I’ve worked in practice on every move I’ve ever made in the game.
I’ve worked in practice on every move I’ve ever made in the game.
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
I was 12 years-old when I stepped inside Madison Square Garden for the very first time.
The year was 1976, it was Christmas night and the Philadelphia 76ers were in town to face my New York Knicks.
Mom had a friend named Jerry who worked at the Garden; it was Mom’s gift to us.
My brother and I, who was four years older sat in the “red seats” just inches from the court; we were right behind the Knicks bench.
The 76ers were a very good team. They had George McGinnis, Doug Collins and World B. Free in their line-up but their biggest star was the Doctor, Julius Erving. I felt good that night because the Knicks had Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Spencer Haywood, Lonnie Shelton and Bob McAdoo.
It was only just a few months before that game I travelled from Brooklyn to Manhattan all alone to see Doc at Power Memorial High School. Erving was a guest speaker at a clinic sponsored by Converse. Only I don’t recall him speaking, just dunking. All I remember is Doc running really fast down the court and taking off from the foul-line, throwing down a vicious slam and walking out of the gym.
The place went bonkers!
I was in the crowded gym that morning but by myself. No parent, no coach and no older brother. To this day I can’t believe I hopped on the New York Subway at 9 a.m. and made my way to the gym where Kareem Abdul-Jabber played his high school basketball. But it was the Doc, one of the best players in basketball.
We had watched Erving on TV many times but I never had seen him in person while a member of the Nets. They played their home games out on Long Island at the Nassau Coliseum. We didn’t have a car nor could we afford tickets.
There were kids in my schoolyard that thought they were the Doctor. One kid, Jimmy Corrar even wore number 32 for our school team.
“You watch Julius and you begin to think everybody can do it. But watching him is dangerous. You start to think you can equal his accomplishments.”
Corrar tried to duplicate Julie’s moves, wasn’t even close.
In the book, ‘Doc’ written by Vincent M. Mallozzi, there is a copy of a scouting report filed by Howard Garfinkle of the famous 5-Star Basketball Camp. “Garf” used to rate and publish a report that he distributed to colleges around the country. Here is what Garf said about the Doc when he was in high school at Roosevelt.
“Huge hands, long arms. Lots of talent but in two looks have not seen shooting range. Tough scorer around basket with either hand. Classy kid.”
Garf also gave Erving a “10” in the attitude department.
During his senior year in high school Erving had a decision to make on where he wanted to attend college; it came down to St. John’s University and UMass. Doc signed with UMass and it must be noted that his high school coach, Ray Wilson followed him; he was hired as an assistant coach.
At UMass Doc played two seasons on the varsity team. In his first season playing on varsity (his sophomore year) he scored 25 PPG and pulled down 20 RPG. This was a time when freshmen were ineligible to play varsity. In his junior year he scored 32 PPG and grabbed 20 RPG.
Doc’s college coach Jack Leaman said: “He’s as important to us as Russell was to the Celtics…People see really se only half of his ability – his scoring & rebounding. But he can also make the super pass like Cousy. Then he can hit a man at 3/4 court when we fast break. Add to this his excellent defense. When a player his size is ranked nationally in rebounding, he has to be doing something right. I can’t believe that there’s a better sophomore in the country.”
Doc declared hardship. But in the days of short shorts and no cable television, you had to wait for your class to graduate before you were eligible for the NBA draft. There was no rule to playing in the ABA though. Doc signed with the Virginia Squires.
“We had heard about Julius Erving and asked for a tape of him. We got this grainy back-and-white film of the UMass-North Carolina game in the NIT. The quality was so bad that you could hardly tell what was going on, but we saw enough of Julius to sign him after his junior year. Since we;d never seen him live before he wore a Squires uniform, we thought he’d be able to help us on the boards and we’d hope he be able to score some. We had no idea what he’d become,” said Johnny “Red” Kerr who helped the Squires sign Doc.
All he did was average 27 PPG as a rookie.
Boston U coach Charlie Luce: “To me he is a 6-5 Connie Hawkins. He can shoot inside and outside and the way he controls those boards is something else, He can drive well, too…His overall ability, timing and reaction are just fantastic.”
An amazing comparison.
The late Chuck Daly once said of Doc while he was at UMass: “As good as he is now, he’ll be better. He has unlimited potential and I think he’s just scratching the surface. He has a neat scoring touch from 18 feet. If he gets within six feet of your basket, you just can’t stop him. I like his rebound range. He doesn’t just go up like a guy in a test tube. If that ball is within four or five feet, he’ll get it. The way he can extend his arms, use those long fingers and control a game is remarkable. I’m sure he’ll get bigger, better and stronger. He has the makings of a superstar.”
During his rookie season in Virginia Doc’s teammates were Charlie Scott (Virginia’s’ leading scorer 34 PPG) and Doug Moe. The following year the Milwaukee Bucks drafted Erving 12th in the 1972 draft. To refresh your memory, that was the draft where the Portland Trailblazers selected LaRue Martin with the first overall pick in the draft. It was also the draft that saw Russ Lee and Tom Riker go ahead of Doc. Now here’s my thing; in his rookie season he scored 27 PPG, NBA GM’s didn’t see that?
Jack Donohue: “He’s sensational…he runs a lot faster than most big guys…what a future he has.”
Instead of signing with the Bucks, who had Oscar Robertson, Bobby Dandridge and Kareem Abdul-Jabber on their roster, Erving signed instead with the Atlanta Hawks. Could you imagine what that Bucks team would have been like with Doc? The year before the draft they went 63-19.
“Julius is just too good,” said Red Auerbach.
Erving managed to play a couple of exhibition games with Pete Maravich. The league stepped in and said he couldn’t play anymore so it was back to the ABA. Basketball writer and one of the best historians of the game David Friedman writes about the two playing together on his blog, 20 Second Time-out.
The Squires sent Doc to the New York Nets after two seasons. Erving played four years for the Nets where he led them to two ABA rings. He won it in his first year with the Nets and in his last. In the 1976 finals against the Denver Nuggets Erving dominated. In game one, he scored 45 points including the game winning shot at the buzzer from the corner. This against one of the best defenders of all time, Bobby Jones. Doc shot 17-25 from the field and 11 for 11 from the line. In game two Doc scored 48 points. His battle against David Thompson was one of the all-time classics. My friend and reader of the blog, Al McNeil told me, “the best series I ever saw in the ABA.”
Erving was named MVP of the finals.
Doc was named ABA regular season MVP three times and was voted All-ABA First Team four years.
“I can’t give you the three best players of all-time in the ABA but I can give you my two favorites; Connie (Hawkins) and Julius Erving,” said Mark Cuban.
In 1976 the NBA and ABA merged. The Nets acquired Nate ‘The Skate’ Archibald from Kansas City in exchange for Brian Taylor and Jim Eakins. The Doc and Nate the Skate together on the same team? Nets fans were looking forward to taking on the teams of the NBA.
But it never worked out.
Money was a huge problem with Nets owner Roy Boe. The Nets had to pay the NBA to enter the league and they also had to pay the New York Knicks to be in the same area.
The Nets sold Doc to the 76ers in October for $3 million. The best player from the ABA went on to play 11 seasons in the city of Brotherly Love. The Nets fell apart; with Erving gone, and Archibald playing only 34 games because of an injury they went from ABA champions to 22-60.
During his first season in Philadelphia Doc led the Sixers to the finals only to fall to the Portland Trailblazers, 4-2.
Over the first six years in Philly, Doc’s team fell three times in the finals. Finally, in 1983 he won his NBA ring by sweeping the Lakers. He was named All-NBA First Team five times.
“Julius was a fierce competitor like all great players. People might not have noticed that on a regular basis because of the way he conducted himself,” said Billy Cunningham, Doc’s coach in Philadelphia.
Pete Vecsey, who coached Doc in the Rucker league and has been writing about the NBA for a million years compared Erving to Michael Jordan when #23 entered the league. Talking to Doc Vecsey said, “Julius, you don’t understand, he’s you with a jump-shot!”
As a young boy on that Christmas night 36 years ago watching Erving and his teammates beat the Knicks 105-104 left an impression on me; despite only scoring 16 points I watched Doc make two big baskets down the stretch to kill any chance the Knicks had of winning. It was World B. Free, the Brooklyn native who led Philly in scoring that night with 30 but it was the Doc who I thought about while sitting on the train on my way home.
“Erving saved the ABA and helped spur the merger. He was the game’s unofficial ambassador and paved the way for Michael Jordan,” said Elliott Kalb
20 Second Timeout Blog (David Friedman)
Doc: The Rise and Rise of Julius Erving (Vincent M. Mallozzi)
Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Basketball (Elliott Kalb)
The Book of Basketball (Bill Simmons)
NBA at 50 (Mark Vancil)
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.