What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We all have specific dates burned into our memories. Some are different; wedding anniversaries, children’s birthdays, and the like. Some are in our collective conscience; December 7th and September 11th spring to mind.
Somewhere in between lies June 17, 1994. Earlier this week, we passed the 25th anniversary of that date. I wanted to wait a few days for all of the hub-bub around it to die down because there’s some stuff about that date nobody remembers; after all, we will soon all remember why they got overshadowed.
No matter the year, as a consumer of all things sports, to me June always means the NBA Finals. June of 1994 was just like June of right now, a Laker-free NBA play-off season. Being a Laker fan dating back to the Elgin Baylor days, the NBA play-offs with no Lakers was rare before the current purple-and-gold malaise. In fact, the only times that had happened before the 1993-1994 season was 1975 and 1976.
Of course, New York Knicks fans feel no sympathy for me; they love a team which has only won a play-off series in two seasons out of the last twenty, and the last time the Knicks made the Conference Finals, the World Trade Center still existed.
Think about how much the NBA has changed since June of 1994. The Lakers rose again and won five more titles. Your current NBA champion Toronto Raptors didn’t even exist yet. The perennial doormat Golden State Warriors became a dynasty. Hell, even the sorry-ass Los Angeles Clippers have won four play-off series since then.
That’s the basketball significance of June 17,1994. By winning Game Five of the Finals that night, this marks the last time the New York Knicks had a legitimate chance to win the NBA Finals.
But not even many Knicks fans remember that, because something else happened that very night. June 17, 1994 was also the night of the infamous “O.J. Simpson Bronco chase.”
Regular readers of this blog know that large portions of my younger days were spent in southern California; my dad still lives somewhere between Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. A few years before the term “Ground Zero” took on a whole new meaning, we were only a stone’s throw from where the white Bronco which lives in infamy ended up.
My dad and I were watching Game Five between the aforementioned Knicks and the Houston Rockets. Even though he had season tickets to the “Showtime” Lakers, he was never really a sports fan, especially not to the rabid level of his progeny. To be honest, I think the Laker tickets went with his Mercedes; status symbols for an executive in the aerospace industry.
In any event, if you care to recall, the Knicks of the 90’s were known to play a particularly physical brand of basketball featuring known thumpers like Charles Oakley and the late Anthony Mason. Well, after Hakeem Olajuwon thunder-dunked on Oakley, I quipped “somebody is going to get killed for that.”
Ahhh…the double-edge of off-the-cuff prophecy.
Well, not long after that, we started seeing the “picture-in-picture” of a White Bronco on a freeway with half of CHP and LAPD following it. It didn’t take very many rounds of “What the fuck is this?” before the little “picture-in-picture” swallowed the entire screen. The unthinkable had just happened; NBC had just completely abandoned the game to concentrate on what was rapidly becoming the seminal cultural phenomena of the final decade of the 20th Century.
Think about that for a minute; 20th Century Fox themselves couldn’t concoct a better story. A network which paid billions for the broadcast rights to one of the biggest sporting events in this country completely dumped it in favor of an aging and by then fairly off-the-radar sports star thought to have just killed his ex-wife.
At the very moment I’m trying to get my brain around that, I heard the first helicopter. Then I notice the chase is on the 405 heading right toward my dad’s house. As the chase is getting closer, one helicopter became two. Then two became three. The Elder Dubs and I decide to walk outside for a glimpse of the goings-on, but by the time we made it out to the driveway, three helicopters had become at least 50.
I grew up on Air Force bases and I’d never seen that many helicopters in my life. There were National guard choppers directing traffic. Every law enforcement agency in the state had a “ghetto bird” over the scene. And if that weren’t enough, every TV station and radio traffic helicopter within 200 miles of Brentwood was on scene. There were so many choppers in the sky that Vietnam vets across the Southland had to be having flash-backs…it looked like the evacuation of Saigon.
While I am too young to have served during the Vietnam War, I did watch “Apocalypse Now” under the influence of some first-class recreational pharmaceuticals, and the weirdness I saw then couldn’t touch the scene Los Angeles provided that night in June of 1994. Again, 20th Century Fox would have struggled to capture what you couldn’t see on television, but that isn’t to say re-creating this scene couldn’t be done with a deep dive into the annals of classic cinema.
For the chase itself, take the chariot scene in “Ben-Hur” except remove the speed and the violence and add a dash of “The Running Man” for sheer surrealism.
Even in the moment, the antics of O.J. and his buddy Al Cowlings are presented nicely by the similar stupidity of Amos and Andy. The signature moment came when Cowlings called 911 on his brick-sized cell phone and identified himself as “A.C.” thinking anybody knew who the hell he was. They didn’t.
As for the general boobery of the cops, CHP could easily be represented by fictional highway patrolman from Ponch and Jon all the way back to Broderick Crawford’s “Dan Mathews.” Throughout this whole matter from the “chase” to the trial, LAPD pulled of an incredible impression of Mack Sennett’s “Keystone Kops.” How else can a group be described who couldn’t even frame a guilty guy?
If you really want to go deep into Bizzaro-World, you can get all the analogies you need from O.J. Simpson’s own film career. He played a comic and/or incompetent cop in both “The Naked Gun” and “The Cassandra Crossing.” He made a never-aired TV pilot Called “Frogmen” in which he was well-trained in the use of a Navy SEALS combat knife. Don’t worry all you conspiracy theorists, we didn’t forget about you; there’s the former Buffalo Bill’s appearance in 1978’s “Capricorn One;” a sci-fi thriller about a faked Mars landing.
To top it all off we can break out the “Irony-o-meter” for the fact that two of the three astronauts in Capricorn One were played by O.J. the future felon and Sam Waterston, who would spend the better part of two decades playing District Attorney Jack McCoy on “Law and Order.”
That leaves us with the helicopters which were as psychedelic as the flying monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz,” and as menacing as the seagulls in “The Birds.” The difference was the helicopters never hit anything, not even each other. To this day, I still can’t believe none of those helicopters crashed; they were swarming in those crazy patters usually only seen in screen savers, and yet there wasn’t a single collision.
Therein lies the secret why the O.J. trial became such a defining cultural moment; we were all waiting for the figurative “collision.” It was far-higher drama than could be afforded by a mere basketball game. Whether it was that night when we were all waiting to see how the chase would end, whether O.J. would be alive at the conclusion, or the big cliff-hanger of the trial and it’s eventual verdict, we as a nation just couldn’t get enough. Because that was a quarter-century ago, we have “20-somethings” in this world who have no recollection of the saga that was O.J. Simpson.
They also have never known a day in which the New York Knicks were relevant.
You can see all the episodes of “Story Time” here.
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