“A couple words about what we call mental preparation. It is also a process, daily work. I personally prefer to work alone, without a psychologist, because I think that a third person between the player and the coach is not necessary. The coach must also be a psychologist, understand the soul of the players and get inside their heads and hearts to find out what they have inside. You have to talk to them a lot, alone or with everyone else in the locker room, but you must always ask more from the best players. I was accused of not being able to deal with stars, but I think the opposite: I was always more critical with the best players because I knew they could do it and that’s why we got to the top many times together. You cannot be as demanding with the young ones, you have to teach them trust and be patient with them.”
Archive for Basketball
“I don’t see any negative from practicing hard. I don’t see any negative from playing hard. You’re building habits every time you step out there. I think you’ve got to develop a physical toughness and a mental toughness along the way. Because down the road when you do get there, there’s going to be a lot of fire that you’ve got to go through. And you’ve got to be prepared to deal with it.”
“There’s not a lot of difference between the elite teams. It’s will, determination. That’s not something you develop once you get there. You’d better develop it all along the way.”
As we sit back and watch both New York professional basketball teams in the NBA playoffs (Knicks-Celtics and Nets-Bulls) for some strange reason I thought back to the 1975-76 season.
The Nets defeated the Denver Nuggets that year 4-2 to win the ABA championship, their second ring in three years. The Nuggets, coached by Larry Brown had the best record in the league and were led by David Thompson, Dan Issel and Bobby Jones. But Julius Erving was too much for them in the finals; Doc averaged 37.7 PPG in the finals. Over in the NBA, the Celtics had captured the title beating the Phoenix Suns 4-2. It was the Celtics 13th ring.
75-76 was the ABA’s last season.
Their “swan song.”
The red white and ball was no more.
Four teams (Nets, Pacers, Nuggets and Spurs) joined the NBA on June 17th, 1976.
Or like my friend Glenn Thomas likes to say, “Suspended operations.”
There was talk of a possible game between the Nets and Celtics to determine the real champion.
No such luck, it never happened.
While researching for this entry, I found this piece of information from http://www.remembertheaba.com/abastatistics/abanbaexhibitions.html
After the 1974-75 regular season, the ABA Champion Kentucky Colonels formally challenged the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors to a “World Series of Basketball,” with the winner to take a $1 Million purse (to come from anticipated TV revenues). The NBA and the Warriors refused the challenge. Again, after the 1975-76 season, the ABA Champion New York Nets offered to play the NBA Champion Boston Celtics in a winner-take-all game, with the proceeds going to benefit the 1976 United States Olympic team. Predictably, the Celtics declined to participate.
In my neighborhood we had Celtics fans, Nets fans and Knicks fans. My guy Jack Kelly from 7th avenue is one of the biggest Celtics fans around so I’m sure after he reads this entry, he’ll have something to say about the meeting that never took place. My good friend Kevin Molloy was a Celtics fan too. It was not hard to root for them. They played the game the right way.
The Celtics were fundamentally sound. They had Dave Cowens, Paul Silas and John Havlicek up front. “Hondo” was 36 at the time and nursing a sore foot. Boston had three players (Cowens, Hondo and Silas) make 1st team all-defense.
The Nets, coached by Kevin Loughery played a run and gun style led by the “Big 3″ in Julius Erving, Brian Taylor and John Williamson. People tend to forget that Larry Kenon and Billy Paultz were NOT on this Nets team.
Doc was incredible. He was the leading scorer that year and had captured his third straight league MVP.
When the merger took place Red Auerbach said that we’re going to see one of the greatest forwards to ever play this game. He was talking about Julie.
The backcourt battle between Jo-Jo White and Charlie Scott vs Taylor and Williamson would have been sweet.
Overall for the ABA, the players and teams did well in the NBA after the merger.
“The ABA was like the wild west, and Julius Erving, George Gervin, James Silas and all the other ABA stars were gunfighters. They are men of legend known to millions, but whose actual deeds were seen by few,” Bob Costas said in Terry Pluto’s fantastic book about the ABA.
The following season after the merger, the Portland Trailblazers won the NBA championship (thanks to Maurice Lucas). Their opponent in the finals was the 76ers (thanks to Doc), the Nuggets won the Midwest and the Spurs led the league in scoring. The Nets on the other hand were a mess. They had the worst record in the league at 22-60 but they did do something to make the NBA history books. In February they became the first NBA team ever to have an all-left-handed lineup: Tim Bassett, Al Skinner, Bubbles Hawkins, Dave Wohl and Kim Hughes.
Nets-Celtics in 76 would have been special.
So, who wins, Nets or Celtics?
The year was 1970, I was six-years-old living in Brooklyn, New York. It was the first time I fell in love; in love with the New York Knickerbockers.
That was forty-two years ago. It was also the year the Knicks won their first of two NBA championships.
How can a young boy growing up in the schoolyards of Brooklyn not be affected by the way the Knicks played the game?
“The New York Knicks in 1970 had a team that a college coach could take his team to see and say, ‘now there’s the way the game is supposed to be played,” said the late Pete Newell.
Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley, Willis Reed, Phil Jackson and Dave Debusschere were together for both titles and all likable guys. The Knicks hit the open man, defended well and played the right way. Red Holzman was the head coach who made it all happen. Red’s assistant coach was Danny Whelan, he was their team trainer.
In 1973 the Knicks had a starting five that all came from non-high major colleges: Frazier (Southern Illinois), Earl Monroe (Winston-Salem), Bradley (Princeton), Debusschere (U of Detroit), Reed (Grambling). I’m not sure you will ever see that again.
The Knicks were a team dedicated to one common purpose: Winning a championship!
It’s now 2012 and there’s a new kid on the block. The Brooklyn Nets will begin play this season on Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. Some of my friends, who USED to be Knicks fans have switched over and will begin to root for the Nets and they have asked me to join them. It must be noted that some have said to stick it out and be loyal.
I have a tough decision to make, I know. Do I hang with the Knicks or change my allegiance and go with the Nets?
As a kid I watched the Knicks on television and listened to the games on the radio. Marv Albert doing the play-by-play alongside Cal Ramsey who handled the analysis. I can’t forget the night while watching the Knicks play in Phoenix where Suns guard Ron Lee crashed into the press table after diving after a loose ball and spilled soda all over Cal’s new sport jacket.
The Nets of the 70’s were a fun team to watch. The ABA had the red, white and blue ball and the three-point shot. They had the dunk contest and some really cool team nicknames. The Nets had Julius Erving, Larry Kenon, Brian Taylor, ‘Supa’ John Willamson and the ‘Whopper’, Billy Paultz. They were coached by one of my favorites of all-time, Kevin Loughery. His favorite play was ‘LA 23′. In 1976, the Nets defeated the Denver Nuggets in the final championship before the merger.
On Christmas night in 1976 I attended my first Knicks home game; I was 12. My older brother and I sat in the red seats just a few feet from the court. It was Erving’s first season as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers after coming over from the Nets. Philadelphia, behind Brooklyn native Lloyd Free led the Sixers with 30 points leading them to the 105-104 win. I rode the ‘A’ and ‘F’ trains back to Brooklyn heartbroken.
Brooklyn has always been a great place for basketball. Back in the day the schoolyards were filled with outstanding players. You could find a good run almost anywhere. High school basketball both the CHSAA and PSAL in Brooklyn was king. Outdoor summer league action was also very popular.
In 1978 the Knicks drafted Micheal Ray Richardson, an unknown, but very talented point guard from the University of Montana. ‘Sugar’ quickly became my favorite player. I loved the way he defended and shared the ball. In the schoolyard I would emulate his game; including the “over-the-head” finger roll on a lay-up.
In 1982, after four seasons that saw the Knicks make the playoffs just once (losing to the Bulls 2-0) Sugar was gone; traded to Golden State. I was bitter for a short time but something positive came out of the trade; New York received Brooklyn native Bernard King.
Hubie Brown was the new Knicks head coach. The energetic, hard-working, passionate coach got the Knicks to the Eastern Conference semi-finals in his first season. Scraping up money to attend as many home games as possible was the norm for me. Reading about my team every single morning in the New York Post, New York Daily News and the New York Newsday; I became an expert. I also came around to embrace Hubie and even memorized his legendary “POWER RIGHT” call on offense.
Scrounging up loose change to buy Basketball Digest each month kept me up on not only the Knicks but the entire league. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Pete Vecsey of the Post providing the best coverage around the league.
As a teen, my love for the game was growing. I began to feel like an expert by taking notice of other players and teams. I became a huge NBA fan, I was so into it that I could tell you where every player attended college.
My life-long friend Glenn and I went to the Garden on Christmas night in 1984. MSG was sold out. “This place is electric,” he said as we watched both teams warm-up. King dropped 60 on the Nets. Little do people realize the Nets won the game and Michael Ray, playing for the Nets scored 36 points, including 24 in the second half.
While Sugar was a member of the Nets, I loved watching them play too. I would catch a bus at Port Authority and make the short trip over to the Meadowlands. At first there was no stop for the arena, I was left off at the racetrack and had to walk through the grass and the mud to get to the game.
One night I missed the bus back to the city and Darryl Dawkins gave me a lift.
The highlight of 1984 came when the Nets upset the defending champs Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the Eastern conference play-offs. Before the series Erving announced, “You might as well mail in the stats.” OK Doc, whatever! That’s why we play the games.
The Nets won the series (3-2) and beat the Sixers in the fifth and deciding game on the road at the Spectrum. The place was stunned; as well as the rest of the league.
After Knicks home games we would wait outside the Garden for the players to get autographs and try to get their sneakers. One night we walked with Hubie from the Garden to the parking lot across the street where he kept his car. Hubie had a stat sheet in one hand, a can of diet soda in the other, a black leather bag over his shoulder. He talked to us like we were his coaching staff.
One season I attended 39 of the 41 home games at the Garden. You could use your high school student I.D. card to get half off of a ticket. We bought a ticket for $8, sat in the blue seats but snuck down after each quarter. By the fourth quarter we were sitting behind the Knicks bench. Being a die-hard hoops fan cost me my first girlfriend too. I put the Knicks ahead of a wonderful girl. Big mistake.
During the 80’s, (one the best decades of pro basketball) the NBA scheduled pre-season doubleheader exhibition games at the Garden; 6PM and 8PM. It was there, in 1986 that I first caught a glimpse of a future Hall of Famer, Dennis Rodman. The ‘Worm’ minus the tattoo’s and body piercings was a rookie with the Detroit Pistons in the six o’clock game. There were about 400 people in the stands.
This year’s Knicks squad has gone back to an “experience” philosophy with guys like Jason Kidd (39), Kurt Thomas (39), Rasheed Wallace (38), Pablo Prigioni (35) and Marcus Camby (38).
I lived through Pat Riley, who came on board in 1991. Riley brought a different brand of basketball than the one he used in LA. Instead of the fast-breaking, up-tempo style, Riley came in with the “tough-guy” approach. The Knicks had guys like Charles Oakley, Xavier McDaniel, Anthony Mason and Greg Anthony to provide the muscle. They battled every night.
Riley coached the Knicks for four seasons reaching the finals in 1994. Assistant coach Jeff Van Gundy took over after Riley left. JVG is a grinder, one of the hardest working guys in the profession. Five years later the Knicks made it to the finals against the San Antonio Spurs (the strike season). New York’s regular season record was 27-23. But they came up short in the finals four games to one.
Things have not been the same since.
Lenny Wilkins, Don Nelson, Herb Williams, Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas all tried to bring the glory days back to the Garden. Since Holzman stepped down in 1982, the Knicks have had 16 head coaches.
The Nets made it to the NBA finals twice (2002 and 2003) only to find themselves on the losing end. It’s been five years since they have tasted the play-offs.
Mike D’Antoni arrived in New York in 2008. His uptempo style called “.07 seconds or less” in Phoenix was met with mixed emotions in the Big Apple. Some said that style was only good for the regular season and would not work in the playoffs. D’Antoni was gone after three and half years, making the playoffs just once.
D’Antoni gave Jeremy Lin a chance last SEASON. Lin brought excitement to the Garden. The Harvard graduate who was cut by three teams, played in the D-League and was sitting at the end of the Knicks bench when D’Antoni called his number. In 35 games, Lin scored 14 points per game and dished out 6.2 assists per game. Lin wound up getting hurt and missed the last part of the season, including the playoffs. No offense to Carmelo Anthony, but Lin was by far the most popular Knicks player.
This past summer the Houston Rockets (a team that cut him last year) signed him; the Knicks refused to match the offer. Fans were ticked off, including me. When I think back to the Knicks of the early 70’s, Lin is the one player who would fit in rather nicely with them.
The past twelve years the Knicks have been difficult to watch. They have not won a playoff series during this stretch. From 2001 to 2010 they managed to make the post-season just once! This is NEW YORK CITY…THE MECCA OF BASKETBALL!
A few months ago Phil Jackson was interviewed on HBO’s, Real Sports. The former Net and Knickerbocker said of the Knicks “the pieces do not fit.”
I have been with the Knicks for a long time. I have a chance to switch teams.
Athletes file for free-agency and leave their team, right? Why can’t fans switch teams?
Here’s the deal; I’m a basketball guy, not a fanatic that dresses up in a jersey, attends games and screams like crazy. I don’t call into sports talk radio shows and place blame on the coach for the team’s loss. I coach high school basketball and enjoy players that play the right way. I don’t live and die with the Knicks results anymore. I think it’s great that Brooklyn has a team to call their own. It’s also fantastic that New York City now has two NBA teams.
I welcome the Nets to Brooklyn with open arms and will still keep a close eye on the Knicks.
From this day on… I will root for both teams!
Yes, you read that right. I will cheer for both New York basketball teams. (On nights they play each other, I will sit back, relax and enjoy the game.)
So good luck to both the Nets and Knicks. I hope to see you both in the Eastern conference finals someday.
-Coach Steve Finamore
“A New York City point guard would give up his girlfriend and his gold before he gave up his dribble…”
-Ziggy, Brooklyn USA
The rosters of the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets this coming season will have two outstanding point guards. Jason Kidd and Deron Williams will be running the show for their respective teams; Kidd at 33rd and 8th, Williams at Flatbush and Atlantic.
Kidd is originally from California, Williams from Texas.
When I think of basketball in New York City, three things come to mind; school yards, Kareem Abdul-Jabber and the point guard.
As a Brooklyn native who has coached at the AAU, high school and college level, I want to know, “What happened to the New York City-born point guard?
Understand one thing: I ask this question in all seriousness and do not mean any disrespect by it.
The point guard in basketball, also known as the “one” is usually the player who brings the ball up the court and runs the show. Their main job is to get the team into the offense and push the ball up the court in transition.
It’s arguably the most important position on the floor. Some call the point guard the quarterback.
Solid point guards are hard to come by. They don’t grow on trees. It takes a special player to become a good point guard. The point guard is an extension of the coach on the floor. He or she is under control, alert, usually possess a high basketball I.Q. and not afraid to be the team leader. They are selfless and sacrifice part of their game for the good of the team.
Over the years playmakers like Dick McGuire, Bob Cousy, Lenny Wilkins, Dean Meminger, Nate Archibald, Butch Lee, Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith, Rod Strickland, Stephon Marbury and Kenny Anderson have all played on the concrete battlegrounds across New York City. The schoolyard was the breeding ground for a city player. It was in the school yards where you learned how to compete. Race, class, and age do not matter the minute you walk through the chain-link fence. If you come in peace and are there to play ball, it’ll be a wonderful experience.
“Put ten point guards out on the court and you can tell which one’s are from New York City,” Mark Jackson said.
A free education in basketball was going up against the older players. I’m not so sure kids do that anymore; “playing up” is what my guy Herb Welling calls it.
In New York City, when you play pick-up ball, you become part of a special group; it’s a connection to the game. It’s you, the ball, the court and your teammates.
The Big Apple has produced tough point guards that could lead a team, score, break a press and of course, share the pill. Scanning the NBA rosters and watching college basketball around the country, the number of high quality point guards from the city has gone down.
I never saw Bob Cousy play in person but I have read so much about him and have watched many highlights. Cousy played at Andrew Jackson High School in Queens where he made the all-city team and took his talents to Holy Cross College where he became a three-time All-American. Cousy went on to earn all-NBA honors for thirteen years while playing on six NBA championship teams.
Wilkens, a southpaw from Boys High went on to play his college ball at Providence and later went on to nine NBA all-star appearances. Wilkens became a coach in the NBA, winning a championship with the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979.
Steve Hobbs, a Prep School basketball coach has been around the game a long time, “I think a lot of has to do with the NBA. These hybrid scoring point guards are so marketed. It is not cool to be a point guard to lead and run the team. Now, this doesn’t just affect NYC, but it has definitely infiltrated NYC.”
In 1973, Archibald led the NBA in scoring and assists. Archibald went to Arizona Western College before transferring to UTEP, where he averaged 20.0 points in three seasons playing for Don Haskins. “Nate the Skate” won a ring with the Boston Celtics.
From 1986 to 1988 we saw Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith, Kenny Hutchinson, Pearl Washington and Rod Strickland all come out of the city. Jackson had a great high school career at Bishop Loughlin and later went on to St. John’s University. After 17 years in the NBA he is currently the head coach of the Golden State Warriors. Smith excelled at Archbishop Molloy, was a teammate of Michael Jordan at North Carolina and won two NBA championships with the Houston Rockets. Pearl’s NBA career never progressed. In high school at Boys High, this guy did it all. He dribbled the ball like it was a yo-yo.
The scouting report on a NYC point guard was to back off them and let them shoot from the outside; in the city, playing outdoors, the wind was always blowing so guys took the ball to the rack.
Strickland, a native of the Boogie Down and currently on John Calipari’s coaching staff at Kentucky, played 17 years in the NBA and had an outstanding college career at DePaul in which he was a two-time All-American.
Stephon Marbury had many good seasons in the NBA. If you saw him at Lincoln high school you know what I’m talking about. Marbury is from Coney Island where he is a legend. His cousin, Sebastian Telfair, was a celebrated high school point guard who currently plays in the NBA. Marbury was hailed as the next great NYC floor general from a young age, when he earned the nickname “Starbury”.
Work ethic, attitude, outside shooting, defense, being coachable, and making the right decisions are vital to a point guards success. Behaving “off the court” is also critical.
Do New York City guards still want to “thread the needle”?
Do they still want to “set the table”?
Do they want to make their four teammates better? Do they want to lead? How about working on their dribbling? How about watching film of point guards in the past and learning how to run the show?
Despite having a gift, being the most talented on your high school team, one must work harder than any other. A point guard must have determination, they must be tough and have unshakable confidence.
Is the New York City point guard a dying breed?
A thing of the past?
“We (NYC) have suffered the last ten years,” said Jackson.
I was six-years-old when my love affair began with the New York Knicks. That was forty-two years ago. It was also the year they won their first of two NBA championships.
How can a young boy growing up in the schoolyards of Brooklyn not be affected by the way the Knicks played the game?
“The Knicks in 1970 had a team that a college coach could take his team to see and say, ‘now there’s the way the game is supposed to be played,” said the late Pete Newell.
Three years later the Knicks won the championship once again. The core of their organization; Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley, Willis Reed, Phil Jackson and Dave Debusschere were together for both titles. The Knicks were a team that played the right way. They hit the open man, they defended and pulled for each other. Red Holzman was the head coach who made it all happen. Red’s assistant coach was team trainer, Danny Whelan. It was a time teams didn’t have “second-row” assistants.
It’s probably the last time you will ever see an NBA championship starting five (1973) all from a non-high major college: Frazier (Southern Illinois), Monroe (Winston-Salem), Bradley (Princeton), Debusschere (U of Detroit), Reed (Grambling).
The Knicks were a team dedicated to one common purpose: Winning a championship!
Over the next few years I watched the Knicks as much as possible on television and listened to them on the radio. Marv Albert doing the play-by-play alongside Cal Ramsay who handled the analysis. I can’t forget the night while watching the Knicks play in Phoenix, Suns guard Ron Lee crashed into the press table and spilled soda all over Cal’s new sport jacket.
On Christmas night in 1976 I attended my first Knicks home game. I sat in the red seats, just a few feet from the court. It was Julius Erving’s first season as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. That night ‘The Doctor’ broke my heart with a couple of big shots down the stretch to beat my team 105-104. Brooklyn’s own Lloyd Free led Philly with 30 points as Bob McAdoo scored 24 for the Knicks.
Two years later the Knicks drafted Micheal Ray Richardson; an unknown, exciting point guard out of the University of Montana. After watching “Sugar” play for the Knicks, he became my favorite player. I loved the way he defended, shared the ball and slashed to the basket. In the schoolyard I would emulate his jump-shot and his over-the-head finger roll.
In 1982, after four seasons that saw the Knicks make the playoffs just once (losing to the Bulls 2-0) Sugar was gone. I was bitter for a year or two but the good thing was they traded him for Bernard King.
Hubie Brown was the new Knicks head coach and he got them to the Eastern Conference semi-finals in his first season.
Scraping up money to attend as many home games as possible was the norm. Reading about them every single morning in the New York Post, New York Daily News and the New York Newsday; I felt like an expert. Picking up Basketball Digest each month also kept me up on not only my team but the entire league.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Pete Vescey of the New York Post providing the best material in and around the league.
We would use our student I.D. at the ticket window in the lobby of the Garden to get half price off an eight dollar ticket only to find ourselves climbing the countless escalators to the roof. We sat in “Blue Heaven.”
If there was a sell-out (19,500) we were screwed. One night I recall the LA Lakers in town and the game was sold out.
I was crushed. I was hoping to see Magic vs Sugar.
But fear not, we found a way to sneak in. I walked around the Garden searching for an open door. The gate to the ramp where the visiting bus would use was up, there was a delivery truck talking to the security guard, I snuck around the other side and ran up the to the game.
The never-ending escalator climb sucked. On our way up to the top, at each level we’d try to schmooze the usher standing at each door but to no avail. The old men in their MSG-issued red blazers knew we were students.
Watching King, the former Fort Hamilton High School scoring machine dominate the opposition either in the post with his sweet turn-around or soaring in from the wing for a slam-dunk. BK had the Garden jumping. Or if they were giving the more talented Boston Celtics with Larry Bird all they could handle only to come up short, we admired the Knicks toughness. Last bit not least, listening to Hubie shout out from the bench, “POWER RIGHT, POWER RIGHT!”
After games we’d wait outside on the street for the players. Chatting them up sometimes close to midnight. I recall one night hanging out with Hubie in front of the parking lot where he kept his car. He had a stat sheet in one hand, a can of diet coke in the other, a black leather bag over his shoulder. He talked to us like we were his coaching staff.
The Garden was electric on Christmas night in 1984 when King scored 60 points against the New Jersey Nets. What people forget is the Nets won the game and Michael Ray, playing for the Nets scored 36 points. I should know, I was there rooting for Sugar as he dropped 24 points in the second half against his former team.
Players like Rory Sparrow and Edmund Sherrod ran the point. I admired Louie Orr battle bigger and stronger forwards on a nightly basis. Watching Billy Cartwright shoot that odd-looking shot and of course there was the late Marvin ‘The Eraser” Webster swatting shots into the third row.
One season I attended 39 of the 41 home games. I was nuts; it cost me my first girlfriend too. I put the Knicks ahead of a wonderful girl.
I watched guys like Larry Demic, Sly Williams, Eddie Lee Wilkins and Ken ‘The Animal” Bannister. Others that came through 33rd and 8th that should always be remembered is Eric Fernsten, Brian Quinnet.
The NBA used to schedule pre-season doubleheader exhibition games at the Garden; 6PM and 8PM. It was there that I saw a glimpse of a future Hall of Fame player in Dennis Rodman. ‘The Worm’ minus the tattoo’s and body piercings was a rookie with the Detroit Pistons in the six o’clock game. There were about 400 people in the stands.
I can’t forget the veterans who were a little past their prime but had a ton of experience on their resume, brought in by the Knicks front office. Guys like Kiki Vandeweghe, Paul Westphal, Mike Newlin, Doc Rivers, Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper, Penny Hardaway and Steve Francis.
This year’s Knicks squad has gone back to that “experience” philosophy by bringing in Jason Kidd (39), Kurt Thomas (39) and Marcus Camby (38).
Hubie lasted four seasons in New York; early in his fifth year he was fired after going 4-12. Bob Hill took over.
The following season Rick Pitno took over after Hill went 20-46. Hubie’s former assistant made the playoffs in both of his years at the Garden.
Then it was Stu Jackson and John MacLeod running the show with players like Trent Tucker, Rod Strickland, Mark Jackson, Gerald Wilkins and Johnny Newman.
Pat Riley came on board in 1991. Riley brought a different brand of basketball than the one he used to be successful in LA. Instead of the fast-breaking, up-tempo style, Riley came in with the “tough-guy” approach. The Knicks had guys like Charles Oakley, Xavier McDaniel, Anthony Mason and Greg Anthony to provide the muscle.
Riley coached the Knicks for four seasons reaching the finals in 1994. Assistant coach Jeff Van Gundy took over. JVG was a grinder, one of the hardest working guys in the profession. Hard work paid off.
Five years later the Knicks made it to the finals against the San Antonio Spurs (the strike season). New York’s regular season record was 27-23. Once again they came up short going down four games to one.
Coaches like Lenny Wilkins, Don Nelson, Herb Williams, Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas all ran the ship at one time or another. Since Holzmann stepped down in 1982, the Knicks have had 16 head coaches.
Mike D’Antoni arrived in 2008 and tried to clean up the mess. His uptempo style that was called “.07 seconds or less” in Phoenix was met with mixed emotions. Some said that the style was only good for the regular season and would not work in the playoffs. He was gone after three and half years, making the playoffs just once.
I will give credit to D’Antoni for giving Jeremy Lin a chance of a lifetime last year. Lin brought excitement to the Garden.
The Knicks picked up Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire; two very good players to build the Knicks into contenders. Last year, Lin came on the scene and lit the Garden up. He was by far the most popular Knicks player.
The former Harvard guard who was cut by three teams, played in the D-League and was sitting at the end of the Knicks bench when D’Antoni called his number.
In 35 games, Lin scored 14 PPG and dished out 6.2 assists per game. But Lin wound up getting hurt and missed the last part of the season, including the playoffs.
Now, in the summer of 2012, the Houston Rockets (a team that cut him last year) has signed him; the Knicks refused to match the offer.
When I think back to the Knicks of the early 70’s, Lin is the one player who would fit in rather nicely with them.
The past twelve years the Knicks have been difficult to watch. They are still trying to win their first play-off series in that period. From 2001 to 2010 they made the post-season just once! Going out in the first round the past two years, it’s been difficult to watch.
Like Phil Jackson recently said on HBO’s, Real Sports; “the pieces do not fit.”
How much can a Knicks fan take?
Knicks fans deserve much better.
Over the years New York City has produced many great basketball players.
You often hear about guys from Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx and Manhattan; some when they are as young as ten.
There are legendary stories out there about guys snatching quarters off the top of the backboard, scoring 70 points in a summer league game and of course the story about one player who played for two teams in one game and dropped 40 points in each half.
The city of Mount Vernon (four square miles) borders the Bronx, has their own legends and their own personal stories too.
Dick Clark, P-Diddy, Heavy D, Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington are popular entertainers from Mount Vernon and they have brought a lot of excitement to the music and film industry but the best basketball player from “The Vern” is Gus Williams; A.K.A., “The Wizard”.
“The Wizard played on the great 1971 Mount Vernon High School team with Earl Tatum, Mike Young, Rudy Hackett, and Ivo Holland. They only lost one game that year to DeMatha with Adrian Dantley,” said Basketball writer Dick “Hoops” Weiss.
(Update: Aug. 13, 2013: I received a comment below from Mike Tripoli: “The 1971 Mount Vernon Knights lost only one game, the championship game of the Knights of Columbus Basketball tournament, to McKinley of Washington D.C. The above is in error as they never played DeMatha H.S.)
I came across this article from the NY Times that says their only loss came to McKinley.
Gus was cut from the team his junior year but in his senior season, he was voted New York State Player of the Year!
The first time I ever watched the free-wheeling guard was when he played for the Seattle Supersonics. He was part of one of the best backcourts in the history of the game (Dennis Johnson). Gus led the team to the 1979 NBA championship over the Washington Bullets. In the finals, he dropped 28.6 points per game.
Watching Gus glide up and down the floor with the ball he made it look so easy. It was like his feet were barely touching the ground. The ball was on a yo-yo when Gus went off the dribble. When he shot a jump-shot, it looked a bit weird. It definitely wasn’t a form that a coach would teach a young player but nevertheless, it went in so who cares what it looks like.
After graduating from Mount Vernon high school Gus packed his bags and headed out West where he enrolled at U.S.C.; he led the Trojans to three straight post-season births. (The NCAA did not allow freshmen to play varsity)
As a senior in 1975 Gus led the Pac-8 in scoring and was named All American 1st team. But around LA, Williams and the Trojans played second fiddle to Bill Walton and UCLA.
Gus was drafted in the second round (25th overall) of the 1975 Draft by the Golden State Warriors. Now to me, that’s incredible that so many teams passed on him in the first round. Here are a few guys that were picked ahead of him:
Bob Bigelow. Frank Oleynick. Eugene Short (bother of Purivs). Tom Boswell. A “Who’s Who”, right?
I mean Gus was a first team all-american!
The Spirits of St. Louis drafted him and offered a ton of money but his dream was to play in the NBA.
During his first year in the league the six-foot-two, 175 pound guard made the all-rookie team. Gus played 22 minutes per game and scored 11 PPG. After his second year in the bay he became a free-agent and signed with the Seattle Supersonics.
“I wanted to stay with the Warriors,” Gus told Basketball Digest (Feb. 1980) but they didn’t seem interested in keeping me.”
Gus was almost a member of the Boston Celtics during his free-agency but Red Auerbach signed Dave Bing instead.
“Once you sign a Dave Bing, you don’t need a Gus Williams.” Auerbach said.
Bing played 80 games for Boston that season and scored 11 PPG. That was his last season in the league.
In 1978, his first season with Seattle Gus led the Sonics to their first N.B.A. finals. In 79 games during the regular season he led the team in scoring at 18 PPG. The Sonics lost a heartbreaking seventh game at home in the Kingdome. Williams also led Seattle in scoring during the playoffs.
The first season didn’t start out very well in Seattle as they got out to an awful 5-17 start under head coach Bob Hopkins. Lenny Wilkins took over and things changed. The Sonics went 47-13 the rest of the way. In the playoffs they beat the Lakers, Nuggets and Blazers. During the finals the Sonics were up 3-2 only to lose game 6 and 7.
Browsing an old copy of Basketball Digest (Nov. 1977), the bible back in the 70’s and 80’s, the experts picked Seattle to finish 5th in the Pacific division. What was probably the most glaring omission during that season was not one Sonics player being in contention for the Player of the Year. There was not one Sonics player in the top 20 voting!
The following season the Sonics won it all. It was their “play-off baptismal”. Gus, who was 25 years old scored 28 points per game in the finals after scoring 19 PPG during the regular season. The East Coast guard was one of the most explosive players in the league.
In Seattle Gus formed a three-guard rotation with Dennis Johnson and Freddie Brown. The three guards complemented each other so well; sort of like the Detroit Piston three-guards of Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson. Let it be noted that the Sonics led the league in attendance that year. They were a team that played the right way. They defended, shared the ball and rebounded. A team fans can embrace.
The following season Seattle won 56 games but could not get past the Lakers in the playoffs. Gus, the man with the “green-light” led the team in scoring at 22 PPG.
But like I always say, basketball is a great game but a bad business. Unhappy with the Sonics’ new contract offer — Williams was at the end of a three-year deal that paid him $175,000 a year — he sat out the entire 1980-81 season.
What was considered the best backcourt in the league was now over. Johnson was traded to the Phoenix Suns for Paul Westphal (former USC Trojan) and Gus sat out the year. With Gus out, the Sonics failed to make the playoffs.
At USC Gus was a freshman when Westphal was a senior; the two never played on the same team in college but now it looked like they would team up. Westphal held out and ended up in New York. Gus returned and had his best N.B.A. statistical season, averaging more than 23 points per game. The Sonics also returned to the playoffs. In fact, every season Williams played in the N.B.A., his team made the playoffs.
“Gus understands ‘win’.” Said Gene Shue
I recall watching Gus play at the Xavier Summer League in the early 80’s. Gus would show up with his brother Ray and other Mt. Vernon guys. The battles against the NYC players was intense.
Gus had so much confidence with the ball. I never saw a defender take it from him. When he pushed the ball on the break he looked like he was flying. He had blinding speed, could play either guard position; he’d score in transition, knock down jumpers and hit the open man. With the ball he was a blur. Scoring looked so easy to him. Effortless. He was an exciting, explosive player.
Former NBA coach Jack Ramsay called Gus, “the best open court player in the league.”
Another area of player development that is so important in the game of basketball – Gus never brought attention to himself. When guys today are trash-talking, Gus was a quiet assassin. He let his game do the talking.
In June of 1984, after a six-year tenure with the Sonics Gus moved closer to home and was traded to the Washington Bullets where he played two seasons and shared the backcourt with sharp-shooter Jeff Malone. In his first season Gus led the Bullets in scoring at 20 PPG. One night at Madison Square Garden I recall looking down at his laces on his sneakers during a game against the Knicks. Gus had his strings wrapped around and tied in the back of his shoes; we thought it looked cool and tried it the next day.
Gus signed as a free-agent with the Atlanta Hawks in 1987. He laced up his grips for 33 games. His career was over at the age of 33.
The Wizard played a total of eleven years in the N.B.A., scoring 14,093 points (17 PPG) and dishing out 4,597 assists (5.6).
Gus was a two-time NBA all-star. He also was named first team all-NBA in 1982.
The best thing that ever happened to Gus was leaving Golden State and playing for Lenny Wilkins in Seattle. It was there Wilkins just let the playmaker go.
Mount Vernon High School has produced eight NBA players; Gus Williams has had the best pro career of them all.
On his website it says that currently Gus is an entrepreneur building his relationships in different facets in the corporate world. From commodities, to real estate he is that constantly matching up the perfect investment with the ideal investor. In addition Gus is involved with two of his favorite charities, the boys and girls of America and Champions for Families which provides mentoring for children and families victimized by domestic or substance abuse.