What's a Knickerbocker?
The term "Knickerbockers" traces its origin to the Dutch settlers who came to the New World - and especially to what is now New York - in the 1600s. Specifically, it refers to the style of pants the settlers wore...pants that rolled up just below the knee, which became known as "Knickerbockers", or "knickers".
In 1809, legendary author Washington Irving solidified the knickerbocker name in New York lore when he wrote the satiric A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker. Later known as Knickerbocker’s History of New York, Irving’s book introduced the word "knickerbocker" to signify a New Yorker who could trace his or her ancestry to the original Dutch settlers.
With the publication of Irving’s book, the Dutch settler "Knickerbocker" character became synonymous with New York City. The city's most popular symbol of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was "Father Knickerbocker", complete with cotton wig, three-cornered hat, buckled shoes, and, of course, knickered pants.
At the same time, the term "Knickerbocker" became indelibly linked to anything and everything New York...from Jacob Ruppert’s Knickerbocker Beer to the 1938 Broadway musical Knickerbocker Holiday (which starred Walter Huston and featured the haunting "September Song") to famed society gossip columnists Cholly Knickerbocker (the nom de plume used by Maury Paul and Igor Cassini) and Suzy Knickerbocker (Aileen Mehle).
The Knickerbocker name had its first use in the sports world in 1845, when Alexander Cartwright's Manhattan-based baseball team - the first organized team in baseball history - was named the "New York Knickerbockers" or the "Knickerbocker Nine." The Knickerbocker name stayed with the team even after it moved its base of operations to Elysian Fields at Hoboken, NJ in 1846. (The baseball link may have prompted Casey Stengel to joyously exclaim, "It's great to be back as the manager of the Knickerbockers!" when he was named pilot of the newborn Mets in 1961).
Thus, the Knickerbocker name had been an integral part of the New York scene for more than a century when the Basketball Association of America granted a charter franchise to the city in the summer of 1946. As can best be determined, the final decision to call the team the "Knickerbockers" was made by the club's founder, the legendary Ned Irish.
The late Fred Podesta, the longtime Garden executive who passed away in 1999, once recalled, "The name came out of a hat. We were all sitting in the office one day - Irish, (publicity man) Lester Scott and a few others on the staff. We each put a name in the hat, and when we pulled them out, most of them said Knickerbockers, after Father Knickerbocker, the symbol of New York City. It soon was shortened to Knicks."
In keeping with another New York tradition, the team's colors have always (except for the years from 1979-80 through 1982-83) been orange, blue and white...the official colors of New York City.