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1999 NBA Playoffs

No one safe from Johnson's wrath

Knicks forward defends slave remark, blasts Walton

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Posted: Friday June 25, 1999 01:21 AM

  Voicing his opinion: Larry Johnson let the press know how upset he was with NBC's Bill Walton's comments. AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- After Larry Johnson put on another lengthy, controversial show with the media on Thursday, perhaps the New York Knicks wished he had never started talking.

Despite efforts by the Knicks' public relations staff to get Johnson to quiet down and take the floor for practice, the suddenly loquacious forward was just getting warmed up.

The main target of his diatribe that touched on topics such as slavery, Kosovo and, oh yes, basketball, was NBC commentator and Hall of Famer Bill Walton.

Johnson responded to Walton's comments after New York's 96-89 loss in Game 4 Wednesday night in which the announcer called him a "disgrace."

"This is the same Bill Walton that was at UCLA smoking pot and ... if that's the way Bill feels, that's fine," Johnson said.

"You know what, I respect Bill. For the longest, Bill has been killing me on TV and my family, but when he sees me, you know, he's shuckin' and fussin' and going on. Don't come at me like that. If I'm on fire, don't spit on me. If you're on fire, I don't spit on you. That's respect."

Johnson, fined twice during the playoffs for cursing at the media or refusing to talk with them, scored only five points on 2-for-8 shooting in Game 4. Walton had this to say about him afterward:

"Larry Johnson, who spent the last 48 hours railing against the world, what a pathetic performance by this sad human being," Walton said. "This is a disgrace to the game of basketball and to the NBA. He played like a disgrace tonight, he deserved it."

Johnson, who referred the Knicks as a bunch of "rebellious slaves" earlier this week, expounded on his comments Thursday. The Knicks' PR staff tried to break up the interview just when Johnson got going, but he wouldn't leave. "They can't get you out of there!" Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said with a laugh.

"No, I ain't getting fined no more!" Johnson replied. "I might get put out the league, though."

"If they beat us, I know y'all are going to make it the last run" for the Knicks, Johnson said. "I'm going to be cute with my slaves quotes, which is 100 percent true, a 100 percent true.

"Y'all know it. Damn Bill Walton. Tell him to trace his history and see how many slaves his ancestors had. Y'all trace y'all history and see how many slaves y'all ancestors had. Come on, now. That's a touchy subject. But why does the truth always hurt?"

There was more when the subject turned to Spurs point guard Avery Johnson, a favorite of Johnson's.

"Ave, man, we're from the same plantation," Johnson said. "You tell Bill Walton that. We from Massa Johnson's plantation. I love Ave, all the negativity he's been through. Good brother, hell of a dude on an off the court."

CNN/SI  

Even as the Knicks' staff tried yet again to break up the interview, Johnson said to forget practice, "We got to stay here. You want me to talk to the media, I'll talk to the media."

"No one man can rise above the masses of the condition of his people. Understand that," Johnson said. "So I am privileged and honored by the situation that I'm in, no question.

"Here's the NBA, full of blacks, great opportunities, they made beautiful strides," he said. "But what's the sense of that ... when I go back to my neighborhood and see the same thing? I'm the only one who came out of my neighborhood. Everybody ended up dead, in jail, on drugs, selling drugs. "So I'm supposed to be honored and happy or whatever by my success. Yes, I am. But I can't deny the fact of what has happened to us over years and years and years and we're still at the bottom of the totem pole."

Lights, camera

Spurs guard Steve Kerr, who won three championships with the Chicago Bulls, spoke about the difficulty of winning the clinching game.

"You go out onto the floor beforehand to warm up, and the NBA is rehearsing their celebration ceremony," Kerr said. "They've got the stage set up and they're actually taking it down and you're like, 'Hey, we haven't even won yet.' And of course in your mind you think, `Wow, if we win we're going to be celebrating, and what does it mean historically?'

"And then you've got to snap out of that and say, `Stop it. It's time to play.' If you can forget about that, you'll be OK."

Testing the refs

In the opinion of Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, the Spurs play illegal defense almost every time downcourt.

"They're playing the old 3-2 zone, and they're daring the officials to call it. And If I was an official, I'd probably get bored calling it, too," Van Gundy said. A few years ago, when the Knicks were coached by Pat Riley and Van Gundy was an assistant, the team employed a similar strategy of daring the referees to make a call every time they went back on defense.

"We used to hit everybody on every possession so that after a while you get so tired of calling it that it's absolute mayhem," Van Gundy said. "That was the theory, baby, and we could do it, too. We had some lumber."

Jeff's job

Jeff Van Gundy, whose future with the club remains uncertain, was asked if he would like to keep coaching in New York.

"Where I want to coach is where you have a chance to win. I admire people that can go through the rebuilding and losing a ton of games, because that is very difficult to do," he said.

"New York is always going to be a place where they play to win. It's the attitude of the city that helps develop the franchise's mentality. They won't tolerate mediocrity."

Post-puny NBA

Amid all the discussion about how the NBA can return to being a more fluid, higher-scoring game, many of the players at the finals are being asked for their opinions.

Mario Elie of San Antonio thinks the players may have outgrown the court.

"When they started playing basketball, those guys were little short, puny guys running around the court," Elie said.

"Now you've got 7-footers who can shoot jumpers and go coast to coast, so maybe they have to make the court a little bigger."

 
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