Twenty years ago, Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon finally met in the NBA Finals. The No. 1 picks in back-to-back years in 1984 and '85, it took them a decade to arrange a rematch of their NCAA championship showdown.
Michael Jordan was playing baseball. O.J. Simpson was on the run. And as the Knicks and Rockets reached the apex of a tight, competitive series that would go seven games, the nation averted its eyes.
When the white Ford Bronco cruised into America's living rooms during Game 5, what should have been a memorable clash between old rivals turned into the Forgotten Finals.
Over the past few months, CBSSports.com has reconnected with many of the key figures from that series in commemoration of its 20th anniversary this month. I visited Olajuwon at his home in the Houston suburbs, where he lives a quiet, contented life. I sat down with Ewing in Charlotte, where he was finishing his 10th season as an NBA assistant coach. I interviewed John Starks, who went from hero to goat status in those Finals, on the concourse at Madison Square Garden -- right outside a glass-encased showcase of his defining moment, the famous left-handed dunk against the Bulls in the '93 playoffs.
On June 3, CBSSports.com will publish my long-form story looking back on a series that is remembered for all the wrong reasons. A video documentary featuring interviews with participants and media personalities (who became participants) will accompany the story. The Forgotten Finals will be back in the spotlight, with fresh viewpoints and some surprising revelations.
Here's some of what you'll learn:
- Who David Stern was sitting next to during Game 5, and what role he played in NBC's decision to cut away from its coverage to show the Bronco chase.
- How Kenny Smith knew Olajuwon was truly ready to take on Ewing and the Knicks.
- How crucial Sam Cassell's 3-pointer late in Game 3 at the Garden really was, and how the Rockets believe to this day it turned the series in their favor.
- What it was like for Marv Albert to announce Game 5 while someone he knew personally and as a colleague, O.J. Simpson, was being pursued by the California Highway Patrol -- as NBC kept cutting away from the game to show the chase.
- What Knicks president Dave Checketts almost did to keep fans at the Garden focused on the game instead of the TVs on the arena concourse showing Simpson fleeing.
- What Starks has always felt was flawed about the play that was called in the closing seconds of Game 6 in Houston, when he famously had a potentially game-winning 3-point attempt blocked by Olajuwon.
- Who had an exclusive, post-deadline interview with Starks long after Game 6 had ended, but no platform on which to publish it.
- How Rolando Blackman and Pat Riley have never spoken to each other about Riley's decision to leave the veteran on the bench in Game 7, when Starks disastrously went 2 for 18.
- Which team Smith really wanted to beat when the Rockets went to the Finals again in '95.
- How if not for a bolt of lightning, Rudy Tomjanovich almost certainly would not have been the coach of the Rockets when they won their back-to-back titles in '94 and '95.
- How Olajuwon came to be traded to Toronto in 2001, and what really led to Ewing requesting the trade that sent him to Seattle a year earlier.
- Finally, you'll learn how much Ewing and Olajuwon really mean to each other -- and how much they needed to settle the score with another Finals matchup they were never able to deliver.
Read and hear what they have to say, 20 years later, as you relive the Forgotten Finals with us on June 3.