8th seed in 99

This here, is a profile on Allan Houston. I met the dude two years ago when he came to Hong Kong, and it is, to this day, my favorite interview. Yes, my crazy ass obsession with the league probably had something to do with it, but Houston seemed like a genuine nice guy and his love of the game was out there for all to see.

I was never a fan of his during his playing days–I’m just not a fan of one dimensional players–but I’ve become a fan long after he’s played his last game.

I wrote this piece back in 2008 for Beats. But due to spacing constraints, my lack of writing skills, and my then-editor’s perhaps-too-strong-love of editing, the piece came out rather chopped up and generic.

So I’ve decided to rewrite it again, as if the year was 2008. I’m doing this for two reason: the first is to see how much my writing skills have improved since 2008 (if at all), and the second is as a tribute to Allan Houston, who looks to be the top candidate for the general manager job of the New York Knicks.

And here, we, go:

The last time professional basketball mattered in New York City was the year 1999. That year, the hometown Knicks made their unlikely run to the NBA Finals as the eighth seed,. And although Latrell Sprewell’s fire captured the hearts of New Yorkers all around and Larry Johnson’s iconic four point play remain the single most indelible moment of that run, none of that¬† would have been even possible if Allan Houston didn’t hit that buzzer beating, rim bouncing, franchise-altering floater in the final second of the first round of the playoffs.

With that one shot, the Knicks completed the first round upset against hated rivals the Miami Heat. The Knicks would carry that momentum all through the East, and although Sprewell, Johnson, Patrick Ewing, and Marcus Camby all had big games during that run (with Johnson’s four point play at the Garden as the single most indelible memory), it was Houston who started–with that buzzer beater–and completed the run to the finals–with a 32 point explosion to beat former rival Indiana Pacers.

The 24 hour period following the Knick’s clinching victory over Indiana would become the greatest moment of Houston’s life, and it’s for reasons on and off the court.

“The day after we beat the Pacers, my daughter was born,” says Houston with–this sounds cliche but dammit–a gleam in his eye.

Houston’s recalling this moment from the Hong Kong branch of the NBA office. Now retired due to chronic knee pains, he runs his own business as well as serve as a spokesperson of sorts for the league.

At six foot six and decked out in a beige suit, the man not only towers over, but looks better than, everyone else in the room. He greets everyone with a “Hi, I’m Allan”, followed by a firm handshake and smile–affability unexpected for someone who went toe to toe with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and was earning as much as 20 million a year in his heyday.

Houston’s main passion now, is his father/son basketball clinic, which he’s been organizing in the US and plans on bringing to Asia. “A strong father figure is crucial to our youth,” he says, adding that statistics show more kids are growing up without a father than before.

The two-time NBA all star and 2000 Olympic gold medalist speaks from experience. He played basketball under his father Wade at the University of Tennessee, where he graduated as the all time leading scorer. Entering the league at a time when players were notoriously underachieving thanks to drugs and escalating salaries (known the “too much, too soon” era), Houston remained a true professional during his 12 year career.

Even when the notoriously brutal New York fans and media turned used Houston as a scapegoat after the Knicks fell into mediocrity in the early 2000s, the man took it all in stride.

“New York is just a tough place to play, New Yorkers are so tough and hardnosed” he admits. No hard feelings, though. “But it’s also that same New York attitude that makes Madison Square Garden special. It’s why we get chills in our spine when we play at the Garden.”

Houston misses those chills. He attempted a comeback last year after two years away from the game, but his knee problems proved too much to overcome as he re-retired after only a couple of exhibition games. When asked, bluntly, how he feels now that his basketball days are finished, Houston stumbles and stutters for half a second, before playing it cool.

“My philosophy is never say never,” he says. But that half a second when he was at a lost for words, when his eyes welled up just a tad, it became obvious that he personifies the league’s slogan: “I love this game”.


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