In the annals of NBA playoff history, most remember the high profile matchups towards the month of June, more so than the early round, 4-games-to-one whoopings. Every once in a blue moon, you get something in the first round that gets you hype for the whole ride (i.e. this year’s Warriors, who should play in leather vests and mohawks next season). Everyone remembers Dikembe on the Sonics’ home floor celebrating as his eight-seed Nuggets destroyed Shawn Kemp and Gary Paytons’ flow, but few remember the climax to the bitter, bitter Knicks-Heat rivalry provided by my man Allan Wade Houston.
Growing up in Kentucky (where basketball is the only major thing going), Allan led his high school squad to the 1988 state championship. It was there he spurned Denny Crum and the Louisville coaches sweating him and jumped to the University of Tennessee. At UT, Allan joined a nice basketball legacy with the likes of Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King, while playing under his pops. In 1993, Allan got his name called by King Sternolini and the rest as they say was history.
Or was it?
Going to the Pistons, Allan was brought in to take the torch from the great (yet ancient) Joe Dumars, who was the last link to the late 80’s, early 90’s Bad Boy Pistons. As a rookie, Allan didn’t make much noise, but started developing an insanely smooth jumper. It wasn’t until Grant Hill came the next season, that Allan’s potential was realized. Everyone in Motown was excited and primed for an insane one-two combo that could carry them deep into the playoffs and back into another championship era. However, Allan’s stay in Michigan was short-lived, as the bright lights and free agent money of the big city lured him away. Detroit fans took his leaving to heart, like a ventricle and harbored a ton of animosity towards Houston, but in New York, Allan would reach bigger and better things.
In the mid-late 90’s, when some of the NBA’s most heated rivalries were in full swing, the Knicks were everyone’s main antagonist. In the 1999 Special Lockout Edition of the NBA, New York had a phenomenal team on paper (Houston/Spree/Ewing), but was injured for most of the year. Allan got his mental toughness from one of the Knicks original lunatics, John Starks. By playoff time, they drew the rival Miami Heat and their coach/traitor Pat Riley (who left the cold concrete of NYC for South Beach). This wasn’t your ordinary rivalry, so needless to say, this round featured a lit match loitering around a keg of dynamite at all times.
The series was tied at 2 in the first round, with New York needing the W to advance, in Miami Arena no less. Chris Childs (remember when he punched Kobe in the neck?) inbounded the ball to Houston with 4 ticks left. After quick dribble penetration, Allan launched a buttery one-handed shot onto the rim that popped the net and Miami’s hopes for a post-post-Jordan title. The ref threw his hands in the air, and waived them like he just didn’t care, and the series was over with the upset in the books.
After that moment Allan’s stay with the Knicks brought along some injuries and some money issues. If you want to know why the Knicks went from perennial title team to David Stern’s troubled teenaged son, look no further than the Allan Houston situation. You see, the Knicks, enamored with Allan’s play and potential threw a max contract extension him, which handcuffed management financially so bad, that the new “amnesty clause” (or “Allan Houston” rule) was created. It’s basically a salary cap rule that keeps teams from self-destructing by way of bad contracts (I remember David Stern gave the Bullets a do-over when Miami lured Juwan Howard away from us one summer). As a matter of fact, Houston was the second highest paid “player” in the league LAST YEAR, earning $20 million bones.
Despite all the off court injury issues (which kept him from being 100% and forcing him to call it quits in 2005), Houston was known as one of the leagues’ deadliest scorers ever. You’d compare him to a Ray Allen today, but with a tougher attitude. He’s currently trying to comeback, so when his contract with the Knicks runs out (hopefully they’ve learned their lesson) we may see “H20” back on the hardwood. Check the links if you don’t know!