From Latvia With Love, Vintage 1973

By: Dennis D'Agostino

It’s pretty safe to say that Kristaps Porzingis is the Knicks’ most significant import from Latvia.

But when it comes to preserving a golden era in team history, an affable lawyer named Filips Klavins may be New York’s most significant import into Latvia.

Klavins, 56, is the managing partner of Klavins Ellex, the largest law firm in Latvia. His parents left Latvia after World War II to escape the Soviet occupation of Latvia, and while Klavins was born in the USA he was raised in a very Latvian household, speaking Latvian and attending Latvian grade school on Saturdays.  After starting his law career in Manhattan, the Westchester native visited Latvia (at that time still occupied by the Soviet Union) on personal and business trips in the 1980s, then took a one-year teaching leave of absence to visit again in 1990. He figured he would spend the year giving lectures at the Latvian Law School, “and then come back to my predictable life in New York. Then Latvia’s independence happened and I never left. It was an incredibly exciting time.” So he decided to make Latvia his home, and now carries dual citizenship both there and in the U.S.

But while he carved out a career across the seas, Filips Klavins left a huge part of himself - and Knicks history - back in the States. And therein lies a tale.

Discovered after it was forgotten for decades is the scrapbook that Filips - then a 12-year old living in suburban Scarsdale - kept during the Knicks’ 1972-73 NBA Championship season.

“What possessed me to do the scrapbook, I can’t remember,” remembers Filips. “I wasn’t really a Knicks fan in the first championship year. I didn’t really digest that or was aware of it. But maybe because they won that championship, I was attracted to them afterwards. But, gee, I don’t know what made me do it.”

Certainly, it’s not the only such scrapbook depicting some of the Knicks’ most glorious moments. Many of them undoubtedly still lurk in attics in and around New York, remnants of a bygone era.

But Klavins’ youthful devotion to detail and statistics (he was a devoted Strat-O-Matic Baseball player) enabled him to create a book that is undoubtedly one of the most complete documentations of that unforgettable season.

For within its pages, with game numbers and the team’s won-lost record penciled alongside, are the box scores of every single Knicks game from that fabled year...from Game One of the regular season (an October 10 win over Seattle) through Game Five of The NBA Finals (the title-clinching 102-93 win over the Lakers at The Forum).

Now, it should be noted (especially for those of you raised in the Internet-social media-instant information era) that collecting each and every box score was an impressive feat indeed in 1973. Not only were newspapers the sole source for such information, but remember that early deadlines, combined with many more late West Coast games than today, made such a feat daunting if not impossible.

Klavins had a secret advantage: the primary sources for his scrapbook were his hometown Gannett Westchester Newspapers (especially the White Plains Reporter-Dispatch and the New Rochelle Standard Star), which in those days were pure afternoon papers which didn’t hit the stands until around lunchtime. The afternoon New York Post was similar in that regard. So if the Knicks were playing in a distant Western outpost such as Portland or Seattle, the Westchester papers often had box scores you couldn’t find anywhere else.

Despite that, Filips’ devotion to telling the complete story of the 1972-73 Knicks was tested around the season’s midway point.

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“The hardest period was around Christmas,” he remembers. “We took a vacation trip to the Bahamas and my mom, being a frugal, prudent person, stopped our subscription to the newspapers during the period that we were gone. I couldn’t watch or see the games then. I didn’t have the box scores or anything. So we got back, and I got my brother to help me go to the newspaper office and get back issues from them so I could keep the scrapbook going.”

Even with all the box scores in hand, an occasional printing mishap did not escape Klavins’ youthful eye, much to the benefit of a certain Knicks legend.

“My proudest moment with the scrapbook was toward the beginning of the season,” said Filips, “when the printed box score for one game had an omission, or an error. They didn’t have Walt Frazier’s results. So I wrote in, by hand, Frazier’s stats next to the box score. That’s my moment of pride, when I corrected the printed box score.”

Sure enough, turn to game No. 26, a Dec. 2 win over Buffalo at the Garden. The printed box doesn’t list Frazier’s 22 points, four assists and seven rebounds, but Filips’ neat script fills in the details.

In addition to the box scores, the regular season portion of the scrapbook has a heavy emphasis on black and white wire service and newspaper photos, with a minimum of copy. The photos ring with early Seventies style: the orange-and-black racing stripes of the Bullets, the star-spangled 76ers, the unique diagonal stripes of the old Buffalo Braves; the long hair, Afros and mustaches.

The action photos are classic, to be sure, but Filips also included much of the offbeat: Red Holzman getting a kiss from wife Selma, Clyde Frazier taking a courtside seat with fans following an out-of-bounds play, Phil Jackson in full Windmill Effect mode against Boston’s Don Nelson, the ubiquitous Dancing Harry, even team physician Dr. Andrew Patterson, described as “Keeper of Willis Reed’s knees”.

The regular season and Playoff sections of the book are divided by an extensive end-of-season statistical section. It features not only the final NBA standings and leaders but also, in Klavins’ distinctive teenage pencil style, a team-by-team scoring breakdown of each NBA starting five against the Knicks for 1972-73. So we not only learn that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar averaged 36.5 points against the Knicks while Rick Barry had 24.2 and League MVP Dave Cowens had 23.5, but also that John Block averaged 19.0 points, Matt Guokas 9.5 and Stu Lantz 4.0.

Pocket calculators? No way. Remember, it’s the Seventies.

“I calculated all those by myself,” says Filips. “I just went through all the box scores. It was great, it was so much fun. I was just very interested in that, and there was no place you could get that. Manual, adding up, dividing...Charlie Scott, I remember, was killing the Knicks that year.” (That’s for sure. Scott averaged 26.8 for the Suns against New York).

The Playoff section takes up more than 70 pages, and is clearly augmented by additional clippings and photos from the New York Daily News and the New York Post. One photo of particular interest shows Transit Authority police holding back an enthusiastic throng at Kennedy Airport (noted as a “hysterical crowd of about 1,000”) upon the Knicks’ triumphant return from Los Angeles, which belies the oft-repeated notion that “almost no one” was at the airport to greet the new champs.

 So Filips’ scrapbook had the best ending of all. Then life took him to Tufts University, then Duke Law School, and then to Latvia, where he would raise a daughter and two sons, while still visiting New York several times a year on business and to see his parents and other family members all living in the NY metro area. Meanwhile, the scrapbook rested back in Scarsdale. Out of sight, out of mind, for years...until the power of the Internet released an old memory.

“It’s in my parents’ house in Scarsdale. It was in my bedroom for a while, and then it was moved into the boxes and stuff in the basement,” remembers Filips. “I forgot about it. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t have it with me, I didn’t take it to Latvia. I didn’t think about it until a couple of years ago. Following the Knicks, I read a piece about a guy who gave the Knicks his scrapbook from 1969-70. It was a website piece, and I read it and said, `Wait a second!’ and then I started remembering that I had done something like it for 1972-73. That jogged my memory.”

Klavins is referring to a 2012 Knicks.com piece on New Jersey’s Allan Kaufman, who compiled a similar scrapbook on the 1969-70 title team.

“So the next few times I visited my parents, I spent days looking for the scrapbook,” he said. “First I dug through my old bedroom, which is still pretty much intact from when I was a kid. I went through all sorts of shelves and boxes, college stuff, under my bed and in the closet. Couldn’t find it. Then I looked in the attic and couldn’t find it. And then I eventually found it [in August 2016] in the basement, nicely put away, all dry and preserved. Now, it’s here with me in Latvia. But I wasn’t aware of it for 30 years.”

While the online version is now available for all Knicks fans to enjoy, the original is with the owner, who is still a huge fan in what is now known as the Land of Porzingis, even with a seven-hour time difference.

“He’s huge,” says Filips of Kristaps. “On the daily Internet news sites here, every game he plays is in the top three news stories. Everybody’s crazy about him, everybody knows him.

“I have NBA League Pass. It’s the middle of the night [when the games are played] so I wake up early before work, about 6:30, watch it and then go to work. If I put on my computer at work, the news about Porzingis and the game always comes up, so I have to watch the game without knowing the result before I do anything else. I’ve been doing that for a few years now.”

Filips attended the Knicks’ 2016-17 home opener with his three grown children and his brother, adding, “Before that, the last Knick game I was at, was...I cannot even tell you, it was so long ago.”

It’s been a long time in many ways, and the art of preservation and record-keeping is light years removed from Filips’ youthful scrapbook days. He did try it again, but it just wasn’t the same.

“I have a scrapbook for the following year, but it’s not as interesting,” he says wistfully. “It’s not a championship year. Also, I think it’s not as complete.

“I remember listening to the radio games. I guess lots of kids did that. But I was acting out things like Walt Frazier’s fadeaway jumper, Dick Barnett’s fall back baby or a block by Jerry Lucas. I’d act that out by myself, as long as nobody was looking at me...Those days in the NBA, I loved it. More than I do today. That’s what you can say about anything in your life, I guess.”

Decades later and an ocean removed, Filips Klavins has helped bring a golden era to us all.