Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls easily swept past the New York Knicks during the 1991 NBA Playoffs, but it was a far different story the following season. Pat Riley‘s team imposed its physical will on Jordan and the Bulls as if to evoke the Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys” teams of old, ultimately pushing the series to seven games and certifying an aura of villainy for years to come. The tone for the rivalry had actually been set in December 1991, when Jordan nearly came to blows with a rookie guard named Greg Anthony.
Michael Jordan and a rookie Greg Anthony nearly came to blows in December 1991
Michael Jordan had finally conquered the Bad Boys in 1991, but it was only a matter of time before another team tried to replicate Detroit’s style of play to dethrone MJ and the Bulls. That team was Pat Riley’s New York Knicks.
Just as Pistons guards Isiah Thomas, Mark Aguirre, and others were not afraid to mix things up with their opponents, the Knicks also had bothersome guards who could play physically. John Starks typically served as Jordan’s primary irritant. However, His Airness also had numerous run-ins with Greg Anthony.
Anthony had been one of the top stars on the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels of the early-90s. He was the 12th overall pick in the 1991 NBA Draft and was now playing for an iconic NBA head coach in Riley. Naturally, Antony tried to acclimate himself to Riley’s more physical style of play. Never was this more true than a game against the Bulls in December 1991.
Jordan was isolated with Starks on the wing, with Anthony guarding former Bulls point guard John Paxson at the top of the key. As MJ drove into the lane, Anthony came over and essentially shoved him to the ground.
The reigning MVP threw the ball at Anthony’s head as he fell to the ground, immediately springing back up and looking to challenge the Las Vegas native. Despite giving up six inches to Jordan, Anthony squared up as if fully prepared to fight.
That was the first Bulls-Knicks matchup of the season. Considering what happened later in the year, it is also the seminal moment that set the tone for one of the best NBA rivalries of the 1990s.
The Knicks pushed the Bulls to seven games in the 1992 NBA Playoffs and routinely met Chicago in the postseason
The upstart Knicks stood no chance against the 67-15 Bulls in the 1992 Eastern Conference semifinals. Michael Jordan and Co. would surely romp past New York just as they had the season before, right? Not exactly.
Chicago lost Game 1 at home. The Bulls recovered to win the next two games, but New York evened the series at two games apiece in Game 4. The two teams traded wins from there, with the Bulls ultimately triumphing in seven games.
But while the Bulls earned the series victory, the Knicks made a statement with their play and willingness to be physical with Chicago. Xavier McDaniel, Charles Oakley, and Anthony Mason tried to assert their will on the game. Starks and Anthony went at Chicago’s guards. It was clear Riley’s Knicks would be a force to be reckoned with going forward, and a top foe for the Bulls.
Indeed, the Bulls and Knicks met multiple more times in the playoffs. New York even took a 2-0 lead in the 1993 Eastern Conference finals and finally defeated a Jordan-less Bulls squad in 1994, though that was another hotly-contested series.
In any event, the Knicks sent a message to the Bulls in the ’92 playoffs, though the initial statement really came from Anthony the December before.
Jordan and Anthony had another high-profile incident in 1993
Greg Anthony was not done antagonizing Michael Jordan after the initial run-in. He and MJ were in the headlines again during the 1993 Eastern Conference finals.
Anthony was ejected in Game 2, a Knicks win, for a flagrant foul on Jordan. The Bulls star reportedly said he would meet Anthony in the alley, but the Knicks guard didn’t back down.
“He can say what he wants,” Anthony said of Jordan’s apparent threat, per the Chicago Tribune. “I’m not afraid of anybody. I didn’t lose sleep over that.”
Anthony’s openness to sacrificing the body and challenging Jordan head-on seemed to irk MJ. But those qualities and the tension between the two players had also been present since the very first time they shared an NBA floor together, setting the tone for one of the best rivalries in NBA history.