At the Buzzer: Knicks-Bulls magic gone

Before 4 p.m. last Saturday, I wouldn’t have traded my Thanksgiving break for the world. I was going to see the Bulls and Knicks go at it in Madison Square Garden. What more could an NBA fan ask for than tickets to see Chicago against New York on the floor where Michael Jordan served up 55 points in his fifth game back from retirement?

Where John Starks dunked over Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright and His Airness — all at once.

Where Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing, under Pat Riley’s instructions, pounded the defending champion Bulls into a 0-2 hole in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Where Scottie Pippen, under Phil Jackson’s instructions, finally carried part of Jordan’s load and led Chicago out of that 0-2 hole and back into the NBA Finals.

Where a rumble between the two teams cleared the entire New York bench as well as the Knicks’ roster for the remainder of the series.

Really, what more could I ask for?

There I was, sitting in row G, section 302 of what is commonly called the Mecca of basketball, ready to watch another chapter unfold in one of the greatest rivalries in professional basketball. People complain these days about rising ticket prices, but you can bet that the only way I could’ve felt ripped off was if a mayoral candidate from Iowa was playing alongside teenagers, Felton Spencer was the Knicks’ starting center, Trenton Hassell, the Bulls’ starting shooting guard, and both teams were unable to score 80 points.

I got more than ripped off. I got screwed.

Not only was Fred “The Mayor” Hoiberg running the Chicago point for 19-year-olds Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler, but Felton Spencer and Trenton Hassell were indeed announced in place of Patrick Ewing and Michael Jordan in the starting lineups, and the final score was 78-71. The newspapers said the Knicks won, but don’t believe everything you read (don’t tell, but I’m not sure they played a fourth quarter). Even the woman trying to win a car during a timeout was 0-for-3 from the free-throw line. And to top it all off, I didn’t get a free T-shirt like I did the last time I went to the Garden.

Where did it all go? The brawls, the fantastic finishes, the spectacular plays, the historic performances, the T-shirts? At least give me a T-shirt!

They said to go to the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue for that.

A few hours later, hidden among masses of NBA paraphernalia, I found out just where everything had gone. There was Ewing’s jersey, and it read “Magic” on the front. MJ was still wearing number 23, but he had become a “Wizard.” I knew it — even basketball greats had jumped on the Harry Potter bandwagon.

I hope they graduate early from Hogwarts, though, because I miss good ol’ Chicago-New York basketball.

I said it last time and I’ll say it again — boy, have times changed.

Even though the Lakers have been surging and the Bulls sputtering for a couple years now, some strange things are starting to happen just this season:

— For the last decade, the Miami Heat have consistently contended for, if not won, the Atlantic Division crown while the New Jersey Nets have consistently hoped to win the lottery. One month into this season, the Nets are in first place (and making me look bad), and the Heat are languishing in the cellar at 2-11 after a nine-game losing streak. Pat Riley is apparently looking to hire Isaiah Rider, if not for some scoring punch, then at least for some illegal substances to turn the Heat back on.

— The Jazz — oh, the Jazz! — are second to last in the West and off to their worst start since before Stockton and Malone arrived in Utah. Rumors are flying that the Mailman is going to be traded, and to Dallas of all places. Say it ain’t so, Karl –

— Chris Dudley ’87 is off the Trailblazers’ injured list. Bow, wow, wow!

— He still hasn’t played any minutes.

— Somebody dished out an NBA season-high 23 assists last week, and it wasn’t John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Mark Jackson, or any of the other veteran point guards you know about. It was rookie Jamal Tinsley of Indiana, who also scored 19 points and grabbed 11 boards against Washington last Thursday for his first triple-double. If you were like me and didn’t have him on your fantasy roster that night, you missed out on 482 points or something ridiculous like that.

And finally, the Phoenix Suns deserve thanks for beating the Lakers into submission. The fall of Shaq, Kobe and Co., losers not once but twice now in the last eight months, has begun.

Say it with me now, “Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!”

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