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History of the NBA: 1991-92

Via Nate Jones of

As I’ve mentioned before, I became a diehard NBA fan during the 1990-91 season. That’s the season that I watched or listened to every Lakers game and watched the majority of the NBA’s nationally televised games. Anyhow, that’s 18 full seasons of fandom there. Throughout my years as a diehard fan there have been tons of memorable moments. So I’ve decided to revisit all of those memorable moments with a series of posts called the Jones on the NBA History of the NBA. These might not be the consensus most memorable moments during this time, but they are mine. I’m going to go season by season, from 1990-91 to 2007-08. Anyhow, I hope you all enjoy this series of posts.


This season was the first season that my family had cable television. This allowed my NBA fandom to reach an entirely new level. I could watch the Bulls on WGN, the Hawks on TBS, the Lakers home games on Prime Ticket, and national broadcasts on TNT.

Magic’s Retirement

Possibly the saddest day in NBA history. Remember, back in 1991 if someone was diagnosed with HIV, it was almost certain that they would die within ten years. Magic was everything that was good about the NBA: charismatic, talented, and genuine. Yet he was being taken away from us before his time. 17 years later, Johnson is still alive and in great health. But back then, this was no certainty. I’m glad all of our worst fears didn’t come true.

Isiah Thomas and Karl Malone Battle It OutLong story short: Isiah Thomas gets pissed that John Stockton made the Dream Team over him. In revenge, Thomas lights up Stockton for 44 points early in the season. A month later Karl Malone exacts his revenge on Thomas for lighting up his daisy duke wearing teammate.

Here’s Basketbawful’s take:
"Back in 1991, Isiah Thomas was pissed about getting left off the the original Dream Team. Even though it was rumored that Michael Jordan ordered Thomas' omission, Isiah decided to take his frustration out on the guy who "stole" his spot: John Stockton. The next time the Pistons played the Jazz, Isiah isolated against Stockton at every opportunity, torching Mr. Short-Shorts for 40 points. But while Isiah may have assuaged his own titanic ego, he made one of the classic blunders: he embarrassed someone who's friends with Karl Malone. And Karl Malone doesn't like that. Not one bit. The next time the two teams met, Malone went for a rebound right through Isiah's face. The blow opened up a 40-stitch gash above Thomas' left eye, and Isiah had to be carried off the court in a bucket. Thomas struggled with nausea, headaches, and blurred vision for two weeks. Of course, considering Isiah's history of thuggery and bad sportsmanship, I think it's safe to say he had it coming."

Here's SI's Jack McCallum commenting on the Malone/Thomas altercation in a lengthy feature he produced on Malone during the 92 season:

"Indeed, the Mailman has a reputation in some quarters for going after smallish guards, which made the events of last Dec. 14 all the more intriguing. On that night at the Delta Center, the Detroit Pistons' Isiah Thomas drove toward the hoop in the first period, and Malone came off his man to defend. Both players went up in the air, and by the time Thomas landed, his face was a bloody mess. Contact with Malone's right elbow had opened a gash above his right eye that required 40 stitches to close. Malone was charged with a flagrant foul, and later, alter the NBA reviewed the tape, he was suspended for one game and fined $10,000. To others, though, the replay showed nothing flagrant—indeed, Thomas ducked under Malone, and that was where the contact occurred. But Thomas had burned Stockton and the Jazz for 44 points in a game one month earlier in Detroit, and Piston center Bill Laimbeer and coach Chuck Daly made broad hints that revenge had motivated Malone's hard foul. Later Malone left a message at Thomas's hotel that he wanted to talk to Thomas, 'not to apologize, but to clear the air and tell him it wasn't deliberate.' Thomas called him, and they talked it out."
The best thing about reading the McCallum report is seeing how many players had no problem going on the record and publicly calling Malone a dirty player.

Levert and NBA Players Tell You to be Cool and Stay in School

Grandmama Jumps on the Scene
Before his back injury, Larry Johnson was an absolute beast. He was a more street Charles Barkley (Check the gold tooth). Both were undersized power forwards that were able use their strength and athleticism to make up for whatever they lacked in height. Johnson was on his way to being one of the best ever when a back injury turned him into nothing more than a role player. Take a look at some early career LJ:

Cedric Ceballos Wins the Slam Dunk Contest

Speaking of Grandmama Larry him compete against Cedric Ceballos, Shawn Kemp, John Starks, Stacy Augmon, Doug West, and Nick Anderson in the 1992 Slam Dunk Contest. Larry Johnson was probably the best dunker that night, but lost to Ceballos after Ceballos supposedly slammed home a dunk while blindfolded. Both myself and Kenny Smith think that Ceballos probably was able to see out of the blindfold. You be the judge:

Magic Johnson Wins All-Star MVP

As sad of a day as November was, the February was one of the happiest days in NBA history. The NBA made a special exception for Magic to play in the 1992 All-Star Game and Magic used that game to show us all that he was still one of the best players the game had ever seen. It’s amazing how the great ones are always able to step up at the most appropriate times. Here’s the ending of the game:

The ever present YouTube King, TRJ22487 also has the entire game for your viewing pleasure.

Pat Riley Goes From Showtime to Brawlball

Pat Riley made a name for himself with the Los Angeles Lakers playing uptempo showtime basketball. Those showtime Lakers could play defense and halfcourt ball when they needed to, but their focus was on the fastbreak. So it was quite the surprise when Riley became the coach of the New York Knicks and turned them into the new age version of the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons. Riley spent the year prior covering the NBA for NBC. During that time, he got a good look and Michael Jordan and the Bulls running at full force. I’m sure he realized that if he was going to be successful with the Knicks he was going to have to design his team to beat the Bulls. And what team had been better at combating Michael Jordan than the Detroit Pistons? Thus, the Knicks became the toughest and best defensive team in the league. It might have also had a ton to do with Riley trying to make the best of his roster. I mean, when you think Xavier McDaniel, Anthony Mason,Charles Oakley, and Gerald Wilkins, the first thing that comes to mind is definitely not the fast break. But then again, before the 1991-92 season, Riley told SI’s Jack McCallum that "What we did in the past in L.A. will work here [New York]."

The Clippers Make the Playoffs?

After turning around the San Antonio Spurs, and then leaving them halfway into the 199-92 season, Brown headed for Los Angeles. Except it wasn’t to coach the Lakers. Larry Brown stepped up and coached the lowly Clippers.

In the previous season, the Clippers were one of the worst teams in the league, sporting a record of 31-51. The funny thing is that, on paper, the Clippers weren’t that bad of a team. They had Ken Norman, Charles Smith, Doc Rivers, Ron Harper, and Danny Manning. Brown turned them around and had them finish the year on a 23-12 clip (45-37 overall). This would be the teams first winning record in 13 seasons. His arrival came at the perfect time, as the Lakers were on a downturn after the unexpected loss of Magic Johnson.

Brown had helped the Clippers push a very talented Utah Jazz to the brink of elimination. The Clippers ended up losing the series in a decisive fifth game in Utah. But just to have the Clippers in the playoffs - let alone thinking about winning a playoff series - was probably Larry Brown’s greatest coaching achievement.

Note: I would throw up a video commemorating that 1991-92 run, but surprisingly there aren’t a lot of Clipper tributes on You Tube.

Knicks + Bulls = Epic Second Round Series

The 1991-92 Knicks showed the Pat Riley as a coach was not to be fucked with. That year’s Knicks team played the Bulls better than any team did during Michael Jordan’s championship reign. They were one of only two teams to push one of those six championship teams to a seventh game (The 1997-98 Pacers also pushed the Bulls to seven games in that season’s Eastern Conference Finals). Just when Michael Jordan had finally discarded of those thug Pistons, he had to deal with a new set of bullies. Ironically, if not for the Knicks winning their first round series against the Pistons that season, the Bulls would have played the Pistons in the first round. It’s like the Pistons passed the secret to playing Jordan and Bulls off to the Knicks in that series. In all seriousness, the Knicks mentality had little to do with the Pistons and everything to do with Jordan.

Take a look at this excerpt from Riley’s Book The Winner Within:
"Some shoe company's marketing executives will hold a conference... I'm wondering if any of you will be there." All the players are puzzled, trying to understand what this means.

Riley then continues, "You might be there... in the form of a photograph. Every game the Bulls play, photographers wait for Jordan to come hard to the hole, flying in with the ball over his head, tongue hanging out, eyes riveted on the rim, going for a monster dunk. Now, somebody's always underneath Michael in these pictures. They might be bent back, getting out of his way, or they might be standing flat, totally faked out. The marketing experts will review dozens of photos, and print eight million copies. If your photo comes out real nice, if Michael looks like a god while you look like you don't even belong in the same gym, then you could be Michael Jordan's newest poster boy."

"One thing a New York Knick will not be is anybody's poster boy, even if the camera makes us like one. We ain't one. It's an attitude more than anything. Who wants to be the guy that's going to open up the lane? Who want to make it convey for some superstar to kick your ass? Because if that's how you're going to play, you should leave right now."

If that doesn’t get you pumped to knock Jordan on his ass, I don’t know what would.

After the first few games of their series with the Knicks, I’m sure that the Bulls wished they could have been lucky enough to play over the hill Pistons. Seriously, the Knicks had that same toughness, but also had one of the most dominant centers to ever play the game in Patrick Ewing. The series culminated in one of the most volatile game sevens that I have every seen. To say Michael Jordan was intense in this game would definitely be an understatement.

And for those of you looking for more video from this series, YouTuber ForEmily23 has highlights from each game of the series.

Bird’s Last Game

Damn Mark Price ruined my dream match up between the Bulls and Celtics that season. By this time, it was Reggie Lewis, and not Bird that was leading the way for the men in green. But it would have been nice for Bird to officially hand the baton off to Michael Jordan, the same way Magic Johnson had in the previous year’s Finals. Bird and the Celtics looked like they might just do that after routing the Cavs 122-91 in game six of the series. However, the Cavs and Mark Price came back and blitzed the old and brittle Celtics in game 7 122-104. That’s just no way for a Legend like Bird to go out. By this time Bird was a shell of his former self. A bad back had totally ravaged the late career Bird. But despite this, the Celtics were still one of the best teams in the league. However, their core was just too old. This would also be the end of one of the greatest front lines in NBA history. McHale would play one more season, and although Parish would play for several more, his effectiveness also went out the window around this time. For the NBA this was also the end of the era that raised the league to new heights. Magic and his Lakers and Bird and his Celtics were no more. Luckily, there was still a guy name Michael Jeffery Jordan to provide fans with much of the same entertainment that Magic and Bird provided to fans in the 80s.

Michael Jordan's Magnificent Game 1
It’s safe to say that Michael Jordan’s game one against the Portland Trailblazers was one of the greatest performances in NBA history. Despite MJ’s spectacular season, there were some that wondered out loud if Portland superstar Clyde Drexler was a better player than number 23. Well, as always, MJ took this slight to heart and utilized the Finals as the opportunity to show everyone who really was the greatest player in the world.

Although the Blazers played the Bulls as well as any team did on the NBA Finals stage, it just wasn't enough. Similar to their fate in the 1990 NBA Finals against Detroit, the Blazers would blow the opportunity to take advantage of the three straight home games (in what was then one of the loudest arenas in the NBA) when they lost two of their three home games against Bulls. If they could have just one two of those games, this would have been an entirely different series. The Bulls would go on to win the series in six.

Here are some highlights from this classic series:

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