So what we’re a day late. There are dunks. Then there are dunks you’ll tell your grandkids about. This is the latter. John Starks’ face says it all.
It sounds morbid, but Google “Ed The Sports Fan Obituary.” The truth is, Ed’s become sort of an Internet icon for popularizing the term “obituary,” most notably when describing – in his own word – “egregious” dunks.
The Sports Fan Journal wasn’t around in May 1994. The most advanced version of the world wide web at that point was America Online 1.1. A young Eduardo Maisonet was a recent graduate of Crosby Park Elementary and was “unaware of the novelty that I would experience that is junior high wimminz.” See, things were different back then, especially in the NBA.
May 21, 1994, represents a landmark moment in New York pop culture history. Christopher Wallace aka The Notorious B.I.G. celebrated his 22nd birthday and was only four months away from releasing his landmark debut album, Ready To Die. And, ironically, the day before, Scottie Pippen unleashed the most outrageous facial dunk in the history of recorded movement on Patrick Ewing.
Understand 1994 – despite not winning his fourth consecutive title – was a year Scottie needed. Forever viewed as Michael Jordan’s wingman, Pip set forth holy hell on the league in the first full season of MJ’s first sabbatical averaging a career-high 22 points (49.1 FG%), 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.9 steals, one All-Star Game MVP and the signature defense that made him arguably the greatest perimeter defender in NBA history.
Moments are the seasonings for legacies however. They gave it taste. Every great legacy has immeasurable moments that stand the test of time. For Scottie Pippen in 1994, “the Ewing dunk” was the moment. Let’s break down the particulars:
Bulls/Knicks in the ’90s was sort of like what Heat/Pacers is now.
New York hated Chicago. Chicago hated New York. And even without Jordan in the fold, the bad blood was still there. The entertainment factor obviously took a dip, but New York wanted to beat Chicago by whatever means.
Pippen had already generated bad headlines in Game 3 when he refused to re-enter the game with 1.8 seconds remaining in a 102-102 game.
Phil Jackson drew a play up for Toni Kukoc, prompting Pippen to lash out in anger, “I’m tired of this.” On one hand, Scottie’s frustration was understandable. He waited his entire career to be “the man” in Chicago. Jordan was gone, his contract situation never truly compensated him for what he truly meant to Chicago’s success, he played MVP-caliber ball in 1993-94 and felt he deserved to take that shot to give his team the win. Especially ahead of the guy he helped make a complete mockery out of in the 1992 Olympic Games two years earlier. On the other, refusing to re-enter in the closing seconds of a pivotal game your team had to win is childish. Kukoc made the shot anyway.
The Bulls needed to win Game 6. So when the dunk happened, the writing was already on the wall.
Problem 1: Pippen was visibly frustrated with the physicality and the nature of some of the calls leading up to the dunk.
Problem 2: A pissed off physical freak in the prime of his career before his back went to shit with a point to prove is the wrong tree to bark up.
Problem 3: For as spectacular of a defensive team as the Knicks were that year (they were number one), they never got back on defense.
Problem 4: Derek Harper fell.
Problem 5: Pippen was unguarded on the wing allowing him to tap Sega Genesis’ X button feverishly getting his turbo up to superhuman levels.
Problem 6: Patrick Ewing was late getting back to protect the rim. If you look close enough, he never even saw Pippen coming at him until his man region was square dead on his forehead. Cue Riley Freeman.
The dunk itself was amazing. What’s allowed it to live on for 20 years (and a day) is everything afterwards. Glaring over Ewing presumably telling him, “Those bum-ass knee pads keep holding you down” or “Charles Smith can’t save you from ridicule now” was brilliant. Ewing popping up quicker than Shawn Michaels was, too.
Then, of course, as with any controversial Knicks moment, Pippen’s technical after telling Spike Lee to “make a movie off that, little man” was nothing short of Earth-shattering and comical. The only logical comparison is LeBron catching Roy Hibbert napping, folds him like a lawn chair through the basket and walks over to Mike Epps telling him he isn’t funnier than Kevin Hart.
Of course, however, the Knicks got the last laugh. They won Game 7 48 hours later in Madison Square Garden, later advancing past Reggie Miller’s Pacers to the NBA Finals. And because I’m close friends with several Knicks fans, we’ll stop right here because…well…”OJ Simpson” and “2-for-18.”
Long live “The Pippen Dunk,” though. Obituaries aren’t fun. But they never get old to watch.