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The Enigma Marcus Camby/KNICKS

May 17, 1999
May 17, 1999

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May 17, 1999

Faces In The Crowd
Baseball
Soccer

The Enigma Marcus Camby/KNICKS

Marcus Camby took a bounce pass, rammed down the dunk and hung
there, rocking high on the rim like a kid on a swing. The
whistle blew, the Miami Heat's Alonzo Mourning got called for a
foul, the 15,036 fans at Miami Arena went mute, and the Heat
players began, right then, to understand that this might not be
their day. It was late in the second quarter of the New York
Knicks' 95-75 runaway upset last Saturday, and now the 6'11",
225-pound Camby, recently considered too soft to factor into the
macho design of any Heat-Knicks showdown, had hurled himself
into the thick of their playoff opener. Somewhere between
dangling over Mourning and completing the three-point play, the
whippet-thin Camby even tried to intimidate Miami's bruising
center by staring him down.

This is an article from the May 17, 1999 issue Original Layout

"I just gave him a look," Camby said later with a laugh, "and
Steve Javie, the ref, told me to stop looking at him."

So it wasn't a body slam or a whistling right hook. Give Camby
time. This was his postseason debut following two dry seasons
with the Toronto Raptors, and if he hasn't yet picked up the
rougher points of the NBA's most intense rivalry, he already
knows he may never again experience a series so negatively
charged. After an ejection-filled brawl helped New York trip
Miami in the first round last season, the Knicks' road win on
Saturday put them in prime position to heap even more ignominy
on the Heat. Only once in 15 postseasons has a No. 8 seed
humbled a No. 1. "It feels good to be playing for something,"
the 25-year-old Camby said. "This game was so emotional. You can
just touch and feel it when you're out there. The crowd, the
atmosphere, the fact it's on national TV: It's put up or shut up
now. That's our mind-set."

A month ago the idea of Camby presuming to speak for the Knicks
would have been laughable. After two underachieving seasons in
Toronto, Camby, the No. 2 pick in the 1996 draft, was traded to
New York last June for the immensely popular (and relentlessly
physical) Charles Oakley. He arrived in New York out of shape
and was coolly received by fans, teammates and coach Jeff Van
Gundy. He rode the bench for much of the season's first
half--playing a total of five minutes in the Knicks' first two
regular-season games against Miami--and then found his limited
role publicly raised as a point of contention between Van Gundy
and Ernie Grunfeld, New York's president and general manager,
before Grunfeld was relieved of his duties on April 21.

Camby worked himself into shape and into the playing rotation,
complementing Latrell Sprewell's scoring on the second unit with
both energy and stiff defense. His 15-point, seven-rebound
performance proved instrumental in New York's season-saving
82-80 win in Miami on April 25, and last Saturday his 11-point,
six-rebound stint highlighted weaknesses in the Heat's reserve
corps and gave pause to all those Knicks fans still pining for
Oakley.

"I don't really care about what people think," Camby said. "The
team I was with last year is home watching us right now, and I'm
in the playoffs. I'm having fun."

--S.L. Price

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO