Review Fix chats with “The Knicks of the Nineties” author Paul Knepper, who discusses his writing process and why the team was so special during that decade.
About the Book:
The Knicks of the 1990s competed like champions but fell short of their goal. An eclectic group who took divergent, in many cases fascinating paths to New York, they forged an identity as a rugged, relentless squad. Led by a superstar center Patrick Ewing and two captivating coaches–Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy–they played David to the Chicago Bulls’ Goliath. Despite not winning a championship, they were embraced as champions by New Yorkers and their rivalries with the Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat defined NBA basketball for a decade. Drawing on original interviews with players, coaches and others, this narrative rediscovers the brilliance of the Knicks, Ewing and his colorful supporting cast–Charles Oakley, John Starks, Larry Johnson and Latrell Sprewell–in the glory days of Madison Square Garden.
About Paul Knepper:
Paul Knepper was a New York Knicks featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Prior to that, he wrote for the defunct website Love of Sports. The Knicks of the Nineties is his first book. Knepper grew up in Jericho, New York, and now lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and son. He’s a graduate of the University of Michigan and Fordham University School of Law. He practiced law for 10 years in New York City and was a high school history teacher before devoting himself to writing full time.
Review Fix: What inspired this book?
Paul Knepper: I grew up on the 1990s Knicks. I love those teams and I know so many other people who love those teams. The Knicks fanbase runs generations deep, it’s dedicated and loyal. The past 20 years have been rough and as a result there’s a great deal of nostalgia for the 90s teams. Those Knicks were tough and always competitive. They had great characters like Riley, Ewing, Van Gundy, Oakley, Starks, Sprewell, Heisman trophy winner Charlie Ward. There were sensational and devastating moments as well as dramatic rivalries with the Bulls, Pacers and Heat. One day it struck me that they would be a great subject for a book. And I dove in.
Review Fix: What was your research process like?
Knepper: II gathered as much information as I could from newspapers, magazines and podcasts. I read any book that even tangentially touched on the subject. If something was written about the 90s Knicks I wanted to get my hands on. Then I tried to interview anybody who was associated with those 90s teams: players, coaches, executives, opponents, ball boys, PR employees, the writers that covered the teams, etc. That often led to further research to confirm or expand on information they provided.
Review Fix: What’s yours favorite part of the book?
Knepper: I actually like the introduction a lot. It was my way of reaching out Knicks fans old and new. As for the main part of the book, it was Games 5, 6 and 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals. And it breaks my heart because I was devastated that the Knicks lost in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. But there were such compelling stories and moments in those games that it was fascinating to re-live them with the people who experienced it on the court. From the O.J. Chase in Game 5, to Hakeem Olajuwon’s incredible block on John Starks’ potential championship-winning shot at the end of Game 6, to Starks shooting 2-for-18 in Game 7.
Review Fix: Any challenges?
Knepper: Several. There were smaller ones like trying to get people to talk to me, certain aspects of the actual writing-process and trying to find an agent, though the biggest ones were psychological. Writing a book is a lot of fun, but it’s a lonely endeavor. I also faced many disappointments along the way, the biggest one being when a deal I had with a major publisher fell through. I didn’t know if I’d find anybody else to publish it and I was devastated.
Review Fix: What was your favorite Knicks team from the ‘90s, away from the team that made the finals?
Knepper: 1992-93. I’ve always thought they were even better than the ’94 team that went to the Finals and I discovered that several guys on that team agree.
Review Fix: Worst moment for the team during that time?
Knepper: There were a lot of devastating ones. Losing Game 7 of the NBA Finals has to be No. 1.
Review Fix: Most underrated Knick from the era?
Knepper: Anthony Mason.
Review Fix: Overrated?
Knepper: I hate to say this, but Knicks fans overrated Starks because we loved him so much.
Review Fix: What did you learn that you weren’t expecting?
Knepper: Several Knicks players told me Larry Johnson was the best teammate they’ve ever had at any level. I had no idea he was that respected in the locker room by players and coaches.
Review Fix: How do you want the book to be remembered?
Knepper: I hope people who were part of the 90s Knicks or followed them remember it as a book that captured the essence of those teams. Ideally, it will provide younger fans with some hope. I hope everybody else remembers it as an enjoyable and informative read about a tough, physical, passionate group of guys who had a tremendous impact on the game and competed like champions even though they never won a ring.
Review Fix: Why should a Knicks fan read this?
Knepper: It provides fascinating insight, including many never before heard stories, into the characters, rivalries, spectacular moments and of course, the fights, that made those Knicks teams so loved and memorable.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Knepper: I’m looking into a lot of different things right now. I haven’t settled on a new book idea.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Knepper: You can follow me on twitter @paulknep and you can find the book on Amazon, as well as Barnes & Noble and McFarland Publishing.