by Salvatore Pane

Let me take you back to 1999. It was a pivotal year in my sports fandom. Dan Marino, my all-time favorite football player and the unquestioned leader of my beloved Miami Dolphins, played his final game. The NBA lockout was drawing to a close, but not without affecting my enthusiasm for the game. My love affair with the NBA, and more specifically, the New York Knicks, began five years earlier when Patrick Ewing led the team to the Finals. Battle-tested warriors like John Starks and Charles Oakley lost out to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets while Michael Jordan hammed it up in Birmingham playing minor league baseball. I was ten years old and still vividly remember where I was when we lost the title. My mother had taken me to a pool party one of her co-workers was throwing, and I sat dry and upset in the living room watching the game unfold with the co-worker’s husband. We sat quietly, and the man only made a comment when Ewing, or more frequently Olajuwon, threw down a thunderous dunk. At halftime, my mom drove me home, and I watched the Knicks wilt. Something about the way they so utterly choked–I need not mention John Starks’ disastrous performance–endeared the Knicks to me more than any title ever could. Like Spider-Man, my favorite superhero, the Knicks could lose and even be embarrassed. This was no dynasty, and over the next five years I watched them choke again and again, tormented by Reggie Miller, Pat Riley, and then the Supreme Evil One, Michael Jordan, returned from the baseball fields of mediocrity to again torment Patrick Ewing, the college foe he’d dispatched in the NCAA title game a decade earlier.

After Jordan’s second of three retirements, it became clear that we’d reached this iteration of the Knicks’ final chance for glory. By the time I prepared to enter high school, Patrick Ewing was on the slow slide to forty and could barely dunk, Larry Johnson’s stats had regressed every season since his rookie year, and Allan Houston was about to endure a series of career shortening injuries. Even Jeff Van Gundy, my favorite Knicks coach, was about to be kicked out of Madison Square Garden forever. The window for the Knicks to get a title was about to slam shut, and what I didn’t know at the time was that both the Knicks and Dolphins were about to begin a decade of irrelevance. The days of watching Knick game after Knick game on the MSG network were about to come to a sudden stop.

If you don’t know the history, here’s what happened: the Knicks barely made the ’99 playoffs. After a series of unexpected wins against longtime rivals, the Heat and Pacers, the team lost to the Spurs in the Finals in an eerie callback to the ’94 series John Starks no-showed. Dan Marino retired. Patrick Ewing left New York. I entered high school and adopted a pretentious too cool for sports mentality I awkwardly cultivated deep into college. I found my way back to basketball through March Madness years later, but it wasn’t till Amar’e Stoudemire signed with the Knicks in the summer of 2010 when I really began following the team night in and night out again

All of this preamble exists so I can tell you this: last week I purchased NBA 2k on Sega Dreamcast for 99 cents. In it, the Knicks are how they exist in my sepia-toned memories. Patrick Ewing! Larry Johnson! Latrell Sprewell! Allan Houston! Charlie Ward! Marcus Camby! Kurt Thomas! I can replay the ’99 playoffs and fix things once and for all. I WILL LIVEBLOG MY JOURNEY INTO THE HEART OF THE DIGITAL PLAYOFFS, AND THEN AND ONLY THEN WILL I BECOME A REAL PERSON.

Over the next few weeks (months?), I’m going to be chronicling my run through the ’99 playoffs. I’ll also be livestreaming all future games on my ustream channel. Unfortunately, NBA 2k doesn’t allow you to select which teams make the playoffs, so what you see below is the playoff picture the computer dealt to me. One game in, and the Knicks have annihilated the Scottie Pippen-less Bulls to take a 1-0 lead. Purists take note, I have updated the ’99 best of five round one format to the best of seven round one the NBA currently uses today. Please forgive me.

Please, please forgive me.

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