By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
@body:If you were a film director, there are three distinct scenes in the Battle of America West:
1. KJ steps up and deliberately throws a block on an unsuspecting Doc Rivers of the Knicks. It is the sharpest physical contact anyone has seen in this town since the close of the NFL season. In fact, nobody on the Phoenix Cardinals has delivered a hit that emphatic since Bill Bidwill moved his team here from St. Louis. If the Cardinals had somebody willing to hit as hard as KJ, the stands at Sun Devil Stadium would be packed just as tightly as those in America West Arena. Rivers is knocked to the floor and Kevin, perhaps thinking that Rivers is rendered hors de combat, runs to the other side of the floor in pursuit of the ball.
2. Rivers, from the floor, reaches desperately, trying to trip Kevin with one hand. He misses. He gets up and chases KJ to the other side of the court and begins throwing punches. Players from both benches swarm to the spot and begin wrestling and pushing. Barkley grabs and holds Rivers. He was the only player in the crowd who wasn't fined. Included in the swirling crowd is Harvey Shank, the Suns' vice president in charge of season-ticket sales. He is clearly visible because he is the only man in the pile, other than Barkley, who has a bald pate. Shank had been sitting underneath the backboard and so had a clear path to the site.
3. Kevin then wanders to the other side of the court thinking that the battle is over. But this is when Anthony, dressed in civilian clothes, steps up and blindsides him with a wild right hand. Anthony was dressed in street clothes because he has an injured ankle. In the films, he was visible on the fringe of the throng throughout the fight. Watching him after the fact is eerily reminiscent of that famous photo of John Wilkes Booth, down in the crowd at Lincoln's inauguration.
But Coach Riley does his best to stop it all. He immediately piles on Anthony, attempting to break up the fight with KJ. Riley is followed by all the players. Jerrod Mustaf can be seen hurling various Knicks' bodies about. Once again, the mysterious Mr. Shank of the Suns' front office comes into view. He is seen ordering Knicks players to depart from the scene.
Jerry Colangelo is upstairs in the press box. No doubt he is wondering what his money man, Shank, is doing out there on the floor in the war zone.
Later, Colangelo braces Shank about charging into the fray. Shank, a Stanford man, reminds Colangelo about the famous words of Thoreau.
"Never mind why I'm in here," Thoreau said. "Why are you out there?"
@body:"First, we'll hear from a referee," Stern said to the assembled experts on the NBA.
"You all know Mr. Earl Strom. He was an NBA ref for 33 years. I don't always agree with Earl, but let's hear what he has to say."
Strom has the hard-bitten look of a big-city police officer. Magic Johnson once called him the referee you wanted in a big pressure game. He spoke intently:
"Some people call it frontier justice, but I think it's like being the cop on the street. You ignore the jaywalkers and watch for the muggers. I never condone the hatchet men, the bullies who inhibit the play of the biggest talents. That's the primary role of an official--to make sure that talent has a fair chance to display itself in the spirit of the game."
Heads nodded all around the room. They know what Strom means. Riley has been teaching intimidation tactics to the Knicks for two seasons. During last season's playoff, they butchered the Chicago Bulls and extended the playoff round to seven games against Michael Jordan's far superior team.
Several weeks ago, John Starks, one of Riley's chief hatchet men, clobbered Kenny Anderson, the New Jersey Nets' star point guard, as he drove to the basket. It was an unnecessary foul. Anderson suffered a broken wrist and is out for the season. All season long, Anthony has been trying to start fights with Jordan. So has Anthony Mason, another of Riley's intimidators.
Stern called for one of his lawyers to read a passage from Riley's book Showtime, written after he had led the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA title.
Riley, seated in the front row, showed signs of uneasiness. He crossed his legs. Then he began biting his nails.
"Here are a few direct quotes from Mr. Riley's book. They make it plain how this Knicks team has become so aggressive." The NBA lawyer began quoting from the book:
"When you're on top, teams measure you for weakness. They think maybe your motivation level has eroded after a succession of wins. They think if the game is tough down in the trenches, you'll say, "The hell with it, if they want it so bad, I'm not going to fight."
"The season is like a single game. There will be four or five skirmishes, when the action flares into decisive moments. If you can come out of most of those skirmishes on top, you'll win. "Our mentality when the ball comes off the rim has to be concentrated mayhem. We have to root it out, scratch, do whatever it takes to get in position and get the ball. The team that fights for position and aggressively pursues the ball is eventually going to be the team that wins.'"
Stern looked over at Hubie Brown, a former Knicks coach and now a television commentator: