On Jan. 15, 1990, just four years after the United States created the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday, New York Knicks guard Trent Tucker changed the way the NBA looks at time.
As the NBA nears the midseason point, Jan. 15th sees another Martin Luther King Jr. holiday come and go. While we honor one of the nation’s most significant pioneers, the NBA and MLK Day will forever hold a special place in the hearts of many basketball fans.
Growing up on Long Island NY, I was a train ride on the LIRR from Manhattan and Penn Station to see the New York Knicks play. I never understood prejudice. I can’t pretend to be a saint growing up, but one thing I realized very well was that everyone was equal.
I understood that racism, along with treating anyone less than you like they were below you, was not acceptable.
Being taught about the example Martin Luther King Jr. set inspired me in many ways. His speech at the monument in Washington DC in August 1963 is one of the greatest in American history. Along with Jackie Robinson and Magic Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr. is one of my heroes.
On Jan. 15, 1990, I was 15-years-old listening to the Knicks-Bulls on the radio in my room. That day forever changed how the last few seconds of a basketball game would end.
With the score tied at 106 and 4.6 seconds left, Knicks head coach Stu Jackson sent Trent Tucker, Rod Strickland, Charles Oakley, Mark Jackson and Patrick Ewing to the floor after a break. He drew up a play for Jackson to take the last second shot. However, with a foul left before they were in the penalty, Scottie Pippen fouled a dribbling Jackson who couldn’t get the shot off.
The 1989-90 season was the first season that the NBA introduced tenths of seconds to determine time. This was the first game it would matter.
It’s not hard to realize that 00.1 seconds is the slimmest of time to get a shot off. Bulls head coach Phil Jackson thought the Knicks were going to lob the ball to Ewing in hopes he could tip the ball in.
However, instead of doing that, Mark Jackson tossed the ball to Tucker who was coming off a screen that Ewing set on Michael Jordan. Instead of pushing through the screen, Jordan stopped and fell back on Ewing. Tucker caught the ball and flung it at the basket just beyond the three-point line along the sideline.
”It’s the greatest shot I ever made,” Tucker said, via Sam Goldaper of the New York Times. ”I just caught the ball and flung it. When the ball left my hands, I knew it was on target.”
From that point on the NBA instituted a rule that you could no longer catch and attempt a shot with under three-tenths of second remaining.
The win gave the Knicks a 26-10 record, including a 17-1 record at home. They had the best record in the Eastern Conference. However, from there the season turned. The rest of the season the Knicks went 21-27, including going 12-11 at home.
The Knicks lost the first two games of their first-round series against the Boston Celtics, including a historic 157-128 loss in Game 2. However, in one of the greatest moments in team history, the Knicks rallied from the deficit and defeated the Celtics in five games. In winning the fifth game at the Boston Garden, the Knicks snapped a 26-game losing streak. Unfortunately for the Knicks, that was the high point of their season, as they fell to the eventual NBA Champion Detroit Pistons in five games in the second round.
Despite how their season ended, Trent Tucker will always have a special place in my heart, along with permanently altering an NBA rule.