The Knickerbocker Arena's inaugural performer was the great Frank Sinatra. Ol' Blue Eyes wowed the SRO crowd, most of whom paid top dollar to see the critically acclaimed performer in the new building on 51 South Pearl Street.
The Albany Patroons became the Knick's first sports tenant, a building which would later become home for hockey's Albany Choppers and Albany River Rats, indoor soccer's New York Kick, the Arena Football League's Albany Firebirds and af2's Albany Conquest. And for the first time in seven years, the Patroons weren't playing their home games in a converted munitions warehouse - they were now in a state-of-the-art sports facility.
That afternoon, the doors were thrown open and the curiosity seekers were permitted inside the newly-constructed facility. As a promotional gesture, fans were permitted to watch the Patroons-Thrillers game for free if they sat in the upper deck. So many people came to the game that the old Pats attendance record was doubled (they once stuffed 5,294 into the Armory when they beat Pensacola in January 1988). Even the CBA record was clipped (the Mississippi Jets once packed 11,153 into their home arena).
Gone were the spartan accommodations of the Washington Avenue Armory. Gone were the minuscule locker rooms, the inadequate shower facilities, the dusty, slippery Armory court. And most of all, gone were the cold afternoon practices (the U.S. Army charged the Patroons $700 to turn on the heat; Albany could only afford heat on game nights).
But Albany had more to worry about than just a new court and 11,000 fans. They had a 14-game winning streak on the line, and although they were on the top of the division, needed to win every quarter point they could to ensure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Patroons sent out their big guns to start the game, forwards Vince Askew and Danny Pearson, guards Mario Elie and Clinton Smith, and big center Willie McDuffie. Their main job - keep high scoring Conner Henry from getting any balls in the air.
The lead changed hands many times that night, with neither team able to distance itself from its adversary. The game went to overtime, both teams knotted at 101. The 11,000 fans cheered their home team.
Rapid City began pulling away in the overtime. With less than ten seconds left, Henry sank two free throws (he led all scorers with 26) and put the Thrillers ahead, 113-109. Some of the fans thought Rapid City had won, and began the slow exodus from the new facility.
Mario Elie made them stay put. Elie picked up a length-of-the-court pass, dumped it in for a layup, then the Pats called timeout. Five seconds left.
Rapid City inbounded. Michael Williams tried to work the ball down the court, but Danny Pearson and Clinton Smith were right in his way, blocking his motion until the referee blew his whistle. Traveling - Williams. Albany had possession, three seconds left. The Pats called another timeout, their last.
Clinton Smith was given the ball to inbound. Elie was guarded, Pearson was out of range - all he could do was fire a missile to Askew near the basket. Smith had to do something in five seconds or risk a violation, and Albany had no timeouts left. Smith fired a perfect shot to Askew, but Rapid City's Raymond Brown reached out and snatched the ball away. Three bounces and the game was over.
Smith later told the Times-Union's Tim Wilkin, "I thought it was getting close to five seconds, and I knew I had to get rid of the ball ... I take responsibility for the pass. I would've taken credit for it if it had worked. These things happen."
The Pats would rebound from that overtime defeat, winning 13 of their next 15 and claiming the Eastern Division regular season title, their fourth in a row and fourth under a different coach (Phil Jackson, Bill Musselman, George Karl and Gerald Oliver, respectively). And even though the 11,272 fans left the Knick without a home victory, they were the largest ever to see regular-season CBA game (only the 1993 CBA All-Star Game in Oklahoma City drew more).
Brown 2-6 5-6 9, Henry 11-22 4-4 26, Basnight 1-1 0-0 2, Williams 3-9 9-10 15, Thomas 7-10 2-2 17, Durham 9-13 3-4 21, Higgins 6-8 5-7 17, Ward 3-3 0-0 6. Totals 42-72 28-33 113.
Pearson 11-19 0-0 22, Askew 9-19 4-6 22, McDuffie 5-6 0-2 10, Smith 5-11 3-4 13, Elie 10-19 0-2 23, Stroeder 2-7 1-2 5, Burtt 6-11 2-2 14, Queenan 1-6 0-0 2, Shurina 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 49-100 13-19 111.
RAPID CITY 22-34-20-25-12 113 5 ALBANY 24-25-29-23-10 111 2Three-point goals: Thomas. Rebounds: Rapid City 40 (Brown 12), Albany 42 (McDuffie 12). Assists: Rapid City 22 (Henry 6), Albany 18 (Smith 6). Total fouls: Rapid City 17, Albany 29. Technical fouls: None. A-11,272.
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