The dog days of summer are some of the harshest on sports fans. Unless you can somehow be entertained by the monotony and corruption of baseball (1998 was the most entertaining season in MLB history…just saying), us basketball fans only have the NBA schedule release to look forward to. Perhaps the only thing that will help fans bridge the gap until training camps open in September is the ever so popular game of football.
Basketball players are unique in that their athleticism allows them to be successful in almost any other sport. The same can not be said for a 300-pound lineman, or a 100 mph pitcher. The New York Knicks are no strangers to multi-sport athletes, and as the summer lingers on, TOK is going to show you the success that some former Knickerbockers have had on the gridiron, starting with the one and only Charlie Ward.
Ward was everything you could ask out of a collegiate quarterback. His foot speed and quick decision making helped him win the Heisman Trophy in 1993, the same year that he led the Florida State Seminoles to their first National Championship. Ward also played four years for the basketball team, and was chosen by the Milwaukee Brewers to be a pitcher while still in school.
Unfortunately for the NFL, the same quick feet and decision making that made him so successful as a quarterback made him an ideal floor general for basketball teams too. When it came time for Ward to chose a sport to play professionally, his own stubbornness got in his way. When he wasn’t selected in the first round of the 1994 NFL Draft, he decided that his future would be on the hardwood. The Knicks were ready to pounce on Ward in the NBA Draft, but had to wait until the 27th overall pick to take him. Upon being drafted to New York, the Kansas City Chiefs called just to make sure that Ward had no interest in backing up Joe Montana, but he was ready to put football in his past.
Ward’s professional basketball career got off to a slow start, playing only 10 games for Pat Riley in his rookie season. However, once Jeff Van Gundy took over in 1996, he finally got the chance to prove himself. While Ward would never blow you away with his ability, he was a true leader and always knew what to do with the ball. He wasn’t the best defender, but his football background gave him one of the toughest mental edges in the league, and he was never one to back down from a challenge. Ward would never average more than 7.8 points in a season, but it was the intangibles that led to a long lasting, 11-year NBA career.
Don’t ask why the highlights of one of his best games can only be found in Spanish.
Ward can proudly say that he was the reason that the Knicks and Heat rivalry escalated to what it was, bud sadly, most casual fans will only pin him as the culprit for a missed title run in 1997. In a Game 5 where the Knicks owned a 3-1 series lead, it should have been all but over for Miami, but when Ward tried to take out P.J. Brown’s legs on a feeble rebound attempt, it incited Brown to literally pick him up and flip him over. When the Knicks bench cleared, Commissioner Stern stuck it to them by suspending Ward, Larry Johnson, Patrick Ewing, John Starks, and Allan Houston for one game each, spread throughout the final two games. The suspensions combined with the Game 5 loss doomed a New york team primed to dethrone Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
While some fans will harp on the lows, one thing is for sure, New York may never see a tougher backcourt than Ward and Chris Childs.