New York, New York, New York -- Knicks Dominate Three
The New York Knickerbockers, known as the Knicks, are
one of only two charter members of the National Basketball
Association still in their original cities (the other being the
Boston Celtics). The Knicks were among the league's elite in three
different eras, each separated by about two decades. In the early
1950s New York played for the NBA title three times. The early
1970s represented the team's golden age, when the Knicks won two
NBA championships with a roster studded with such Hall of Fame
talent as Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Earl Monroe,
and Bill Bradley. Then, in the 1990s, the Knicks again became
dominant behind center Patrick Ewing, advancing to the NBA Finals
in 1994 and 1999.
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1946-49: The Original BAA
The Knicks and 10 other franchises had their beginnings
on June 6, 1946, at the Hotel Commodore in New York City. A group
of arena operators met to discuss the formation of the Basketball
Association of America, the forerunner of the NBA. The original
teams were divided into two divisions. The East consisted of the
New York Knickerbockers, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia Warriors,
Providence Steamrollers, Washington Capitols, and Toronto Huskies.
The West was composed of the Pittsburgh Ironmen, Chicago Stags,
Detroit Falcons, St. Louis Bombers, and Cleveland Rebels.
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On November 1, 1946, the Knicks played the first game in the new
league's history, beating the Huskies, 68-66, in Toronto. Neil
Cohalan was coach, and the starting lineup consisted of Ossie
Schectman, Stan Stutz, Jake Weber, Ralph Kaplowitz, and Leo "Ace"
Gottlieb, who was New York's high scorer with 12 points.
Madison Square Garden had a crowded schedule of hockey and
college basketball games for the BAA's inaugural season, so New
York played most of its home games at the 69th Regiment Armory. The
Knicks got off to a 10-2 start in November, which would remain one
of the best months in franchise history. In their debut season they
posted a 33-27 record.
Future Hall of Famer Joe Lapchick replaced Cohalan as coach for
the franchise's second season, and he led the Knicks to the second
of nine consecutive playoff appearances. From his first season at
the helm the club showed steady progress, improving from 26 wins to
32 and then 40 in successive campaigns.
1949-51: Knicks Reach First NBA Finals
Prior to the 1949-50 season the BAA merged with the
National Basketball League to form the National Basketball
Association. The BAA took in six teams from the NBL, bringing its
total to 17, and went to a three-division format. New York remained
in the Eastern Division.
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The Knicks reached their first NBA Finals in 1950-51 despite
backsliding to a 36-30 record and a third-place finish in the East.
The season also brought more opportunities in the sport for
minorities; New York had opened the door to one of the first
African-American players in the league, 6-7 Nathaniel "Sweetwater"
In the playoffs New York got tough and dumped Boston and the
Syracuse Nationals in the early rounds. Then the Knicks met the
Rochester Royals in the Finals. Rochester won the first three
games; New York stormed back to take the next three. The decisive
game was a pitched battle. The score was tied at 75 apiece with 40
seconds left when Rochester's Bob Davies made two foul shots. The
rules called for a jump ball after a successful free throw in the
final three minutes of a game; the Royals controlled the tip, held
the ball, and scored at the buzzer for a 79-75 victory.
1951: New York's First Superstars
Although military service caused him to miss the 1951
run at the crown, the Knicks' star in the early days was Carl
Braun, a deft 6-5 shooter who averaged 13.5 points in a career that
spanned 13 seasons. As a first-year player in 1947-48 he scored 47
points against Providence, a team rookie record that still stands
47 years later. Braun retired as the Knicks' career scoring leader
with 10,449 points, although he was later surpassed by Willis Reed,
Walt Frazier, and Patrick Ewing.
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Braun, rebounder Harry "the Horse" Gallatin, and 6-foot
playmaker Dick McGuire were perennial All-Stars for the Knicks in
the mid-1950s. Gallatin and McGuire were eventually enshrined in
the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Gallatin was a ferocious 6-6, 215-pound rebounder who collected
5,935 boards and played in a club-record 610 consecutive games. He
led the NBA in rebounding in 1953-54, when he pulled down 1,098
boards for an average of 15.3 rebounds. That same season, in a game
against the Fort Wayne Pistons, Gallatin set a franchise record
(tied by Reed in 1971) by collecting 33 rebounds. His prowess on
the boards earned him All-NBA First Team honors.
McGuire enjoyed eight standout years with New York. He led the
team in assists for six consecutive seasons, from 1950-51 through
1955-56, and scored 8.0 points per game as a Knick. He was a
five-time All-Star and was named to the All-NBA Second Team in
1950-51. After his playing days McGuire remained affiliated with
the franchise as a head coach, assistant coach, chief scout, and
director of scouting services. The Knicks retired his uniform No.
15 in 1992, and the following year he was elected to the Hall of
1951-53: Those Darn Lakers
New York made three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals
in the early 1950s. After being defeated by Rochester in their
first grab for the ring in 1951, the Knicks went 37-29 in 1951-52
and played the Minneapolis Lakers for the title. The teams split
the first six games, but the Lakers, hosting Game 7, rolled over
New York for the crown.
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The 1952-53 Knicks had a stellar season, going 47-23. They got
off to a blazing start but cooled off toward the end of the year
when various injuries dogged the lineup. In a rematch of the
previous year's Finals, they lost to the Minneapolis Lakers and
George Mikan in five games.
1953-59: Never a Dull Moment
The Knicks were decent through the remainder of the
decade, but from 1959-60 through 1965-66 the club failed to make
the playoffs. Consistency was not a characteristic of the
franchise; the coaching parade included Vince Boryla, Fuzzy Levane,
Carl Braun, Eddie Donovan, and Dick McGuire. Of New York's 12
campaigns between 1955-56 and 1967-68, only one was a winning
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The Knicks of that era were bad, but not boring. In 1957-58 New
York led the league with a 112.1 scoring average while compiling a
35-37 record. Hard-nosed Richie Guerin, a 6-4 shooter out of Iona,
was terrific. A fiery competitor and a high scorer, he made six
consecutive All-Star Teams. Over an eight-year Knicks career Guerin
scored 10,392 points and averaged 20.1 points, ranking among the
team's all-time top five in both categories.
In 1959 Guerin became the first Knicks player to score 50 points
in a game when he tallied 57 against Syracuse on December 11. It
was one of 11 times in his career in which he scored 40 or more
points. Guerin could also pass-on December 12, 1958, he handed out
a franchise-record 21 assists against the St. Louis Hawks.
Guerin was well supported by Willie Naulls, a 6-6 forward who
played six-plus seasons for the Knicks and averaged 19.3 points
over the course of his New York career. The team also featured
Kenny Sears. The 6-9 inside threat led the league in field goal
percentage for two consecutive seasons, 1958-59 and 1959-60.
1959-67: Seasons of Struggle
In 1959-60 New York averaged 117.3 points, an all-time
franchise high, while going 27-48. Guerin ranked among the NBA's
top 10 in scoring (21.8 ppg) and assists (6.3 apg). On December 11
against Syracuse the Knicks had their highest-scoring game ever,
pouring in 152 points. Opponents, however, usually scored more-the
team yielded 119.6 points per game for the season. On January 24
St. Louis set the Knicks' opponent scoring record by tallying 155
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The Knicks experienced a lot of mediocre years during this
stretch, but they hit rock bottom in 1960-61 with a franchise-low
21 victories. On November 15, 1960, the Los Angeles Lakers' Elgin
Baylor toasted New York for 71 points. On Christmas Day, Syracuse
handed the Knicks the worst beating in franchise history, a 162-100
In 1961-62 the team struggled again, finishing 29-51. Richie
Guerin, however, averaged 29.5 points, a mark that would survive as
a Knicks record for 23 years, until Bernard King topped it in
1984-85. Guerin's total of 2,303 points was a franchise mark that
would last even longer, nearly 30 years, until Patrick Ewing
surpassed it in 1989-90. On February 14 Guerin made 23 field goals
against Boston, matching Willie Naulls's team record from the
previous year. The Knicks sent three players-Guerin, Naulls, and
Johnny Green-to the 1962 NBA All-Star Game.
One of the most legendary games in NBA history was also played
in 1961-62, and New York held the dubious distinction of being on
the wrong end of the action. On March 2 the Knicks squared off
against the Philadelphia Warriors in Hershey, Pennsylvania. By the
time the dust had settled, Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain had
scored 100 points, the best individual scoring performance in
league history. The Warriors won the game, 169-147, despite strong
performances from three Knicks players: Guerin (39 points),
Cleveland Buckner (33), and Naulls (31).
The Knicks failed to improve in 1962-63, finishing at 21-59. The
following season New York upped their record by a single game to
22-58. The franchise's fortunes finally began to change in 1964-65
with the drafting of center Willis Reed of Grambling.
Reed made an immediate impact and was the first Knicks player to
be named NBA Rookie of the Year. In March he scored 46 points
against Los Angeles, the second-highest single-game total ever by a
Knicks rookie. For the season, Reed ranked seventh in the NBA in
scoring with 19.5 points per game and fifth in rebounding with 14.7
boards per contest.
Although the team's record that year was still substandard at
31-49, the pieces were being pulled together for future success.
Jim Barnes and Howard Komives joined Reed on the NBA All-Rookie
In 1965-66 New York treaded water, finishing at 30-50. For the
second straight year the Knicks had a promising youth brigade, and
Dick Van Arsdale was named to the NBA All-Rookie Team. The club
also acquired Dick Barnett from Los Angeles in a trade for Bob
Boozer. The Knicks improved slightly in 1966-67, to 36-45, and Reed
was named to the All-NBA Second Team. That season New York earned
its first playoff berth since 1959, but the Knicks lost a division
semifinal series to the Boston Celtics.
1967-69: New York Hires Holzman In The Knick Of Time
The team's potential went unfulfilled until William
"Red" Holzman replaced Dick McGuire as coach midway through the
1967-68 season. After half a season under McGuire, New York was
15-22. Holzman led the same group of players to an immediate
turnaround and a 28-17 finish. They ended with a 43-39 record, the
team's first winning season since 1958-59.
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Bit by bit, things started going right. Reed and Barnett played
in the 1968 NBA All-Star Game, Reed as a starter. At season's end,
Walt Frazier and Phil Jackson were named to the NBA All-Rookie
Team. The franchise was poised for dramatic success. Thanks to
smart drafting and shrewd trades, the Knicks were building a
In 1968-69 New York won 54 games and finished in third place in
the Eastern Division behind the Baltimore Bullets and the
Philadelphia 76ers. The Knicks stumbled out of the gate, managing
only a 10-14 mark early in the season, then righted themselves and
played stellar ball the rest of the way. On December 19 they traded
Walt Bellamy and Howard Komives to the Detroit Pistons in exchange
for Dave DeBusschere. The day after the trade the Knicks pounded
the Pistons, 135-87; the 48-point margin of victory was the club's
largest ever. New York put together a 10-game winning streak from
December 17 through January 4, then had an 11-game streak from
January 25 through February 15.
That season the Knicks' emphasis on stifling defense paid off.
The club allowed only 105.2 points per game, leading the NBA in
that category. Willis Reed asserted himself even more and set a
franchise record by grabbing 1,191 rebounds (14.5 rpg). Walt
Frazier was third in the NBA in assists (7.9 apg), behind Oscar
Robertson and Lenny Wilkens. In the NBA Playoffs, New York swept
Baltimore in the division semifinals but then fell to Boston in a
six-game division finals series.
1969-70: Reed's Heroics Lead Knicks To Championship
In 1969-70 the Knicks won 60 regular-season games for
the first time, including a then NBA-record 18-game winning streak
from October 24 through November 28. They started at 9-1 and never
looked back. New York built its success on pressure defense and a
selfless passing game.
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Reed, Frazier, and DeBusschere played in the NBA All-Star Game,
with Reed earning the game's Most Valuable Player Award. Despite a
slight fade to 6-7 over the final weeks of the season, New York
finished with a 60-22 record and the Eastern Division crown.
In the playoffs New York defeated Baltimore in seven games and
bounced the Milwaukee Bucks in five. The NBA Finals pitted the
Knicks against a Los Angeles Lakers team led by Jerry West and Wilt
Chamberlain. The games were filled with drama as the teams traded
victories. The two clubs split Games 3 and 4, both of which went to
The seventh contest, on May 8, provided one of the most stirring
moments in NBA history. Reed, the Knicks' captain and center, had
injured his leg in Game 5 and had sat out Game 6 as the Lakers won
easily, 135-113. He was not expected to play again during the
series, and his absence seemed certain to doom the Knicks. Instead,
Reed limped onto the court at the last minute before the Game 7
tipoff, started the game, made the first two baskets, and provided
the dose of adrenaline that his teammates needed. Frazier scored 36
points, handed out 19 assists, and was a perfect 12-for-12 from the
free throw line. The Knicks beat the Lakers, 113-99, for the
Reed was the regular-season NBA Most Valuable Player, the
All-Star Game MVP, and the Finals MVP. Reed and Frazier were
selected to the All-NBA First Team, the first Knicks to earn the
honor since Harry Gallatin did so in 1953-54. Red Holzman was named
NBA Coach of the Year. But the key to the Knicks' success was
1970-72: Stars Of The Seventies
Walt Frazier, a 6-4 guard out of Southern Illinois who
had been the fifth pick in the 1967 NBA Draft, was the Knicks'
stylish floor general. He was considered the best on-the-ball
defender of the time. A seven-time All-Star and six-time All-NBA
selection, he retired as the Knicks' all-time leader in games
played (759), minutes (28,995), assists (4,791), and points
(14,617, a mark later surpassed by Patrick Ewing). Frazier averaged
19.3 points over his 10 seasons with New York. Although he finished
his career in Cleveland in 1980, the Knicks retired his uniform No.
10 in 1979. Frazier was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986.
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Dick Barnett, at 6-4, was known for his unique jump shot, in
which he contorted his body into a question-mark shape and leaned
back at a seemingly impossible angle before releasing the ball. He
spent his first five NBA seasons with Syracuse and Los Angeles,
before being acquired by New York in 1965. He averaged 15.6 points
in nine years with the Knicks. The team retired his uniform No. 12
Willis Reed was the backbone of the Knicks' championship teams.
The 6-10, 240-pound Grambling graduate played 10 seasons in New
York, appearing in seven All-Star Games. He was Rookie of the Year
in 1964-65, NBA MVP in 1969-70, and Finals MVP in both 1970 and
1973. When he retired, he was the club's all-time leader in
rebounds (8,414) and points (12,183, since surpassed by Walt
Frazier and Ewing). He averaged 18.7 points during his career. In
1976 the Knicks retired Reed's uniform No. 19, making him the
club's first player to be so honored. He coached the team for 11/2
years during the late 1970s and later became an executive with the
New Jersey Nets. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1981.
Dave DeBusschere, at 6-6 and 235 pounds, was a workmanlike
player who provided the final ingredient in the Knicks'
championship mix when he was acquired from the Pistons in 1968-69.
He earned NBA All-Defensive First Team honors six times for New
York and played in five NBA All-Star Games as a Knick (and eight
overall). After his 12-year playing career DeBusschere filled
executive roles for the Nets and the Knicks and served as
commissioner of the American Basketball Association. The Knicks
retired his uniform No. 22 in 1981, and the next year he was
elected to the Hall of Fame.
Bill Bradley entered the NBA in 1967 following a legendary
collegiate career at Princeton. The 6-5 college center became a
guard-forward in the NBA and played with the Knicks for all 10 of
his pro seasons. He was known as an unspectacular but intelligent
player. Bradley was smart off the court, too-he had been a Rhodes
Scholar in college and later had a successful second career as a
U.S. senator from New Jersey. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in
1982, and two years later the Knicks retired his uniform No.
New York fell off to 52-30 in the 1970-71 season, which was
still good enough for first place in the newly formed Atlantic
Division. The club started hot, at 31-11, then hovered around .500
for the final three months of the year. On February 2 Reed tied
Harry Gallatin's all-time club record by hauling in 33 rebounds in
a game against the Cincinnati Royals. Reed, Frazier, and
DeBusschere all played in the All-Star Game, Reed and Frazier as
The Knicks beat Atlanta in five games in the opening round of
the playoffs, then fell to Baltimore in seven games in the Eastern
Conference Finals. Game 7 ended with a two-point Bullets win at
Madison Square Garden.
Three games into the 1971-72 season the Knicks, sensing a need
for offensive creativity, acquired 6-3 guard Earl "the Pearl"
Monroe from Baltimore in a trade for solid backup players Mike
Riordan and Dave Stallworth.
Monroe was a consummate showman, a flashy ballhandler, and an
imaginative shotmaker. He popularized the reverse-spin move on the
dribble. After four seasons in Baltimore he spent nine with New
York; he averaged 16.2 points as a Knick and made two All-Star
appearances. When he retired in 1980, Monroe ranked fifth (and is
currently sixth) on the Knicks' career scoring list with 9,679
points. The team retired his uniform No. 15 in 1986, and he was
elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989.
Monroe's initial effect on the team was disruptive. He was not
able to modify his game easily, so his teammates had to adjust, and
New York slipped to 48-34 in 1971-72. After a shaky start the
Knicks began to come together again, winning 12 of 17 games in
February, and in the playoffs they easily handled Baltimore and
Boston. In the Finals against Los Angeles, New York won the opening
game, 114-92, at the Forum but then lost four straight to the
Walt Frazier and Dave DeBusschere led New York's stifling
defense, which allowed only 104.7 points per game, third best in
the league. Both players were rewarded by being named to the
All-Defensive First Team at season's end. Frazier was also selected
to the All-NBA First Team.
1972-76: First A Title, Then A Decline
The 1972-1973 Knicks won another NBA title. They
finished the regular season with a 57-25 record, second in the
Atlantic Division to the blazing Boston Celtics, who were 68-14.
New York ripped through the first four months of the campaign,
compiling a 43-13 mark before cooling off at season's end. The
Knicks eliminated Baltimore and Boston in the early rounds of the
playoffs, then for the third time in four seasons faced the Lakers
in the NBA Finals. In a reversal of the previous season's outcome,
the Knicks lost Game 1, then won four straight. They claimed their
second NBA championship with a 102-93 victory in Game 5.
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Led by the pressure and ball-hawking of Frazier, New York
yielded only 98.2 points per game, the stingiest mark in the
league. Bill Bradley set a new team record for free throw
percentage, which he would surpass in each of the next four
For the rest of the 1970s, however, the pendulum swung back to
leaner times. The 1973-74 squad still managed a 49-33 record,
leading the league in defense for the fifth time in six seasons,
but they lost to Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals. Willis
Reed retired after the season, and his departure sent the team into
a tailspin that would last into the next decade.
New York's 1974-75 record was 40-42, the team's first losing
mark in eight seasons. It would be followed by two more subpar
campaigns. Walt Frazier made the sixth of his seven All-Star Game
starts and earned the game's MVP Award. Earl Monroe joined him in
the East All-Star's starting backcourt. In addition, Frazier was
selected to the All-NBA First Team, for the fourth and final
In 1975-76 the Knicks stumbled to a 38-44 record. The only
bright spot was Bradley, who broke his own free-throw percentage
mark, averaging .878. The following season was more of the same,
with the Knicks matching their 1974-75 record of 40-42 and
finishing out of the playoffs.
1976-78: "Red" Out, Reed In
Coach Red Holzman, who had guided the Knicks to both of
their championships, was replaced by Willis Reed before the 1977-78
season. Reed brought the Knicks back above .500, if only slightly,
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During the late 1970s the Knicks had well-traveled, 6-10 Bob
McAdoo on the roster. As he did everywhere he went, McAdoo put up
impressive numbers, averaging 26.7 points during his tenure with
New York, the highest scoring average of any Knicks player who
performed at least three years for the team. In 1977-78 McAdoo
scored 2,097 points (26.5 ppg), at the time the second-highest
Knicks season total in history, behind Richie Guerin's 2,303 in
1978-83: Reed Out, "Red" In
New York started the 1978-79 season at 6-8, prompting
management to relieve Reed of his coaching duties and bring back
Holzman, who didn't fare much better, guiding the Knicks to a 31-51
record. For the first time in team history no New York player made
the All-Star Game roster.
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In 1979-80 New York went 39-43. Micheal Ray Richardson, picked
fourth overall by the Knicks in the 1978 NBA Draft, led the league
in two categories that showed his quickness and savvy. He topped
the NBA in both assists (10.1 apg) and steals (3.23 per game),
setting new franchise records in the process. He also had seven
triple-doubles. The Knicks set one other team record that year,
when Joe C. Meriweather blocked 10 Atlanta shots in a game on
December 12. At season's end, rookie center Bill Cartwright joined
Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Larry Bird, Calvin Natt, and David
Greenwood on the NBA All-Rookie Team.
This was an era of losing seasons and missed playoffs for the
most part, but Holzman did manage to get one overachieving campaign
out of the Knicks, winning 50 games in 1980-81. The team got out to
a solid 25-13 start, slumped slightly at midyear, then finished
with a 19-10 mark over the final two months. In the playoffs the
Knicks were quickly ousted by the Chicago Bulls. For the season,
Mike Glenn broke Bill Bradley's club free throw percentage record,
with an average of .891. Richardson set a club mark by picking up 9
steals against Chicago on December 23.
In 1981-82 the team dropped to 33-49. Cartwright set a franchise
mark for most free throws without a miss when he canned 19 straight
against the Kansas City Kings on November 17. Richardson matched
his own club record with seven triple-doubles on the year.
After the season Red Holzman retired as the winningest coach in
Knicks history (613-484). He had led the franchise to two NBA
titles (in 1970 and 1973) and had been named 1969-70 NBA Coach of
the Year. His 696 career victories ranked him among the top 10
winningest coaches in NBA annals (he currently ranks 11th).
The early 1980s saw a brief upswing for New York. In 1982-83 new
coach Hubie Brown led the team to a 44-38 record. The Knicks
started slowly, remaining below .500 through January, then caught
fire and played 26-11 ball for the remainder of the schedule. The
team was tough on defense again, leading the league by allowing
only 97.5 points per game. Marvin Webster and Bill Cartwright
combined for 258 blocks. New York advanced to the postseason but
was swept in the conference semifinals by Philadelphia, the
eventual NBA champion.
1983-85: King Rules Over NBA
In 1983-84 Bernard King, who had come over from the
Golden State Warriors in a trade for Micheal Ray Richardson, set a
club record for field goal percentage with a .572 mark. He had
back-to-back 50-point games, on January 31 against the San Antonio
Spurs and on February 1 against the Dallas Mavericks. For the
season, King averaged 26.3 points, fifth best in the NBA.
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The Knicks went 47-35 that year. Coach Brown guided the team to
a memorable first-round playoff victory against Detroit. The teams
swapped wins before New York took the decisive Game 5, 127-123, in
overtime. King averaged 42.6 points in the series. In the Eastern
Conference Semifinals the Knicks pushed the eventual NBA-champion
Boston Celtics to seven games before succumbing. King was named to
the All-NBA First Team, and Darrell Walker made the NBA All-Rookie
In 1984-85 the 6-7 King became the first Knicks player to lead
the league in scoring, with 32.9 points per game. His scoring
average set a new team record, surpassing Richie Guerin's 29.5 in
1961-62. On Christmas Day, King set a club record by pouring in 60
points against New Jersey. From February 1 to March 23 he had 24
consecutive games of 20 or more points, a New York record at the
time. He repeated as an All-NBA First Team selection.
Then on March 23 his season (and, many feared, his career) came
to a crashing halt. In the season's 55th game at Kansas City, he
crumpled to the floor with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his
right knee. He missed 24 months of action while enduring painful
physical therapy and rehabilitation.
The team as a whole was going backwards. It set a franchise mark
for consecutive losses, dropping 12 straight games from March 23
through April 13. New York had its worst month ever in April, going
0-7, and for the season the club declined by 23 games in the loss
column to 24-58.
1985-89: New York Wins League's First Lottery
On May 12 the NBA held its first draft lottery for the
seven teams that failed to make the playoffs. New York won the draw
and earned the right to pick first in the 1985 NBA Draft. The prize
was Patrick Ewing, a 7-foot All-America center from Georgetown
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The 1985-86 Knicks went 23-59. Ewing had a standout rookie
season but missed 32 games because of a knee injury. Still, he led
all rookies in scoring (20.0 ppg) and rebounding (9.0 rpg); was
named to the NBA All-Star Game, although the injury kept him from
playing; and was chosen NBA Rookie of the Year, making Ewing the
first Knicks player to win the award since Willis Reed in
The next year was also grim, ending at 24-58, but after three
abysmal seasons things began to improve. In 1987-88 the postseason
dry spell ended with the hiring of Rick Pitino as head coach. The
Knicks showed a 14-game improvement in the win column, finishing
38-44, and they snuck into the playoffs on the final day of the
season. New York lost in the first round to Boston, three games to
The team's success was built on Ewing, who made the first of his
many All-Star Game appearances that season, and Rookie of the Year
guard Mark Jackson, who provided flashy floor play and set a new
Knicks assists record with 10.6 per game.
The 1988-89 New York team, buoyed by a club-record 26-game home
winning streak, posted a 52-30 record, the highest victory total
since the championship season of 1972-73. Running and gunning in
Pitino's fast-paced, open-court scheme, the Knicks won the Atlantic
Division for the first time since 1970-71. They filled the basket
at a rapid clip, raining in 116.7 points per game, but also gave up
112.9 per contest. The club advanced to the postseason and
eliminated Philadelphia in the first round before falling to
Chicago in the conference semifinals.
1989-91: Charles Is In Charge, But Knicks Aren't
To give Ewing some relief on the boards, the Knicks had
acquired rebounding specialist Charles Oakley from Chicago prior to
the season in exchange for center Bill Cartwright. The Bulls
immediately reaped rewards from the deal as they claimed three
consecutive NBA championships. But Oakley, who had led the league
in total rebounds for two years, helped the Knicks. On January 3 he
set a club mark by pulling down 14 offensive boards against Boston.
For the season, he ranked sixth in the NBA in rebounding with 10.5
boards per game.
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The 1989-90 Knicks had a slight relapse. Rick Pitino departed to
take the coaching reins at the University of Kentucky, and Stu
Jackson took over as head coach. New York finished at 45-37. In the
first round of the playoffs the club dropped the first two games to
the Celtics, then became only the third team in NBA history to
rebound from a two-game deficit to capture a best-of-five series.
In the second round New York faced the Detroit Pistons, who
dispatched the Knicks in five games.
For the season, Oakley averaged a career-high 14.6 points and
was poised to finish second in the NBA in rebounding (11.9 rpg)
when he broke his hand near the end of the campaign. His 61 games
played failed to qualify him for inclusion among the season's
Patrick Ewing had a prodigious year. His 2,347 points (28.6 ppg)
broke a Knicks record that had survived nearly three decades.
(Richie Guerin had amassed 2,303 points in 1961-62.) Ewing's .567
field-goal percentage was the second best in franchise history, and
his scoring average was the third highest ever for the club. Ewing
also set a New York record by scoring 20 or more points in 28
consecutive games from January 25 to March 27. He posted a
career-high 51 points against Boston on March 24 and set a team
single-season record for blocked shots with 327. Ewing finished
among the NBA leaders in scoring, rebounding, blocks, and field
goal percentage, and was named to the All-NBA First Team.
The club regressed again in 1990-91, finishing 39-43 and losing
in the first round of the playoffs. Jackson was replaced by John
MacLeod early in the season, but the move didn't seem to help.
Ewing, however, continued to play the superstar role, ranking
among the league's top five in scoring (26.6 ppg), rebounding (11.2
rpg), and blocked shots (3.19 per game). Charles Oakley ranked
third in the league with 12.1 rebounds per game, the highest
average for a Knicks player since Bob McAdoo's 12.8 in 1977-78.
1991-92: Stand Pat? Nah, Hire Pat
On March 1 Dave Checketts was named club president, and
he hired Pat Riley as head coach for 1991-92. During Riley's nine
seasons at the helm of the Los Angeles Lakers his teams won nine
Pacific Division titles and four NBA championships (1982, 1985,
1987, 1988). At the time, Riley's career winning percentage of .733
was the best in NBA history. His Lakers squads never won fewer than
50 games, and in five seasons they won more than 60.
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In 1991-92 Riley brought the Knicks back to prominence with a
51-31 record, tying Boston for first place in the Atlantic
Division. In a March 31 game against Chicago, 6-5 guard John Starks
set a franchise mark by making 8 three-point shots. The volatile
Starks was a fan favorite because of his unlikely route to the NBA.
As an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State, he was signed by
the Warriors but was waived following the 1988-89 season. After a
year in the Continental Basketball Association he signed with the
Knicks in 1990-91. The next season he emerged as a valuable sixth
man, with three-point range and a competitive temperament.
Patrick Ewing was superb in 1991-92, ranking among the NBA's top
10 in scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots. His 24.0 points per
game put him in fifth place, his 11.2 rebounds per contest were
good for eighth, and his 2.99 blocks per game ranked fourth.
In the NBA Playoffs, with newly acquired Xavier McDaniel
providing the muscle, the Knicks engaged the defending NBA-champion
Chicago Bulls in a physical conference semifinal series. The series
went the distance before Chicago prevailed in Game 7, 110-81.
1992-93: Knicks Win 60 But Are Bulled Over Again
The 1992-93 Knicks featured seven new players but still
managed to turn in the second 60-win season in franchise history
(1969-70 was the first). Before the season the Knicks engineered a
three-team trade with the Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles
Clippers that sent Mark Jackson to the Clippers and brought Charles
Smith, Doc Rivers, and Bo Kimble to New York. The Knicks also
acquired veteran Rolando Blackman from Dallas and drafted guard
Hubert Davis from North Carolina. Xavier McDaniel departed for
Boston via free agency.
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Coach Pat Riley did a masterful job molding the new players into
a cohesive unit, especially on defense. New York led the league and
established a franchise record by allowing opponents only 95.4
points per game. At season's end, Riley edged out the Houston
Rockets' Rudy Tomjanovich for the NBA Coach of the Year Award.
For the season, Ewing hauled down 980 rebounds, the most by a
Knicks player since Bob McAdoo's 1,010 in 1977-78. He finished
seventh in the NBA in rebounding (12.1 rpg) and sixth in scoring
As the Knicks entered the 1993 NBA Playoffs many felt that the
club, which had finished 60-22, finally had what it would take to
unseat the Chicago Bulls in the East. The Knicks eliminated the
Indiana Pacers and the Charlotte Hornets and then took a two-game
lead over the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals. The
Michael Jordan-led Bulls, however, stormed back to take the next
four games and leave the Knicks just shy of a Finals berth.
1993-94: The New Beasts Of The East
When Michael Jordan announced before the 1993-94 season
that he was retiring from the NBA, the mantle of Eastern Conference
favorite fell squarely onto the shoulders of the Knicks, who for
four straight years had been unable to get past the Jordan-led
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As it turned out, the Knicks were the "beasts of the East." They
topped the Atlantic Division with 57 wins on the strength of a
defense that allowed an average of 91.5 points per game, the
fourth-lowest total in the 40 years that the 24-second shot clock
had been in use. Patrick Ewing was a major force with an average of
24.5 points per contest (sixth in the NBA), and Charles Oakley
snared 11.8 rebounds per game (seventh in the league).
The Knicks suffered a setback in December when starting point
guard Doc Rivers was lost for the season with a knee injury, but
they averted disaster with the subsequent acquisition of Derek
Harper from the Dallas Mavericks. At midseason Ewing and John
Starks represented the Knicks at the 1994 NBA All-Star Game, Starks
for the first time in his career.
In the playoffs New York defeated the New Jersey Nets in four
games to set up a rematch with the Bulls in the conference
semifinals. This time the Knicks prevailed, four games to three,
and then needed seven games to drop the Indiana Pacers in the
Eastern Conference Finals. The NBA Finals pitted New York against
the Houston Rockets in a bruising series in which neither team
cracked 100 points in a single game. Harper practically won two
games for the Knicks single-handedly, but the club's offensive woes
eventually proved its undoing. The series went the limit, with the
Rockets triumphing in Game 7 to claim the title.
1994-95: Offensive Woes Haunt Knicks; Riley Steps Down
The New York Knicks were unable to return to the NBA
Finals in 1994-95, although they enjoyed a successful campaign. The
team finished at 55-27, two games behind the Orlando Magic in the
Atlantic Division and with the second-best record in the Eastern
Conference. New York began the playoffs by ousting the Cleveland
Cavaliers in an unsightly, low-scoring first-round series.
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By contrast, the Eastern Conference Semifinals series between
New York and the Indiana Pacers was a classic. The teams had become
rivals as a result of the previous season's seven-game conference
finals battle, and this series did nothing to quell that rivalry.
The tone was set in Game 1 when the Pacers' Reggie Miller scored
eight points in the final 16 seconds to erase a five-point Knicks
lead, give Indiana the win, and stun the sellout crowd at Madison
Square Garden. The series went the distance, but as time expired in
Game 7, Patrick Ewing missed a driving layup and a chance to tie
the contest, giving the Pacers the victory. The Knicks had played
stifling defense throughout the year, but their offensive woes hurt
them in the postseason. Head Coach Pat Riley took the loss
especially hard and resigned the day after the Finals ended. Don
Nelson, who earlier in the season had stepped down as head coach of
the Golden State Warriors, was soon named as Riley's successor.
The regular season was not without its moments. Forward Anthony
Mason won the NBA Sixth Man Award after averaging 9.9 points and
8.4 rebounds while shooting .566 from the floor. Ewing was banged
up for much of the season but held his own, finishing in the
league's top 10 in scoring, rebounding, and shotblocking. John
Starks had a mercurial season; his average of 15.3 points per game
was second best on the squad, but he shot just .395 from the floor
and .355 from three-point range. Taking advantage of the closer
three-point line, Starks did set new NBA records for
1995-96: Nelson's Stay a Short One
The Knicks of 1995-96 were a team of many changes, yet
still highly competitive in the Eastern Conference. Many of the
team's key components were playing what would amount to their final
season in New York, en route to a 47-35 record, the first time in
five seasons the team failed to reach the 50-win mark.
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The changes began on February 8, when Charles Smith was traded
with rookie Monty Williams to San Antonio, in exchange for J.R.
Reid and Brad Lohaus. Ten days later, Herb Williams and Doug
Christie were traded to Toronto for Willie Anderson and Victor
Alexander. In early March, the Knicks bid adieu to Coach Don
Nelson, Pat Riley's successor, after only 60 games. Nelson, in his
first year of a multiyear contract, didn't see eye-to-eye with some
of his players. He was replaced by long-time assistant Jeff Van
Gundy, who finished the season with a 13-9 record in his debut as a
New York was led again by the steady play of Patrick Ewing, who
finished in the league's top ten in scoring, rebounding and blocked
shots. Anthony Mason also shined. Playing a league-high 42.2
minutes per game, Mason was second to Ewing in points and rebounds,
and led the Knicks with 4.4 assists per game.
In the playoffs, the Knicks blasted Cleveland three games to
none, setting up a bit of a nostalgic rematch between the Knicks
and the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. As was the case in the
early 1990s, the Bulls were too much for New York, winning the
best-of-seven series in five games.
The series would mark the last appearance in a New York uniform
for free agents Derek Harper and Hubert Davis, as well as Mason,
who was shipped to Charlotte in an offseason trade for Larry
Johnson that brought the Knicks new hope as they entered a new era
under Van Gundy.
1996-97: New Knicks Storm Atlantic
The new New York Knicks made their debut on
Broadway in 1996-97, receiving rave reviews in their premiere
season. With the addition of Larry Johnson, Allan Houston, Chris
Childs and Buck Williams to complement veterans Patrick Ewing, John
Starks and Charles Oakley, the Knicks improved by 10 games to
57-25, and a second place Atlantic Division finish.
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The facelift, which also included the addition of rookies John
Wallace and Walter McCarty, helped the Knicks record the third-best
record in franchise history in Jeff Van Gundy's first season as
head coach. Notable wins included a 92-88 victory at Orlando on
November 19 in which Ewing became the 23rd player in NBA history to
score 20,000 points and a 98-86 win over the Nets on December 30
that was the 2,000th win in the history of the franchise.
Ewing earned his 11th appearance in the All-Star Game with yet
another strong season. He finished among the league leaders in
scoring (22.4 ppg), rebounds (10.7 rpg) and blocked shots (2.42
bpg). Starks won the league's Sixth Man Award, averaging 13.8 ppg
off the bench. Houston (14.8 ppg), Johnson (12.8 ppg, .512 FG%) and
Childs (9.3 ppg, 6.1 apg) quickly proved their worth to the New
As the postseason unfolded, the Knicks looked poised to make a
run at the Chicago Bulls. After a first-round sweep over the
Charlotte Hornets, the Knicks took a commanding 3-1 lead over the
Miami Heat in the Conference Semifinals. Late in Game 5, a scuffle
erupted and four Knicks (including Ewing) received automatic
one-game suspensions for leaving their bench area. With the Knicks
undermanned in Games 6 and 7, the Heat became only the sixth team
in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series.
It was the first time in six months that the Knicks lost three
1997-98: Knicks Look at Life Without Ewing
The Knicks high hopes for 1997-98 were put to the test
on December 20 when All-Star center Patrick Ewing used his wrist to
break a fall, and suffered a dislocated Lunate bone and torn
ligaments in his left wrist. The collapse many expected never
occurred, and while Ewing looked on, New York responded with a
43-39 record and a first-round upset of Miami in the playoffs.
New York was 15-11 when Ewing went down against the Milwaukee
Bucks, forcing New York to count on a solid team effort. Stepping
up first and foremost were Allan Houston and Larry Johnson. Houston
led the team in scoring (18.4 ppg), including 34-point performances
against both Portland and Cleveland and scored 32 points against
the Lakers in a 101-89 win on March 1. Johnson chipped in 15.5
points and 5.7 rebounds per game and, like Houston, took a more
active role around the basket with Ewing out.
The emotional leader of the Knicks was once again John Starks.
Coming off the bench, Starks contributed 12.9 points per game, and
made a Knicks' franchise-record 9-of-12 three-pointers against the
Milwaukee Bucks on January 29.
Point guard Charlie Ward started every game for the Knicks this
season, averaging 7.8 points and team highs in 5.7 assists (5.7
apg) and steals (1.76 spg). Charles Oakley, who passed Ewing to
become the Knicks' all-time leader in playoff games played with
113, continued to do everything that was asked of him and more,
even filling in at center when backups Chris Dudley and Buck
Williams were injured. Oakley led the Knicks in rebounding at 6.4
rpg, while contributing off the bench were Chris Mills ( 9.7 ppg,
5.1 rpg), Chris Childs (6.3 ppg, 3.9 apg ) and mid-season addition
Terry Cummings (6.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg).
Ewing reached a few milestones before being injured in late
December. On December 16, he scored his 22,000th career point in an
83-78 win over the Detroit Pistons, and moved past Larry Bird into
17th place on the NBA all-time scoring list after scoring 19 points
in a 104-84 win over the Vancouver Grizzlies on Nov. 23.
Without their man in the middle, the Knicks scrapped their way
to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, earning a reprise of
their playoff series with arch-rival Miami. This time New York got
the last laugh, prevailing in another hard-fought, low scoring
series with a 90-81 win to earn a Semifinal berth with Indiana, and
setting the stage for Ewing's remarkable return for Game 2 against
the Pacers. New York pushed the Pacers hard, but Larry Bird's
troops brought New York's unlikely season to an end in five
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1998-99: Unforgettable Run to the Finals
The Knicks made two big trades, yet they barely made the playoffs.
While there, they lost their captain to an injury. And they still
found a way to become the first No. 8 seed in history to reach the
Two weeks before the season, New York acquired Latrell Sprewell
from Golden State for John Starks, Chris Mills and Terry Cummings.
Months earlier, the Knicks got Marcus Camby in a deal that sent
Charles Oakley to Toronto. After all the changes, the rotation took
time to form and New York stumbled to a 27-23 record in the regular
From then on, it was a different story.
New York was matched against top-seeded Miami in the first
round. The series went to a deciding Game 5, won by the Knicks on
Allan Houston's running one-hander with 0.8 seconds to play. The
game-winner bounced off both the rim and backboard before dropping
New York swept Atlanta in the second round as Camby emerged as
one of the most exciting players of the 1999 playoffs. Camby's
playing time was erratic for most of the season, but there was no
holding him back after he notched 11 points and 13 rebounds in Game
2 of the Atlanta series. For the remainder of the postseason, his
rebounding, shot-blocking and highlight dunks energized the
Patrick Ewing's season ended after Game 2 of the Eastern
Conference finals against Indiana. The Knicks captain had been
playing despite a painful Achilles injury, but was relegated to the
sideline after doctors discovered the tendon was partially
The Knicks needed a magic moment in Game 3 at Madison Square
Garden, and they got it when Larry Johnson broke a 1-1 series tie
with his game-winning four-point play. New York clinched in Game 6
despite losing Johnson to a knee injury in the first half. He was
able to play in the Finals against San Antonio, but the injury
limited his mobility.
Despite Sprewell's 35 points and 10 rebounds in Game 5, the
Spurs wrapped up the title with a 78-77 victory. Sprewell (26.0
ppg) and Houston (21.6) formed a high-scoring duo in the Finals,
but the Knicks missed Ewing in the paint and were no match for San
Antonio's Twin Towers, Tim Duncan and David Robinson.
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