I have known Trent Tucker for many years. I always was curious to ask him about the shot he made against the Chicago Bulls, the infamous tenth-of-a-second game winner, that later prompted the NBA to change its rule about last-second shots -- the 'Trent Tucker rule.' During a recent one-on-one interview, Tucker proudly talked about it.
Then Knicks coach Stu Jackson drew a play that made him a decoy to draw Michael Jordan away and open up a lane for Patrick Ewing to receive a lob pass, recalls Tucker. "But Michael read the play, which took away our No. 1 option. We really didn't have a No. 2 option because we were (only) one-tenth of a second, and we didn't have a lot of time."
When Ewing couldn't get open, Tucker then broke up to help get the inbounds pass from guard Mark Jackson. "Mark gave me a flip, and I shot the ball as quickly as I could," explains Tucker. "Scottie Pippen's hand met my hand as the ball left."
Tucker, his teammates, the Bulls and the entire Madison Square Garden crowd on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; January 15, 1991, held a collective breath as all watched the ball's flight, which seemingly took hours to reach its destination.
"When it went in, the Garden went crazy and we took off of the court," remembers Tucker. "Phil Jackson (the Bulls' coach) was waving, 'No way, no basket.' We ran to the locker room, undressed as quickly as we could and got into the shower to make sure that they (the officials) wouldn't call us back on the floor. In our minds, the game is over."
Despite Chicago's protestations, and a later meeting with NBA Commissioner David Stern, Tucker's shot counted.
"Throughout any career that lasts a long time, you are going to have some special moments," says Tucker, who played 11 NBA seasons and retired in 1993, "You are going to have some special moments."
Tucker's shot is one of the league's greatest moments.
Tucker, the Knicks' top pick in 1982, also talked about his first NBA game. "My first regular season game, we are playing the Philadelphia 76ers," he notes. "I got into the jump ball circle, and I look over my right shoulder and there was Dr. J. (Julius Erving). I knew right there that I had made it. I didn't know whether to act like I belonged or ask for his autograph. Then you look around and there is Moses Malone, Anthony Toney, Maurice Cheeks and Bobby Jones -- guys you have seen years before while you are in high school and in college. Now here I was, in the mecca of basketball, against the Doctor."
He also played on a championship team: Tucker joined the Bulls in his final pro season, 1992-93. Chicago was defending champs and knocked off his former club, the Knicks, to reach that year's finals.
"When we beat the Knicks in 1993, I was elated because we were going to the NBA Finals," Tucker says of his first and only title appearance. "But there also was a sense of sadness because Patrick Ewing was not going to go."
Ewing and Tucker were longtime New York teammates. "He was a guy who had done so much, and played so hard," says Tucker. "He called me at four in the morning and says, "I'm upset but I am happy for you. Congratulations.' I said, 'Thank you. If the shoe was on the other foot, I would have made the same phone call. I knew right then that he and I were boys.
"To know that I have friends such as Patrick Ewing means a lot to me," says Tucker, who also count Jordan, Pippen, B.J. Armstrong, Bill Cartwright, John Paxton -- his Bulls teammates, as friends as well. "We are still great friends today," he adds.
I have known Tucker for years, but I think the hour-long interview on his new job at the University of Minnesota, where he played his college ball, was the longest time I ever spent with him. He was introspected and personal, a side I hadn't seen before.
It was great.
(The entire interview can be read in this week's Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. www.spokesman-recorder.com)