Former NBA player Sam Mitchell recently made a guest appearance on Pure Hoops Media, reflecting on the rivalry between the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks. Throughout the ’90s apart, the eastern conference was incredibly competitive, with several great teams competing for a championship every single season. The Pacers and Knicks were the biggest powerhouses apart from the Chicago Bulls, so when Michael Jordan retired in 1993, both teams saw that as an opportunity to win a championship finally.
The 1994 Eastern Conference Finals featured these two teams going at each other through seven games, and it was the Knicks who came on top but eventually lost to the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals. However, during those years, the Knicks and Pacers built a fierce rivalry. It was interesting because both teams played the game similarly, focusing on hard-nosed defense over anything. Toughness and competitiveness were the main cornerstones of those teams, and Mitchell said they hated the Knicks so much they had multiple rules in place when playing against them.
We could not stand the Knicks. We used to sit in the locker room before the game, and this was our mantra. I don’t care how many fouls you have in the first quarter. Anybody comes to the hole; you take him out cause our team was deep. Larry Brown could go 12 deep on our team, so we would take them out. We had another rule. Every time they hit Reggie, no matter who it was, we would hit the guy that hit Reggie. We took it out on Patrick, and we would tear Pat. Every time we thought someone hit Reggie a little too hard, we come down on Patrick even harder.Sam Mitchell, via Pure Hoops Media
Playing physical with a lot of contact was a common thing back in the ’90s, and numerous fans say the quality of basketball was much better than nowadays. There were real rivalries between teams, and Mitchell openly said they hated the Knicks because they were on their way to winning a championship. From the early start of each game, their goal and mindset were to impose their dominance by playing hard, fouling the opposing players sometimes just to make a point and send a message.
We hated each other, and we knew the first team to get to 90 points would win. No layups, none. I don’t care if you have three fouls in the first quarter if you are in the game and someone drives to the hole, you put him on the ground. Forget the foul, they had to hit the ground, and we hated them. I didn’t start liking the guys that played for the Knicks for around 10,12 years later.Sam Mitchell, via Pure Hoops Media
The Pacers and the Knicks gave the basketball fans some unforgettable and exciting moments during those years, showcasing incredible passion for the game. Both teams had great players on their roster coached by two of the greatest coaches in NBA history in Larry Brown and Pat Riley. As Mitchell said, the hate between them was real, but it remained within the healthy boundaries of competitive spirit, and the respect between those teams was always present no matter who won the game or the series.