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