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When NBA rivalries turn into brawls

A lot of older basketball fan remembers the rivalry between the New York Knicks and Miami Heat at the end of '90s which got heated several times on the court.

The two teams met in the postseason four years in a row from 1997–2000, with the Knicks winning three of those series and the Heat winning one.

The Heat–Knicks rivalry was one of the fiercest in the NBA, and Sports Illustrated considered it the third-best NBA rivalry. Prior to the 1997 NBA Playoffs, no two NBA teams had ever met in the playoffs for four consecutive seasons, with each series going to the maximum possible number of games.

The aggressive nature of those four series, defensive struggles marked by numerous foul calls, and intensely physical play, can be traced to the highly defensive style of Pat Riley, former coach of both teams and the rivalries' central figure. This 1990s rivalry created some of the most highly anticipated matchups during its short-lived tenure.

The tension reached a climax when the two met in the 1998 playoffs. With literally seconds left in the fourth quarter, Mourning didn't like how physical Johnson was getting for a board and took a swing at him. The two continued to fight the air until Jeff Van Gundy came in to save the day. Larry and Alonzo were each suspended for two games and fined a combined $32,500. The only winners of this fight were the fans.

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LJ and Alonzo never got along. The two had been beefing since the Hornets drafted Alonzo Mourning with the second pick in the 1992 Draft. It started when 'Zo didn't like a contract offer from the Hornets, so he was dealt with the Heat. For unclear reasons, Johnson and Mourning became bitter enemies after going separate ways.

Unfortunately for them, they were on separate teams during those Knicks-Heat alley-fights of the late 1990s. And so we were blessed with one of the most enduring video snippets of all time: Jeff Van Gundy attached to Mourning's leg in an effort to break up a nasty fistfight between Mourning and Johnson in 1998.

Near the end of their careers, they bonded over health problems; Johnson had multiple back surgeries while Mourning required a kidney transplant, however during those years this was without a doubt one of the most intense rivalries in the league.


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