I was sitting in my parents’ living room in 1993 watching the Celtics and the Charlotte Hornets–some fake team who wore teal and yet dared to challenge the Celtics–play an excruciatingly exciting Game 4 of a very exciting first-round playoff series. Boston (48-34) was seeded fourth in the Eastern Conference; the Hornets (44-38), were seeded fifth and featured an exciting young nucleus of Larry Johnson, Kendall Gill and Zo. The C’s won Game 1 at home but lost Game 2, 99-98, despite 30 points off the bench from Kevin McHale. The series shifted to Charlotte, where the Hornets won Game 3 easily, setting up a must-win Game 4 for Boston.
If you’re my age or older, you remember what happened: C’s up 103-102, needing a stop in the final 15 seconds. And then Zo, a brazen rookie, did this:
The refs put 0.4 seconds back on the clock, and the C’s had the inbounds passer (McHale, inbounding from halfcourt) try an alley-oop to Dee Brown. McHale’s pass was perfect. Dee went up on the right side of the rim to lay the ball in, only to have Kendall Gill deflect it away. I went crazy. It was obviously goaltending. Dee Brown had placed the ball on the freaking rim. The C’s were outraged. To this day, I am convinced Gill committed a goal-tending violation, and I’m convinced the referees knew it and didn’t have the guts to make what would have been a heavily scrutinized call in front of a delirious crowd. Here was Dee Brown’s reaction, via an archived NYT story:
“The ball was definitely in,” Brown said. “I thought it was goaltending all the way. I laid the ball in the rim, so I know it was goaltending. If it wasn’t goaltending, then I think there should have been a foul called.”
(Note: I cannot find a clip of this play. If someone finds one, please send it and we’ll post. I’d love to see if my memory is accurate or horribly biased).
You want a depressing read? Read that entire story. Here’s the lead: The embattled Boston Celtics, already reeling from the potentially career-ending heart condition of Reggie Lewis, suffered a final, bitter defeat of their season when Charlotte’s 104-103 victory gave the Hornets a three-games-to-one triumph in the franchise’s first playoff series.
Yeah, so, really not a good time. Reading that game recap was a fun in that it reveals all the sports data we’re likely to forget as the years pass. For instance, I had no memory of the C’s getting a stop with 24.9 seconds left to preserve the 103-102 lead only to turn the ball over on a 10-second violation. My 15-year-old self was probably cursing Rick Fox for this for days.
One thing I do remember, though, and it was something I was uncomfortable with at the time: I wasn’t really that devastated by the loss, because it spared the C’s a second round match-up with the top-seeded Knicks, something that meant sure humiliation for me, being surrounded by Knicks fans in Fairfield County.
In any case, Zo was a beast in Game 4, with 33 points (on 13 field goal attempts!), seven boards and six blocks. It felt right to bring this up on the night when the Heat will retire his number. Zo wasn’t perfect–ask Nets fans about him–but he was, for the most part, one of the hardest workers in the game.