This season has been exciting and challenging for the team and the coaching staff. We’ve accomplished a goal we set out to meet by returning to the postseason for the first time in seven years. But we all know this is when the real work begins.
I was fortunate to play with some great playoff teams in the 1990s. Our teams were made up of a unique group of guys, and it’s encouraging for me to see that this team has some similarities that should help us be successful. When we reached the NBA Finals in 1999, it was definitely not a cakewalk. Similar to this group, that 1999 team had to adjust to new players late in the season after we acquired [Marcus] Camby, Spree [Latrell Sprewell] and Kurt Thomas. Once we all bought in and allowed our style of play to shift to our new makeup, we knew we’d be unstoppable. It was that confidence that bonded us and pushed us to the final game.
Back in 1994, when we also reached the Finals, it wasn’t as common for teams to have playoff traditions or rituals like you see with teams today. Before the playoffs even started, the whole team traveled to Charleston, S.C., and spent a week killing each other on and off the court. We shaved our heads — well, all but Pat [Ewing] and Rolando Blackman. No one could tell those guys to do anything! We wore black socks and black shoes. When we ran out onto the court before each game, L.J. [Larry Johnson] huddled us up immediately and said a few words (sorry, can’t tell you what those were), and before we started layup lines, that first pass went from him to Spike [Lee]. That was the sign for us to lock in for 48 minutes.
Those things we did were to build camaraderie. It’s encouraging to see that this team has taken on its own traditions to a certain degree — things they’ll keep among themselves in their locker room. That’s where preparation for the game starts. The playoffs are the most intense part of the year, when preparation is key. And with leaders like Amar’e, Chauncey and Carmelo, we’ll be an exciting team to watch — and coach!
Knicks assistant coach Herb Williams retired as a player in 1999 after 18 seasons. Madison Square Garden, which controls the Knicks, is run by the same ownership as amNewYork’s parent company, Cablevision.