The rivalry between the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat is among the most intense and historic in the history of the NBA. It dates back to the 1990s when the two teams had some of the league’s best players and went head-to-head in multiple playoff series. Sunday, the Heat opened the second round of the NBA playoffs against the Knicks on Sunday in a matinee at the Garden, rekindling a fierce and physical rivalry in the 1990s.
The Knicks and Heat first met in the playoffs in 1997, with the Heat coming out on top in a hard-fought series that went seven games. The following year, the two teams met again in the playoffs, this time in the Eastern Conference Finals. The series was marked by physical play and intense competition, with the Knicks ultimately prevailing in five games to advance to the NBA Finals.
The rivalry between the two teams reached a boiling point in the 1998-1999 season when the Knicks and Heat met in the first round of the playoffs. A bench-clearing brawl erupted in Game 5 of the series after Charlie Ward of the Knicks and P.J. Brown of the Heat got into a scuffle. The brawl resulted in several suspensions, including a two-game suspension for Ward and a six-game suspension for Brown.
However, the most memorable moment of the Knicks-Heat rivalry occurred during a regular-season game in 1998. The Knicks were playing the Heat at Madison Square Garden when a fight broke out between the two teams. Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy ran onto the court to break up the fight but was quickly caught in the chaos.
As the players continued pushing and shoving each other, Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning grabbed Van Gundy by the leg and dragged him across the court. Van Gundy clung to Mourning’s leg for dear life but was ultimately pulled away and left lying on the court.
The incident quickly became one of the most iconic moments in NBA history. The image of Van Gundy desperately clinging to Mourning’s leg was replayed on sports highlight shows for years to come. It also added fuel to the already intense rivalry between the Knicks and the Heat, with Van Gundy later saying that he believed Mourning had intentionally tried to hurt him.
Despite the intense animosity between the two teams, the Knicks-Heat rivalry has also produced some incredible basketball moments. The rivalry has given fans some of the most exciting and memorable games in NBA history, from Allan Houston’s buzzer-beater in the 1999 playoffs to the Knicks’ upset of the Heat in the 2012 playoffs.
The rivalry has cooled off as of late as both teams have struggled to compete at the highest level. But the second round of the 2023 NBA playoffs will see that renewed. No matter the outcome, the passion and intensity that characterized the Knicks-Heat rivalry in the 1990s will always be remembered as one of the most iconic and intense rivalries in the history of the NBA.