POSTED: Apr 5, 2013 7:35 PM ET
UPDATED: Apr 5, 2013 9:46 PM ET
NEW YORK (AP) — Hoping to contend for an NBA title this season, the New York Knicks are honoring their last team to win one.
The Knicks assembled most of their 1972-73 championship team for a 40th anniversary celebration Friday. The team had a dinner Thursday and was recognized during halftime of the Knicks' game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
With six future Hall of Fame players, the Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers in five games to win their second title in four years. New York has been back to the NBA Finals just twice since.
"Once a Knick fan, always a Knick fan, and for 40 years we've been suffering Knick fans," former player Bill Bradley said.
It wasn't always that way, though.
The franchise was once among the NBA's best, winning the championship in 1970 and getting back to the finals in 1972. They lost that one to the Lakers, but came back the next year with Earl Monroe joining the starting lineup and Willis Reed back from an injury that cost him nearly all of the previous season.
"When he came back, even though he was limited coming back, we felt very strong about who we were as a team," Phil Jackson said. "With our veteran players, a roster that is filled with Hall of Fame players now, we were very confident in our capabilities, and we knew we were a unique team."
The 1970 team might have been better known, with Reed's limp onto the court to play Game 7 against the Lakers after he missed Game 6 with a leg injury one of the most replayed highlights in NBA history. But the players felt the 1973 team that went 57-25 was deeper and better.
"That, to me, in my mind was the best team," Reed said.
Reed, Bradley, Monroe, Walt Frazier, Jerry Lucas and Dave DeBuscherre all were elected to the Hall of Fame as players, and Jackson made it as a coach who won a record 11 titles. Beating Boston in the East finals and then the Lakers in the NBA Finals rematch, the Knicks became the first team to beat two 60-win squads en route to a championship.
They were a close-knit team that has remained tight four decades later. Five of them joined Bradley, a former U.S. Senator, for a taping of his Sirius radio show earlier Friday, and Jackson even delayed his entrance to their pregame media session so as to not upstage his teammates.
Eleven of the 12 surviving members of the team took part Friday, with Jackson getting cheers in what he thought was his first time at Madison Square Garden without being involved in a game since 1986. Booed here while coaching Chicago, he declined before the game to talk about his future plans, saying this event wasn't the right time.
"For me, the most fun I ever had playing basketball was 1973," Bradley said. "(In) `70 it was a lot of dedication to the get to the top, but in `73 the group of guys we had just was incredible."
The Knicks have been unable to duplicate the formula. Often stopped by Jackson's Bulls in the 1990s, they didn't get back to the finals again until 1994, losing in seven games to Houston. They made a surprising run as a No. 8 seed before falling to San Antonio in 1999, but then became one of the league's losingest teams during the next decade.
They believe they have a shot now, nearing their first division title since 1994 and battling for the No. 2 seed in the East. The Knicks had won 10 straight games entering Friday.
Reed thought the Patrick Ewing-led teams would win a title. Maybe it can be the Carmelo Anthony-led group instead.
"They came that close, they were there, I mean they had it done - I thought they had it done - and they didn't do it," Reed said. "That's unusual, but I think this has always been a very good franchise. I think the fans have been very loyal, it's been a popular team around the league and I think it will always stay that way.
"And if Carmelo and the guys ... can put it together and make a run - like I say, they've got to beat Miami, obviously whoever wins the East is going to have to go through Miami - then it would be significant."