On June 5th, 1999, Larry Johnson made a three-pointer that will go down as one of the most memorable shots in Knicks franchise history.
After being torched with Reggie Miller-led comebacks for years, it was finally the Knicks time. Entering the playoffs as an eight-seed, fans would have been content enough with a simple appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, but when they unexpectedly got there, all of New York wanted nothing more than to take down the Pacers. I’m not sure if an appearance by Indiana in the NBA Finals was even considered watchable by most of the city. The rivalry between the Knicks and the “Hicks” was as strong as ever from the mid to late 1990′s, but the shot from Larry Johnson would fuel it even further.
New York was on a miracle run, using a game-winning runner from Allan Houston to sneak by the even more hated Miami Heat in the first round, and then sweeping their way past the Atlanta Hawks in the second. The Knicks stole the first contest in Indiana, but lost more than a game in the second one when Patrick Ewing exited early with injury, later finding out he’d be sidelined for the rest of the postseason. It seemed like a dark cloud hung over New York City. Was the loss of their franchise center the lethal blow that would knock the Knicks out of the playoffs? With the Knicks down by three in Game 3 and just 11.9 seconds left on the clock, LJ had different thoughts:
It was the defining moment of Johnson’s career. A bad back turned him from an undersized power forward who wouldn’t hesitate to bully his way through defenders or jump his way over them, to an unselfish swingman who could make it rain from three if he wasn’t looking a stiff as a wet sweatshirt in the winter. In unison, all of Madison Square Garden jumped to their feet, as if it was planned. New York isn’t Miami. There was nobody banging at the door, begging to be allowed back in.
Even LJ let his emotions get the best of him before he realized that there was still a game-clinching free throw to make. He stepped up to the line with confidence, sinking the extra shot with ease, and etching his spot into New York basketball lore.
There will always be questions of whether or not Johnson was truly fouled, but in New York, we turn a blind eye to it. Had this happened during the social media era, somebody would have been burned at the stake. Had something like this happened against the Knicks, the whole city would have been on fire. However, what’s done is done, and what Larry Johnson did that night will be remembered forever.