A CONVERSATION WITH THE LEGENDARY KNICKS COACH
The NBA at 50: Red Holzman
Back in 1996, in conjunction with the year-long celebration of The NBA at 50, NBA Entertainment conducted a number of interviews with some of the most memorable and influential personalities of the NBA's first half-century. Now, the full, uneditied transcripts of those interviews have been made available exclusively to NBA.com. Check back often, as we'll continue to bring you the best from the NBA at 50 archives!
Today, we share an interview with the late Red Holzman, conducted in Secaucus, N.J., on March 25, 1996.
Q: While you were coaching, how would you describe the attitude of the players?
Holzman: The players, in general, were very good. They went along with what was needed to do and they all seemed to play hard and do the best they could.
Q: How would you compare the quality of play in the 1950's and 1960's to today's game?
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the team concept in relation to those championship Knicks teams in 1970 and '73.
Holzman: We made them realize that playing that way (selfless) would be better for them, as individuals, as well as as a team. Playing on their own is not going to do anybody any good, and not even the guy who is doing well as an individual. So I think that they were a very, very intelligent group -- very, very smart basketball players and smart otherwise. They knew what it took and they were also were unselfish people. They hit the open man, passed the ball and helped each other defensively. That's what it takes. If you play as a team, you have a chance, especially if you have talented players, which we did have.
Q: When your team won 18 straight games during the 1969-70 season, did you think that you had something special there?
Holzman: Well, I was aware that they were a good team, but when you're coaching, you're never satisfied. You always figure they could do something better or try harder or whatever. I knew that we had a great team. I knew that if nothing serious happened to stop it, we could go on and win the championship. But you don't think too far in advance when you're in a season because there are too many things to do. You can also get a key man hurt for a good long time and it makes it very hard for you.
Holzman: I think they believed that they could still win. What it meant to them was that they had to play harder. They knew that they were going to be handicapped, and sometimes when you're handicapped, it makes you do a lot of things that you don't normally do. They know they had to compensate because Willis was not there and they had to help harder off the big men. In those days, you could double team big guys even when they didn't have the ball and things like that. So you played harder, you compensated and they just didn't think about losing.
Q: How big of a lift did it give your team when he walked through the tunnel?
Holzman: I think psychologically, it was very, very important. He came out there and sort of gave Los Angeles a little bit of a letdown. When they saw him come out, they didn't know what to expect. They didn't even know if he was going to play. You know I think it lifted all our guys. It was very, very important. In that game, he played, he started and he got a couple of baskets which gave us a big lift. But I think people forget what Frazier did in that game. He had probably the greatest game of any Knickerbocker for the money. I mean, that was the most important game because that was the game we had to win to win the championship. We'd never won one.
Q: Was that your proudest moment in coaching?
Holzman: I was proud of them many, many nights, but especially proud of them that night because Willis was our most valuable player, and without him, we're all in trouble. He was a great, great basketball player and very, very important for us because he was also an unselfish guy. He was a strong guy, great rebounder, set great screens. He was the heart of the team. With him out, it was gonna be tough. You had to be proud of the team , they did a great job.
Q: How does it make you feel that you were part of the team that many people feel embodied the way the game should be played?
Holzman: Well, that makes me feel good. .. That's partly responsible, i had a lot to do with it, i think. .. But, we did play the game like they say, the way the game should be played. You hit the open man when he is open. You help each other on defense and you pass the ball, you don't force things. And you have intelligence with the things you do. Those are hard combinations to get together. And we did get that together. And they had the desire to win. As I said, none of them had ever won a championship and the Knicks had never won a championship. And we had great fans and they were behind us. And they let us know when we were bad. But when we were doing the right things, which was most of the time, they let us know. And they were in our corner. If we needed a lift, they were there to give it to us. So, they were a great sixth man.
Q: Beyond the x's and o's, the Knicks team went beyond basketball to symbolize how team sports is.
Holzman: I think it's a great thing about sports, if you can get people to do that and do the little things. That's what made winners in basketball certainly for many, many years. I'm sure it's the same way in all of sports where you have to go out there and play together and you have to pass the ball and have team play.
Q: How difficult was it to win 60 games that season?
Holzman: Well, during the course of the year, we had obstacles. Guys would be out, guys would not be feeling that great, but, we overcame them all. We gave each other a lift out there from the bench and every place else. We had some good guys coming off the bench.
Q: How satisfying was it for you to win that seventh game of the 1970 Finals at home?
Holzman: Well, I think winning that seventh game was very satisfying because I felt good for the fans, as well as ourselves, of course. We had never won a championship, and the fans were ready for it and they were really deserving of it. They were right in our corner all the time and I felt good for them and of course, felt good for myself and the players. That was very satisfying.
Q: What were some keys to your success that season?
Holzman: To me, it's always hitting a guy for an easy shot or passing the ball or helping defensively and reacting to the things that we practiced and said we wanted to do defensively. There are a number of things, it's hard to pinpoint. But, it made you feel good when you actually saw things you told them to do and they were doing those things with ease.
Q: Going into that season, did you think that Knicks team was a championship-caliber club?
Holzman: It takes a little time to see what you got -- who the guys are who should be out there, who the guys are that will sort of use your philosophy on the court -- not necessarily change to your way of playing but use their talents to blend in with the philosophy you have. My philosophy was really a simple one: it was team basketball and play hard, tough defense. We pressured all over the court and double-teamed where we could do various things. I think once you got to know the people that could do that, then you were halfway home. And then, of course, the talent was there, bring it out.
Q: Did you do anything special in your motivational tactics?
Holzman: I always felt that these guys were so motivated, especially that year. But, they always kid about some of my speeches because they were always the same. Everybody we were going to play was the best team in the world! Motivation was looking professional, playing together, and getting them to feel proud about what they were doing, that maybe some other teams weren't doing. I wanted them to feel like we knew something that nobody else knew in basketball. Of course, I don't know if that was true or not, but I wanted them to feel that way. I wanted them to feel that the only way to win was to do these things and to be proud of what they were doing. That's the way this team was motivated because they were pretty intelligent.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about what Clyde Frazier brought to the team?
Holzman: When I took the team over, Clyde hadn't been playing a whole lot and he was kind of down in the dumps. He sort of developed from there. He got his own identity and he was into wearing the clothes of the time and so forth. Basically, he was a great team player and a great person. He wasn't a flamboyant kind of guy. He was a man around town a little bit, but I think he was a great person. He had his own way of doing things. The great thing about Clyde, was that he loved to play basketball. It's too bad people couldn't have seen him when we were practicing in a gym. That's where he had fun because he did a lot of things we wouldn't let him do on the court, or he wouldn't want to do because we wanted it strictly into a team mold. He had a lot of fun in the gym playing against the rookies and kidding them and doing all of these things. He was great to watch. He was a great, great basketball player.
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