Hubert Davis’ composure was evident in 1994 at Knicks

NEW ORLEANS — Hubert Davis held it together while everyone else at Madison Square Garden was out of their minds. It was the night of May 18, 1994, and the North Carolina guard was close to two of the biggest free throws in New York Knicks history.

The Chicago Bulls led by a point in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, with the series being a tie. Michael Jordan was playing minor league baseball and wasn’t available to torment and conquer, which meant a few definite things:

1) The Knicks had no choice but to win that series.

2) Hubert Davis had no choice but to take those foul shots.

Scottie Pippen had fouled him with 2.1 seconds left with his wayward jumper, at least that’s how the official Hue Hollins saw it. Pippen went berserk at the call and his trainer Phil Jackson went berserk even more, later standing in the back yard yelling at Hollins from outside the umpires’ dressing room.

So much time and energy was expended on whether that post-release touch foul should have been called on Davis’ right arm on that sweater, especially against a future Hall of Famer. Not enough time and energy was put into what happened after that call.

Hubert Davis
Hubert Davis as a member of the Knicks.

Davis, a part-time starter, had been off the line all night. He had only played 14 minutes. Despite being an established dead-eye shooter and having made 84 percent of his free throws that year, Davis had every reason to be a nervous wreck a day after his 24th birthday.

He went to the line, ball in hand. “All I had in mind was to get those two free throws and get us a game closer to the Eastern Conference Finals,” Davis recalled Friday at the Superdome, where he played North Carolina against Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke in a Final Four. Duel coaching will age.

Hubert Davis
Hubert Davis drives to the basket in a game against the Bulls in 1995.

In fact, Davis thought a little about the shooting lessons his father gave. He took a deep breath, dropped his shoulders onto his bent knees, then stood and released the ball with a textbook sequence. Swish, and the Garden crowd roared. Jackson called a time-out to force Davis to consider his second try, which ended 86-86.

It did not work. With Riley relaxed on the bench and crossing his left leg over his right like he was waiting for a bus, Davis repeated the routine and gave the Knicks a one-point lead. The Bulls called another timeout and then watched in horror as Pete Myers threw a faulty inbound pass to give the Knicks the game and ultimately the series.

His No. 44 jersey looked too big for his 6-foot-5, 183-pound frame, Davis jumped down the tunnel and pumped his right fist. A reporter asked him that night if Patrick Ewing or anyone else spoke to him before his free throws. “Nobody did it,” he said. “I told everyone to leave me alone. I didn’t want anyone telling me to concentrate or not to be nervous. I just wanted to be left alone and let myself try to do the job.”

Not gifted with great athleticism or physicality, Davis had become a huge star at Chapel Hill and established himself as the Knicks’ first-round draft choice (No. 20 overall) in 1992. Dean Smith believed in him and so did Riley, a damn good daily double. And when the rough Knicks began to get to know him, Davis stood out for his commitment to 24/7 professionalism.

“On our team of street fighters,” said Riley’s old assistant Jeff Van Gundy, “he was our milk drinker.”

That’s not to say Hubert Ira Davis Jr. was soft — no, no, no. He just didn’t have time for extracurricular nonsense or living next to teammates who didn’t get his good night’s sleep.

Hubert Davis
Hubert Davis celebrates after North Carolina beat Saint Peter’s to advance to the Final Four.

“He lived with his game every day,” said Van Gundy. “When he did those free throws, you knew the thing wasn’t going to get too big for him. He’s put in the work, and confidence comes from successful repetition. Hubert had an incredibly calm confidence about him.

“Toughness comes in different forms and Hubert had some of the greatest mental toughness that we’ve had on this team. I think the one thing he’s done so well this year when Carolina was struggling early on is that he never wavered and that didn’t surprise me. Through his ups and downs in his playing career, he was the same guy. You can count on him being the same guy in the spotlight.”

As a freshman head coach with a legendary program, succeeding Roy Williams, Davis has handled the limelight with the greatest of ease. He endured some humiliating losses early and midseason, then connected with his team in time to ruin Coach K’s farewell at Cameron, winning 10 of 11 and beating everyone in the NCAA tournament, from defending champion Baylor up to millions – One Shot Saint Peter’s to reach the Final Four in Year 1.

“Hubert was great,” said Krzyzewski. “I just thought he always had poise and great humility. … He ran his own race. He wasn’t trying to be Dean Smith or Roy or anyone else. He was himself in that culture.”

Davis was also in New York himself, playing with Ewing and the others. He said Friday he wishes he had stayed with the Knicks for his entire NBA career, not just four seasons.

Nevertheless, he has made a lasting name for himself in the big city. With those two free throws that defeated the Bulls long ago, Davis proved he’d never be afraid of his first Final Four or his last dance with Coach K. Hubert Davis’ composure was evident in 1994 at Knicks


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