EW YORK (AP) - He looks like a basketball Gumby, all arms and legs stretched out, swatting shots away, grabbing rebounds, converting putbacks.
New York Post backpage, 6/12/1999.
Camby came off the bench again in Game 6 against Indiana Friday night and contributed 15 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots in the 90-82 victory that eliminated the Indiana Pacers.
With Larry Johnson down with sprained right knee ligaments, Camby played 37 minutes and can look for that kind of time in the NBA Finals against San Antonio starting Wednesday.
``I just wanted to go out there and play hard,'' said Camby, whose arrival in New York last summer was not exactly celebrated because the Knicks traded longtime New York favorite Charles Oakley to get him.
``What drove me hard in the series was way back when I got traded, people were questioning the trade, saying I wasn't going to get it done.''
The trade certainly wasn't coach Jeff Van Gundy's idea and he gave Camby only limited playing time during the season.
Video from NBA.com: Camby cuts through defenders to clean up the garbage (976k .AVI)
``I'm really happy for Marcus because of his perseverance through the year,'' the coach said. ``He never pointed fingers of blame and just kept working and played so great. I'm really happy for him.''
Twice in the series against the Pacers, Camby had 21-point games. He grabbed 14 rebounds in Game 4 and 13 in the pivotal victory in Game 5.
Now the next challenge is San Antonio with David Robinson and Tim Duncan waiting for him under the basket.
``I just want to play hard,'' he said. ``I think this series helps me prepare for this. I'm definitely looking forward to the challenge.''
s the Knicks moved on to the NBA Finals last night, Marcus Camby finished his job. He'll join them against San Antonio, of course. But his goal of validating himself and his game is now achieved, after one more superior performance that helped deliver the Knicks to the championship round.
New York Daily News backpage, 6/12/1999.
"Me and Latrell (Sprewell) took it upon ourselves to go out there, play with heart and pride," Camby said, "and get the job done."
Yesterday, Camby did what he'd done all series — and what he supposedly was incapable of doing, because of his relative lack of size and toughness in comparison to predecessor Charles Oakley. He was a force underneath.
He scored 15 points — again without set plays for himself — and had nine rebounds. His 10.7 rebound average for the series led all players.
"I'm really happy for Marcus because of his perseverance through the year," said coach Jeff Van Gundy, who didn't play Camby nearly as much earlier in the year. "He never pointed fingers of blame, and he just kept working and just played so great."
He seemed to convince all those who saw him this series. Indiana coach Larry Bird said he was the best player on the floor in the Knicks' victory in Game 3.
All this from a player who had never played in the playoffs prior to this season, a slender forward who was doubted from the moment he was acquired from Toronto.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet," said Camby, who is from Hartford. "I'm happy for my mom and family that was here to witness it. Especially being in Toronto, not making the playoffs — my first experience of making it into the playoffs. I'm excited for my family back home."
EW YORK - One of those Oriental markings on Marcus Camby's right biceps means, ``Strive to be the best.'' The other? ``I love my family.''
Stevie J. is family.
Oh, not blood family, mind you. But family nonetheless. Camby used to sleep over at Stevie Johnson's three-bedroom apartment in the North Hartford projects when he was growing up. Not once. A thousand times.
``He's like a son,'' Stevie J. said Friday.
You want to do something positive with your life, Stevie J. says, and his door is always open. The gregarious man known as the Mayor of Bellevue Square is not only a father of five, he is a father figure to Camby and dozens of young men. Marcus didn't knock on the door when he showed up at Stevie's house. He already was home.
Camby, as all New York from Woody Allen to Puff Daddy knows, owns his own house now. They call it the World's Greatest Arena. And Stevie J., who stood behind Camby through his NCAA violations at UMass, through all his trials and tribulations, is welcome here.
``All Marcus has to do is stand up to come into the game,'' Stevie J. said before the remarkable Knicks defeated Indiana 90-82 to advance to the NBA Finals against San Antonio, ``and Madison Square Garden goes bananas.''
The Garden is where Stevie J. has spent his nights during the NBA playoffs. Usually, he drives down from Hartford with Kendrick Moore, who plays for Providence College, and Marcus' mom.
Camby leaves them tickets only a couple of rows off the floor. In the morning, Stevie J. is maintenance chief at the McDonald's over on Weston Street. At night, he's sitting maybe 10 feet from Spike Lee.
``I tell Marcus I'll be dead before I can pay him back for all he's done for me,'' said Stevie J., 39. ``I'm sitting close enough for Reggie [Miller] to hear me yelling at him.''
Close enough to watch one of the amazing stories in the NBA.
Camby, 25, has gone from the frontline of Knicks controversy to the back pages of the New York tabloids. And when he charged the lane to tip in Chris Childs' missed shot and sealed the Game 6 victory with a defensive rebound and two free throws, Marcus Camby was a hero in the best place in the world to be a hero: New York.
``I was really down when LJ got hurt because he has stood by me so much this year. But this team has overcome so much,'' Camby said. ``It has been a wild season. And there's no better place to win than New York.''
He had pulled out of an exhibition game with a blister. Against Miami on Feb. 7, he got tired and begged out of a game. Jeff Van Gundy, locked in a feud with the boss who acquired Camby, was in no rush to put him back in. Camby wasn't strong. He wasn't tough. Physically or mentally. But his worst sin in Van Gundy's mind? He wasn't Charles Oakley.
``All I know is Marcus gets better every game,'' Indiana Pacers coach Larry Bird said. ``He was the most dominant player in the series.''
Another coach, one who has watched him since his Hartford Public days, does not disagree.
``He has been the most active player in the playoffs,'' said Howie Dickenman, Central Connecticut coach and UConn's former assistant. ``He always was athletic, but this is something more. It has all come together for him.''
Since Patrick Ewing was lost with an Achilles' tendon injury, Camby has averaged 18.7 points and 11.7 rebounds in the final four games of the series. When Larry Johnson went out Friday night with a sprained right knee, that load grew even more demanding.
With each round of the playoffs, Camby's numbers have become fuller and fuller. Against Miami, he averaged 7.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 0.6 blocks. Against Atlanta, it was 9 points, 6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
``Ernie Grunfeld [the fired Knicks GM] is looking good right now,'' Stevie J. said. ``He knew about Marcus from Day 1. Jeff Van Gundy was holding up the Marcus Camby Show.
``The Good Lord will make a way for you. I don't want to see anybody get hurt, but he made a way when Ewing went down. Marcus is the man now. Van Gundy is giving him the minutes. That's the difference. I knew he could do this. I'm not shocked.''
Is it Van Gundy's motivation, Dickenman wonders, or the fact that he's happier being so much closer to Hartford? Or is it, as those close to the team insist, that Camby has worked himself into much better condition than he ever was while with Toronto?
For all the knocks, Camby has resisted any urge to strike back. He has not gloated.
``I don't feel vindicated,'' Camby said. ``I just want a championship. I just wanted a chance to play.''
That chance has come. He answered Ewing's injury with three consecutive double-doubles. With 15 points and nine rebounds Friday, he fell one board short of four in a row. He had four all regular season. In the Game 5 victory, the Knicks were plus-20 when he was in the lineup and minus-13 when he wasn't.
A great weakside shot blocker, Camby altered so many Pacer shots. Attacking from more angles than a geometry professor, he uncannily anticipates the ball off the rim. He constantly tips balls to keep the play alive. He runs the floor effortlessly, a 6-11 Bambi through a forest of NBA muscle men. And nothing turned the Garden into a madhouse like his jam over Dikembe Mutombo in the rout of the Hawks.
``He is constant motion,'' Dickenman said. ``He's impossible to box out. He is the epitome of an offensive rebounder.''
He is, says his old friend Stevie J., like an eel in the water.
``If Van Gundy would have played him like this in the beginning of the season, he'd have been on an All- Star team if there would have been an All-Star Game.''
Marcus has a better place to go than any All-Star Game, Steve J. He's going to the NBA Finals.