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I Was A Walk-Off Baby (another tale of self-indulgence)

I'm going to interrupt my Mets-related chatter to tell a brief story and perhaps it explains my interest in all things walk-off and buzzer beater. Basketball is a hot topic in New York City with the Knicks hiring Larry Brown as their head coach earlier this week, so we'll tell a hoops-related tale for this weekends entry.

The date was January 30, 1975 and the Knicks were on the road, taking on the Atlanta Hawks. My mom and dad were big basketball fans during the glory days of New York's basketball franchise. My dad was at Madison Square Garden when Willis Reed limped on to the court for Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals and not long after that he met my mom. They got married on November 8, 1970, better known as the day that a New Orleans Saints kicker named Tom Dempsey set an NFL record by kicking a 63-yard field goal to beat the Detroit Lions. My dad's job on Wall Street enabled him easy access to Knicks tickets and I've been told the story on more than one occasion of how my mom had to practically carry him out of the Garden the day the Knicks came back from 18 down in the final minutes to beat Lew Alcindor and the Bucks in 1973.

The 1974-75 Knicks season was kind of the equivalent of 1991 for the New York Mets, the season that began optimistically but instead found the team headed on a long road to mediocrity. The 1973-74 squad was an aging group that lost in the Eastern Conference Finals, basically the last hurrah for the likes of Reed, Dave Debusschere and company. A six-game win streak put them at 17-8 after 25 games, but reality set in, as it became clear that big men Phil Jackson and John Gianelli could not match the production of their predecessors. On January 30, when they were scheduled to conclude a three-game, three-night stretch, the record slipped to 25-23.

It makes sense that my parents were at home following the game that night. After all, my mom was nine months pregnant so it's not like they were going to be out and about..

What they heard in listening to WNEW-AM was that the Knicks got out to a comfortable 18-point lead and proceeded to fritter it away, despite solid play from Jackson, Gianelli and Earl Monroe. The lead was still 11 with six minutes to play and six points with 1:40 but Atlanta mounted a furious comeback. The Hawks tied the score at 115 when Tom Henderson drove past Jesse Dark for a layup with two seconds remaining. Red Holzman called timeout right as I apparently started to get a little restless in the womb. Apparently I had a sense, even then, that something important was going on.

Holzman called a play the Knicks had tried unsuccessfully in the past, a lob play from Walt Frazier to Gianelli. This time, everything worked very well. Gianelli (referred to in the New York Times the next day as "much-maligned") got free off a screen. Frazier made a perfect pass and the result was a buzzer-beating hoop and a Knicks walk-off win.

I'm going to guess that my dad got pretty excited by the victory, even in that season of false hope (the Knicks finished 40-42 and lost in the first round of the playoffs). Having watched him for as long as I have, that seems like a safe bet. My mom got excited too, a few minutes later, when she realized her water broke. They quickly cabbed it over to Mount Sinai Hospital on Manhattan's Upper East Side, not too far from their residence. I'm happy to admit I wasn't an overwhelmingly lengthy labor. I was born the next morning, enabling me to share a January 31 birthday with the Hall of Fame trio of Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks and Nolan Ryan).

I bring this up partly because I wanted to write something a little different this weekend, and partly because I turn 30 1/2 on Sunday. That's significant, because I've officially crossed an important, unfortunate border. I can no longer say "I just turned 30" now that we've reached the midpoint. Instead, according to proper Metiquette, I must go with the "I turn 31 in January," which to be honest, isn't something I'm looking forward to doing.

True followers of Metiquette know...The Mets have had 3 walk-off wins on July 31 and all three came against the Pittsburgh Pirates.


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