No bad blood between Knicks, Spurs
Posted: Tuesday June 15, 1999 12:46 PM
SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Not a single silver-and-black-clad heckler awaited the New York Knicks as they arrived in town Monday for the NBA Finals. Not a single harsh word was spoken by the San Antonio Spurs.
Rivalry? Not even close. Enemies? Not at all.
This NBA Finals, at least for now, is a meeting of cordial strangers.
"We don't bash anybody. That's not the Spurs. We're nice guys," San Antonio's Steve Kerr said. "We love New York. Good guys vs. good guys, I think."
The atmosphere of mutual praise and respect lingered for another day as both teams continued to prepare for the start of the series Wednesday night.
The Knicks arrived in a city smattered with black-and-pink "Go Spurs Go" signs, and if they looked out the windows of their bus from the airport, they would have seen a good percentage of the cars with some kind of supportive message to the Spurs hand-painted on their windows.
Spurs fever is a feel-good type of thing, with no discernible Knick-bashing souring the mood.
One of the New York tabloids couldn't help itself from taking a few shots at the Spurs, their city and their cheerleaders -- calling them 16 big-haired ladies in silver-and-pink Jetsons costumes -- but the animosity was far from genuine.
It's just a fact of these finals: There isn't really that much history or bad blood between the two teams.
"Nothing I can think of," David Robinson said. "I can't remember any fights, no real bad attitudes. But they always played us real tough."
San Antonio and New York did not play each other during this lockout-shortened season, so this will be the first meeting between the teams since March 31, 1998 -- a game the Spurs won by 17 points at Madison Square Garden in large part because of injuries to Patrick Ewing and Chris Dudley.
"They were real small then, real small, and they had a real tough time handling our inside guys," Robinson recalled. "We got pretty much anything we wanted, I remember."
This time the Knicks find themselves in similar straits because of the season-ending injury Ewing suffered in the conference finals and the uncertain status of whether Larry Johnson will be able to play with a sprained knee. Johnson and the team's doctors will make a game-time decision Wednesday as to whether he'll play, the Knicks said.
Containing Robinson and Tim Duncan, an already difficult task, would be even more burdensome without Johnson.
"The thing Duncan and Robinson can do is cause so much foul trouble. The depth factor inside is critical for us," Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said after the team practiced in New York before flying to San Antonio.
The coach and the Knicks players again refused to say if they'll depart from the common NBA strategy and use single-coverage rather than double-teams against Duncan and Robinson in the low post.
Clearly, though, they'll have to find some way to limit the damage the two big men can inflict.
"You can't take everything away from a great team or great players. It's not quite that black and white," Van Gundy said. "You have to figure out what you're capable of taking away."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he expects to see a mix of single- and double-coverage. In the past, a few teams have actually had success using single coverage, although Popovich was giving no clues as to the secrets of stopping his Twin Towers.
"No way I'll tell you that," he said. "I can't remember. Bad memory."
Those who have been following the Knicks for the past decade can recall one bad memory when it comes to dealing with the Spurs.
Back on Feb. 21, 1990, New York traded second-year guard Rod Strickland to the Spurs for Maurice Cheeks, who was at the end of his career. Cheeks played only one more season, while Strickland has been among the league's assists leaders ever since. In fact, it can be argued that the Knicks haven't had a playmaker as talented as Strickland ever since they traded him.
But not all the dealmaking between the teams was so lopsided toward the Spurs.
On Feb. 8, 1996, New York sent Charles Smith and his injury-ravaged knee to San Antonio along with Monty Williams for Brad Lohaus and J.R. Reid. It turned out to be a key trade for the Knicks since they were able to clear Smith's salary off their salary cap, which gave them room to sign free agents Allan Houston and Chris Childs the next summer.
Smith's injury ended his career.
Those fleecings may have created some rivalries among the teams' front office personnel, but it has nothing to do with the current players.
There is, however, one interesting subplot among Latrell Sprewell of the Knicks and Jerome Kersey of the Spurs. When both played for Golden State, they had a fight at practice in which Sprewell went after Kersey with a two-by-four.
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