The Knickerbockers Story
The City's Team. The City Game. More than six decades of heroes and heroics. That's the legacy and tradition of the New York Knickerbockers, a charter member of the National Basketball Association and one of the benchmark franchises of American sports.
It is a history that includes six of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History Patrick Ewing, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Earl Monroe and Jerry Lucas...a tradition that embraces four of the 10 Greatest Coaches in League history, led by the legendary Red Holzman...a legacy written across eight trips to the NBA Finals and two World Championships, with the fabled 1970 team cited as one of the 10 Greatest Teams in League annals.
The Beginning It all began on Jun. 6, 1946, when Madison Square Garden was granted a charter franchise in the newly-formed Basketball Association of America. The legendary Ned Irish, who would eventually be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, was the Knicks' founding father and one of the infant circuit's pioneers.
The newly-christened Knickerbockers debuted on November 1, 1946, edging the Toronto Huskies, 68-66 at famed Maple Leaf Gardens. Former Manhattan College mentor Neil Cohalan was the Knicks' first head coach, while Ossie Schectman, Stan Stutz, Jake Weber, Ralph Kaplowitz and Leo Gottlieb made up the inaugural starting lineup.
This Nearly Was Mine New York was playoff-bound in each of its first 10 seasons, nine of those under the leadership of Joe Lapchick, the coaching genius whose 326 career wins helped him carve a niche in the Hall of Fame.
The Knicks made three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, in 1951, 1952 and 1953. But they would be denied the summit all three times: first by Rochester, and then by the dynastic Minneapolis Lakers in 1952 and 1953.
Carl Braun was the club's premier scorer during those early days, averaging 14.1 ppg over a career that spanned 12 seasons and five All-Star selections. Braun's teammates included Harry Gallatin, the ferocious rebounder who still holds the club record of 610 consecutive games played; the great Dick McGuire, who set a playmaking standard by leading the club in assists for seven straight seasons (1950-56), popular Ernie Vandeweghe and pioneer pro Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton. The greatness of the early Knicks has been certified with the enshrinements of Gallatin and McGuire into the Hall of Fame, joining Lapchick and Irish.
Lean Years New York made the playoffs only once in a 10-year span from the late '50s into the '60s, a period in which Iona's Richie Guerin earned a permanent place in Knicks lore with his sensational scoring and hard-nosed play. A six-time All-Star with New York, Guerin was the first Knick to score 50 points in a game when he poured in 57 on December 11, 1959 against Syracuse, just one of 13 40-point performances during his career. Willie Naulls, Ray Felix, Jumpin' Johnny Green and Ken Sears were also major Knick heroes in those days.
The head coaching assignments during that era were handled by Vince Boryla, Fuzzy Levane, Braun, Eddie Donovan, Gallatin and McGuire.
Take It All! Following a decade in the doldrums, the Knicks franchise would ultimately reach its zenith under William "Red" Holzman, the Hall of Fame coach who took over the reins in late 1967, just prior to the team's move from the venerable Old Garden on 49th Street to the gleaming New Garden above Penn Station. As Holzman assumed the helm, the team's "Golden Era" - which would include four 50+-win seasons, three Eastern Conference Championships and, of course, two NBA titles - was launched.
The Knicks climbed to basketball's pinnacle in 1969-70, riding a club record 18-game winning streak and a 60-22 regular season mark to the team's first NBA World Championship. Captain Willis Reed, the League's MVP, will forever be remembered for stepping onto the Garden court in spite of his severely injured leg, to the deafening roar of a capacity crowd...the impetus for a stirring and decisive seventh game triumph in the Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. With Reed scoring the Knicks' first two baskets and Walt Frazier adding 36 points and 19 assists, New York nailed down its first NBA title with a 113-99 Game Seven win, forever stamping May 8, 1970 as the ultimate red-letter day in team history.
Along with Reed's contributions, the unprecedented success was keyed by fabled teammates such as Frazier, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere and Dick Barnett, along with "Minutemen" Mike Riordan, Cazzie Russell and Dave Stallworth. Smart drafting and shrewd trades by Holzman and general manager Eddie Donovan especially the fabled December 1968 acquisition of DeBusschere from Detroit - laid the foundation for success.
Holzman's club led the NBA in team defense five times over a six-year span from 1968-69 to 1973-74. The team captured the citizenry of the world's greatest basketball city, selling out the New Garden 26 times in 1969-70 after recording just six regular season sellouts in 22 seasons at the Old Garden.
Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, a Knicks nemesis during his days with the Baltimore Bullets, joined the Knicks in 1971-72 and teamed with Frazier to form one of the greatest backcourts in NBA history. Also acquired to shore up the front line was perennial All-Star Jerry Lucas.
In 1971-72, despite the season-long absence of Reed due to injury, the Knicks won the Eastern Conference title with Playoff wins over Baltimore and Boston. In 1972-73, Reed returned and a veteran Knick squad gutted its way to its second NBA Championship. They outlasted Boston in a classic Eastern Final series and then beat the Lakers in the Finals, becoming the first team in NBA history to defeat two 60-win teams en route to a title.
In tribute to the championship heroes, the retired numbers of Reed, Bradley, Frazier, Barnett, DeBusschere and Monroe hang from the Garden rafters. Reed, Bradley, Frazier, DeBusschere, Monroe and Lucas have all joined Holzman in the Springfield Hall of Fame.
Slump, then Surge New York was a playoff force for nine straight seasons (1966-67 through 1974-75). But then a period of lean times befell the club as the '80s dawned, despite headline performances by Spencer Haywood, Ray Williams, Micheal Ray Richardson and future Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo. Holzman and Reed presided as coach as the Knicks made the Playoffs only twice in a seven-year span from 1976 to 1982.
Two dynamic and unforgettable personalities played the central roles as the Knicks' fortunes turned in the early '80s...head coach and future Hall of Famer Hubie Brown, and scorer extraordinaire Bernard King. In 1984, Brown guided the Knicks to a memorable first-round playoff victory over Detroit. King developed into perhaps the greatest offensive force in club history, becoming the first and so far the only - Knick ever to lead the NBA in scoring with a 32.9 average in 1984-85.
Jackpot! On Mother's Day 1985, the Knicks won the rights to Georgetown superstar Patrick Ewing in the first-ever NBA Lottery. It would prove to be a major turning point in the club's history. Ewing authored 15 memorable years in New York, becoming an 11-time All-Star, the all-time club leader in virtually every category and arguably the greatest player to ever wear the orange and blue, a headline performer whose number 33 would be hoisted to the Garden rafters in 2003. But a crippling 1985 knee injury to King set off a three-year dry spell in which the Knicks would win only 24, 23 and 24 games, missing the Playoffs all three years as Garden attendance plummeted.
But a decade-plus period in which the Knicks would again reign as one of the game's elite began in 1987-88. Under general manager Al Bianchi and head coach Rick Pitino and buoyed by Rookie of the Year Mark Jackson, the Knicks gained a playoff spot in the season's final game. The next year, with newly-acquired Charles Oakley and Kiki Vandeweghe on board, the Knicks won 52 games (including 26 straight at home) and the Atlantic Division title. In 1989-90, behind an MVP-caliber season by Ewing, the Knicks rose from an 0-2 hole and defeated the arch-rival Celtics in the first playoff round with an emotional Game Five triumph at Boston Garden.
It's All About Soul Club president Dave Checketts - named on March 1, 1991 - and eventual president and general manager Ernie Grunfeld then guided the Knicks into an unforgettable era by hiring future Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley and adding the likes of Xavier McDaniel, Rolando Blackman, Anthony Mason, Doc Rivers, Charles Smith and Derek Harper. The Riley Era 1991-92 through 1994-95 resulted in an unprecedented four consecutive 50+ win seasons, two Atlantic Division titles, two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, and a series of electrifying Playoff runs that captivated the entire nation.
In 1992-93, the Knicks rewrote the club record book with a franchise-record-tying 60 wins, a club record 37 home victories and, ultimately, their first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals in nearly two decades.
Then, keyed by one of the greatest defensive units in NBA history (91.5 ppg) and All-Star seasons from Ewing, Oakley and John Starks, the 1993-94 Knicks ended the three-year championship reign of the Chicago Bulls with an emotional playoff triumph, then bested Indiana to earn their first Eastern Conference Championship in 21 years, only to be denied the ultimate prize in a seven-game nail-biter NBA Finals series against Houston. A 55-win season in 1994-95 and a heartbreaking seven-game Playoff loss to Indiana was followed soon after by Riley's resignation as head coach.
As a final, fitting postscript to the Riley Era, both Ewing and Riley earned first-ballot election to the Basketball Hall of Fame with the Class of 2008.
Jeff's Time After seven years as an assistant coach, youthful Jeff Van Gundy succeeded Don Nelson as head coach on Mar. 8, 1996. Following the 1995-96 season, Grunfeld engineered an extensive off-season facelift that put Larry Johnson, Allan Houston, Chris Childs and Buck Williams in Knicks uniforms. The results were a 57-win season in 1996-97, followed by an emotional first-round Playoff triumph over Miami in 1997-98, a season marred by a wrist fracture suffered by Ewing that sidelined the All-Star center for the final two-thirds of the regular season.
Electrifying Latrell Sprewell and youthful Marcus Camby came aboard in 1998-99 to help write one of the most memorable chapters in the club's storied history. Following a 27-23 regular season, the Knicks stormed from the East's eighth seed to win the Eastern Conference title with thrilling Playoff triumphs over arch-rivals Miami and Indiana and a decisive four-game sweep of Atlanta, before the ultimate heartbreak of a five-game Finals loss to San Antonio.
In 2000, the Knicks made their second straight march to the East Finals, highlighted by their third straight Playoff triumph over Miami, as Ewing concluded his 15-year, Hall of Fame Knick career. Van Gundy, meanwhile, would ultimately log 248 career wins to become the third-winningest coach in franchise history, behind only the storied duo of Holzman and Lapchick.
Into The Millennium Following the end of both the Knicks' string of 14 consecutive Playoff appearances and their decade-long streak of 433 home sellouts, Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas was appointed president, basketball operations on Dec. 22, 2003. Over the next five seasons, Hall of Famers Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown and ultimately Thomas would coach the Knicks, with Wilkens leading New York to its most recent Playoff berth in 2004. Thomas engineered the acquisitions of Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry, Jamal Crawford, David Lee, Quentin Richardson, Wilson Chandler, Zach Randolph and Nate Robinson.
Donnie and Mike A new Knicks era dawned in the spring of 2008, with the naming of New York native Donnie Walsh as president, basketball operations on Apr. 2, and the hiring of Mike D'Antoni as head coach on May 13. Walsh returned to his hometown after two decades in Indiana over which he molded the Pacers into one of the NBA's elite franchises. D'Antoni arrived after leading the Phoenix Suns to four 50-plus win seasons and three Pacific Division titles.
In 2008-09, his first year at the helm, D'Antoni engineered a nine-game improvement in the win column for New York, instilling a trademark high-octane attack that enabled the Knicks to finish as the League's fourth-best offensive team. Off the court, Walsh presided over an extensive roster makeover that not only brought the likes of Al Harrington and Larry Hughes to the Knicks, but would also enable the team to have salary cap flexibility (in 2010) for the first time in more than a decade.
Under the leadership of Walsh and D'Antoni and with renewed spirit and youth, New York's Team faces the new millennium with the promise of even greater heights.