dates with each other before intense playoff games. Or so we believed.
We didn't need to feign anger. They stole our coach, a guy who sculpted the Showtime Lakers into perennial champions and promised our naïve bunch a return to the glory days. He promised to make Ewing into Kareem, to make our jumbled backcourt (Harper, Starks) into Magic, and almost delivered. We were so close to the NBA crown that we could taste it.
Then Starks happened. The amount of shots he missed is still a confused algorithm. Then the fight for front office hegemony happened. And now, our Dean Smith sat comfortably on the rival bench, intent on snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in another titanic battle.
It was a fierce rivalry, with Riley as the lynchpin. The big men stood underneath the basket, all bent on securing supreme post position. Sweat dripped from uniforms and accessories alike, as bodies leaned, clawed, and pressed underneath the rim to secure as much unoccupied parquet as possible. Familiar foes with similar histories, these players were taught by the same man to unleash as much physical damage on their opponent as possible, akin to heavyweight fighters letting loose tremendous body blows.
Our shooting guard, who caught, drove and released the ball in what seemed to be one fluid motion, now glided towards the basket, his momentum sweeping him into the painted area below.
And we all waited.
And then, the unexpected happened. The shot went in.
Utter joy. Unfamiliar chaos. Crash Bandicoot dancing in the streets.
It was an ugly victory. We hated them and they hated us. But this time, we got the best of them.
Knicks 78. Heat 77.