June 2, 1993. Riding a 27-game home winning streak, Game 5 in the Eastern Conference Finals between the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls was destined to be a classic from the jump. Either Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen would be pushed to the brink elimination or the delayed sweep and amazing collapse of the Knicks would saunter forward. The momentum swing of the series was in Chicago’s favor upon winning Games 3 and 4 after New York captured the first two. Jordan’s infamous 54-point riot happened 48 hours earlier in what proved to be the dumbest provocation by New York media in the ’90s until the Tupac and Biggie beef popped off.
Yet, more than Michael Jordan’s triple double (29-10-14), Scottie Pippen’s 28 points and 11 rebounds, five total bench points or the fact Chicago only attempted four threes the entire game (and made one, a well-timed BJ Armstrong dagger putting Chicago ahead for good), the defining play(s) came on the defensive end. New Yorkers hate this moment. Bulls fans still get a kick out of it 20 years later. The rest of us simply coined it “The Charles Smith Game.”
1. Stacey King may have…um…flopped, but thankfully the refs didn’t “Joey Crawford” the game there.
2. Smith was a zebra surrounded by a pack of hyenas. Somehow, in the midst of all the chaos, kudos to Jordan, Pippen and Horace Grant for not fouling. Or not fouling blatantly at least. Was it physical down there? Shit, yeah, it was. However, that was about as clean as we’re going to get for that stage of that game with that much on the line. My buddy from New York says Pippen was over the back on his last block, but part of me believes that’s a defense mechanism created throughout the years to help cope with Chicago killing four point-blank bunnies. He has never once sounded convincing when saying it either.
3. Plays like this are why Scottie Pippen is so coveted yet, still underrated when the greatest basketball players ever are mentioned. Also, Mike covered some serious real estate here. From forcing the ball out of John Starks’ hands, to stripping Smith to catching the outlet pass from Horace to launching his own pass to BJ Armstrong, it’s one of those moments from MJ that consistently falls under the radar.
4. Marv Albert should do every playoff game from now until he kicks the bucket which is hopefully never.
5. Lost in the fact of Smith being denied at the summit more than Marques Houston on Sister, Sister, the Knicks didn’t do themselves any favors going 20-35 from the free throw line. So, yes, while the game is remembered in infamy because the Bulls made Smith and the Knicks the real-life Dale and Brennan, they also Cheddar Bob’d themselves. That’s three film references in two sentences. Also known as a new, personal record.
Despite his career averages of 14 points and six rebounds, this one play has eternally etched Charles Smith’s name in the annals of NBA history; the result of how perception, narratives and the media can summarize an entire career in less than a minute. But it’s not all negative for Smith. He later went on to become the head of the league’s retired players association and stands as one of the true nice people the NBA still has in its arsenal.
In history, however, there are winners and those who fall slightly short in the grand scheme. For the NBA in the 1990s, outside of a two-season stretch, the Bulls were those winners. Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Shaq, Penny Hardaway, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing, John Starks and more all had their careers altered by Tex Winter’s triange offense in a slew of games/moments which went on to define an entire generation. The day before yesterday 20 years ago just so happened to be Charles Smith’s day. That’s just how the cookie crumbles.
Or, in this case, the lay-up blocked.