For a time, in the ’90s, the New York Knicks and Miami Heat were devout rivals. Due to several run-ins over the years, the teams grew to despise one another. This rivalry didn’t start and end with words; it became a physical brawl people still discuss to this day. Two of the players, Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson, hated each other far more than most knew.
Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson
Funny enough, the Mourning and Johnson rivalry was, in many ways, a secondary rivalry to the one shared between the two teams, according to Bleacher Report. While the pair was a primary reason behind the rivalry, they were not the only reason. In the early ’90s, the pair bumped heads not as rivals, but as teammates as Hornets fans expected them to take Charlotte to glory.
When Johnson came to the team as a rookie in 1991, he took the NBA by storm. While Kendall Gill was the team’s leading scorer, Johnson stole the show. As a rookie, he averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds. The NBA had a new star on its hands. The following year, the addition of Alonzo Mourning boosted the frontcourt. He and Johnson combined for over 42 points and 20 rebounds a night, and the Hornets began their winning ways.
Around the time Johnson signed an $84 million deal with the Hornets, Mourning began to bad-mouth his teammate’s contract. He questioned why the team would give him that much money. The pair began to bump heads. Finally, after three years in Charlotte, Mourning went to Miami. The rivalry took a different form when Johnson made his way to New York.
Knicks vs. Heat
These two players may have fueled the Heat/Knicks rivalry, reports Clutch Points, but they weren’t the only reasons. Knicks head coach Pat Riley built a resume with the team and brought them to contention. Then, he left the team in 1994 to coach and manage the Miami Heat. This event may have been the first meaningful shot between the teams.
Every time Riley went to New York after that, a chorus of boos met the coach who made his name with the Lakers. Not one to back down, Riley met this with a silent, “I love you,” in response.
By 1997, the rivalry officially went to another level. In the NBA Playoffs’ second round, Knicks guard Charlie Ward got tossed to the sideline by Heat center PJ Brown. A brawl ensued. The following year, everything came to fruition, and the rivalry’s defining moment was born.
In the final quarter of Game 4 in the 1998 series pitting the Knicks against the Heat, reports Ball Is Life, tempers were predictably heated. During the game, Johnson and Mourning got tangled up, and years of bad blood came boiling over. Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy tried to intervene. But he was swept to the ground, clinging to Charles Oakley’s leg as the two teams exchanged shoves.
NBA fans old enough to remember will always see the diminutive Van Gundy clinging and laughing. However, it was a serious rivalry at the time. Eventually, things mellowed out. Several players, including Mourning and Johnson, received suspensions for the next game. It is one of the most memorable fights in NBA history.
Few brawls stem from one event. They are often a conflation of several different factors teaming up. This was the case with Mourning and Johnson, and the result was equally mesmerizing and entertaining.