Mark Jackson believes Knicks could’ve ended title drought if he wasn’t traded

Alder Almo
Mark Jackson, Knicks
Jul 26, 2022; New York, NY, USA; Mark Jackson attends The NYC Point Gods Premiere at The Midnight Theatre. Mandatory Credit: Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports

New York-bred and former Knicks point guard Mark Jackson never won a championship during his 18-year NBA career. But he believes he could have won with his hometown team had he stayed longer.

“Well, I do believe that we win a championship,” Jackson said via SNY during Tuesday’s premiere of the NYC Point Gods documentary. “We had a great team. We had a process moving along. We advanced. We had the ultimate champs on the ropes. So I believe we win a championship if that team stays together. But I’m sure if you ask the opposition, they believe they win anyway.”

Jackson, the 1988 NBA Rookie of the Year, spent his first five seasons with the Knicks. During that span, Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls beat them thrice in the playoffs.

In Jackson’s final season with the Knicks, he averaged 6.7 points and a series-high 7.9 assists and they pushed the Bulls to seven games in the 1991-92 Eastern Conference semifinals.

“I believe if we stayed together, we beat (Jordan and the Bulls). We were up in the fourth quarter of a Game 7, with Michael Jordan on the team. So I’m not saying something that’s asinine,” Jackson said. “They were an all-time great team and had an all-time great player. But I believe we had a chance to beat him and I think that if we stayed together, we would have.”

But contrary to Jackson’s claim, the Knicks never led in the fourth quarter and the entire second half of Game 7, which ended in a 110-81 rout.

Four months later, the Knicks shipped Jackson to the Los Angeles Clippers in a three-team trade with the Orlando Magic for Doc Rivers, Charles Smith and Bo Kimble. The Clippers also received Knicks’ 1995 2nd round draft pick (Constantin Popa) and Magic center Stanley Roberts. Meanwhile, the Magic received the Clippers’ 1994 1st round draft pick (Brooks Thompson) and the Knicks’ 1993 1st round draft pick (Geert Hammink).

Entering his second season as the Knicks coach, Pat Riley sought Rivers’ veteran leadership and Smith’s low-post presence.

The trade immediately transformed the Knicks into the top defensive team in the league and reached the Eastern Conference Finals. But they fell to the Bulls anew, losing in six games after racing to a 2-0 lead. Smith will forever be remembered for failing to score in four attempts in the closing moments of Game 5 at the Madison Square Garden that could have given the Knicks a 3-2 series lead.

Rivers tore his ACL the following season and missed the Knicks’ 1994 NBA Finals run. He was subsequently traded after getting buried in the point guard depth chart upon his return. Smith never lived up to expectations in New York and was traded to San Antonio Spurs in 1996.

After Jackson’s departure, the Knicks reached the NBA Finals twice in 1994 and 1999 but lost both series to the Houston Rockets and Spurs, respectively.

Jackson’s only shot at winning a ring came in the 2000 NBA Finals. But the Los Angeles Lakers foiled Jackson and the Indiana Pacers in six games.

Jackson returned to the Knicks near the twilight of his career in 2001-2002 but it was a little too late as the team was already on the decline.

Two teams and two seasons later, Jackson retired with the lingering ‘what if’ and ‘what could have been’ thoughts about the Knicks.

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