By Ben Horney, Knicks fan since '94
Exactly 20 years ago today, with just 50 seconds to go in the fourth quarter of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Chicago Bulls, John Starks dribbled up the Madison Square Garden court, his duty clear: protect the Knicks 91-88 lead and escape with a victory.
Starks dribbled to the right wing and backed B.J. Armstrong down to the three-point line, as Patrick Ewing popped out to set a screen that would allow Starks to go left and drive to the hole. Starks briefly hesitated before exploding the opposite way of the pick and hurtling into the lane. Horace Grant stepped up to meet him, and time seemed to slow down as Starks leapt into the air – and into NBA history -- before even reaching the paint. Michael Jordan's attempt to help was too late, and Starks threw down The Dunk; a monster left-handed jam that sent the Garden into hysteria.
Marv Albert shouted a signature "Yes!"
"That's as Jordan-like...as any other player in the NBA can get," added Knicks broadcasting legend John Andariese.
The ensuing Bulls timeout only gave Starks, the Knicks and the Garden crowd more time to process how the world had just been turned upside down. Starks bounded over to the bench where he was greeted by high-fives, pounds and chest bumps galore. He pointed to the crowd, who showered him with cheers and gave him a standing ovation.
The Knicks would go on to win 96-91, going up 2-0 in the series. Starks, who was instantly crowned the hero, had played a fairly average if not forgettable game up until his delirium-inducing dunk -- he finished with 12 points and nine assists. Ewing led the Knicks with 26 points and 10 rebounds; followed by 21 points from current Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. Charles Oakley added 14 points and 16 rebounds.
Michael Jordan's 36 points and nine rebounds seem somewhat haughty, but the Knicks were able to hold him to 12-32 from the field (37%). Scottie Pippen added 17 points, but the Bulls didn't get much help elsewhere.
Today, The Dunk is showcased in an exhibit on the revamped sixth floor of the Garden, as one of MSG's 10 "defining moments." The exhibit features Starks' warm-ups from that game, along with a few other signature items from the night.
"Every player has a defining moment in their career," Starks told ESPN last year, "and that was probably the defining moment for me."