“I knew I always had to work hard, no matter whether I was at practice or in a game. What I learned was that performances in games are directly related to performances in practice. If I didn’t practice hard, I probably wouldn’t play hard or wouldn’t have the energy to play hard down the stretch when it’s most important.”
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.
While browsing through a copy of Basketball Digest from the late 70’s, arguably the greatest magazine dedicated to basketball, I came across a name of an NBA player from Flint, Michigan.
The city of Flint has produced dynamite basketball players over the years. Guys like Trent Tucker, Glen Rice, Mateen Cleaves, Antonio Smith, Morris Peterson, Kelvin Torbert and Charlie Bell just to name a few.
Terry Furlow, one of the top players out of Flint Northern High School, known for his scoring ability is a player who doesn’t get talked about too much when discussing the top basketball players from that city.
On May 23, 1980, Furlow died in a car accident. He was 25 years old.
While at Northern Furlow helped lead his team to an undefeated season and the State title. MSU head coach Gus Ganakas was recruiting Furlow’s teammate Wayman Britt at the time but decided to attend the University of Michigan instead; so Ganakas offered Furlow.
Playing four seasons for the Spartans, Furlow led the Big Ten in scoring in his junior and senior years. In his 4th campaign in East Lansing Furlow scored 31 PPG during Big Ten play; on January 5, 1976, Furlow dropped a 50 spot on Iowa.
Right before the awful crash just outside of Cleveland, Furlow had just completed his best season in his short career while playing for the Utah Jazz scoring 16 PPG. Days later they found traces of cocaine in his system.
“My best friend free-based,” Johnson says. “He did a lot of things I didn’t want him to do. I tried to get him to change, but Terry felt like he could conquer anything. When he died it was a blow to me. He was like the big brother I had never had.”
Furlow was taken in the first round (12th overall) of the 1976 Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers where he became roommates with Julius Erving. The first and only year with the Sixers he played in 32 games but he caught a glimpse of what it was like to win; Philadelphia went to the NBA championship before losing to the Portland Trailblazers 4-2. Furlow got a chance to play with George McGinnis, World B. Free, Darryl Dawkins and Doug Collins. Furlow appeared in three games during the finals.
The next season Furlow was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers where he played for Bill Fitch. During his second season with the Cavs he was traded to Atlanta. After helping the Hawks in the playoffs he found himself moving once again early the following season to the Utah.
While a member of the Hawks in 1978-79 Furlow played with John Drew, Eddie Johnson, Tree Rollins, Dan Roundfield and Charlie Criss. Furlow came off the bench in the playoffs and pumped in 15 PPG (including 21 points in one game) against the Washington Bullets in the Eastern Conference Finals. During the series Furlow had a few words for his opponents.
“They’ve got nobody who can stop me. I am going to dominate their guards physically and psychologically.”
During Game 6 of the series, there was a loose-ball; Bullets center Wes Unseld and Furlow got tangled up. Furlow tore away, fists balled, and the two men had to be separated.
“Lucky for one of us,” the 6’7″, 260-pound Unseld said.
I would not have sold Furlow short in that one.
“There were nights when we would (work out) late into the evening and I would get a little worried because I was staying in the dormitory, so they stopped serving dinner at a certain time, and I also had to get to study hall four nights a week,” Kelser says. “I was worried that I wasn’t gonna eat dinner and Terry would say, ‘Don’t worry about dinner, you can come and eat with me.’ He had an apartment and he obviously had plenty of food in that apartment and he would say, ‘Hey! You’ll just come and eat with me!’ That to me was just the epitome of leadership, because here’s a senior taking massive interest in a freshman and showing him the ropes, and I wanted very much to be just as good as Terry Furlow. He was tremendous”
Furlow will be remembered by some as a player who worked tirelessly to perfect his basketball skills in order to become an NBA star. “I envision that he might never have been an All-Star, but I think Terry could have been a very solid NBA player for at least 10 years,” Kelser says. But for others, he will be remembered as a brash kid who was taught a very important lesson about driving under the influence. Terry Furlow may not have become a household name, but to so many who knew him, Terry Furlow was a man they will never forget.
My guy Patrick Hayes at Ballin Michigan interviewed Woodyard about what he learned in researching Furlow.
First, I know you are a Flint guy, but what specifically got you interested in telling Furlow’s story again?
Honestly, I was bugging SLAM magazine pretty much every chance I got to get a feature-length story in the mag. I had been hearing about Furlow ever since I was a kid and a lot of people knew about him somewhat but they didn’t know just how great he actually was so that is what got me started. From then I did all my research and took the time to look at all old clips in the Flint Journal’s archive and over the internet and I wanted to tell his story the right way without letting the way he died influence his basketball legacy.
I reached out to George Hamo a Flint native and asked him his thoughts on Furlow:
Shit, I played against him, they had him and Wayman Britt. They played for Bill Frieder at Flint Northern. One of best teams in Flint history, I believe they were undefeated their senior year. Britt and I guarded each other. Then we all played together on Flint’s USA-Canada team. We kicked Canada’s ass every game. Terry was a pure shooter-one of the all time best.
During his days as a Spartan, Furlow took a liking to a young high school standout from around the way.
In his autobiography, “My Life”, Magic Johnson writes about how Furlow took him under his wing while he was at Everett High School. Johnson would play in pickup games and team up with Furlow.
“Young fella, you’re gonna hang out with me.” Furlow said to Magic one night after a game.
The two young men formed a friendship and could often be seen playing one-on-one after pickup games where Magic said that Furlow “destroyed me every single time we played.”
One-on-One is a lost art. Kids don’t play anymore and I’m sure those games against Furlow helped Magic progress.
“It was always 15-0.” Magic said.
Guys like Furlow would not let younger guys get off. It was their way of getting the young players tough.
“It was a couple of months before I finally scored my first points against him.”
It wasn’t until two years later that Magic finally beat Furlow.
“Finally, after two years of these games, I actually beat him.”
Furlow would visit Magic at Everett on occasion and take in a Viking high school game. After a pretty good performance, Johnson checked in with his ‘big brother’ and was surprised at what he said.
“You played all right young fella,” he said. “But when you went in for that left-handed lay-up, you took it with your right hand!”
Playing in 55 games with the Jazz during the 79-80 season Furlow was their 3rd leading scorer behind Adrian Dantley and Pete Maravich. His career high of 37 vs the Nuggets that season was the highlight of his short stint.
To this day Furlow still holds the record for most points scored in a single game for the Spartans and still holds the record for single season scoring average 29.4
In a one-week stretch Furlow scored 50, 48 and 42 points for Michigan State. Unheard of today in big time basketball.
Who knows what might have happened with Furlow’s playing career if he had not crashed his car in the Spring of 1980?
Jack Ebling, author of “Magic Moments: A Century of Spartan Basketball” said of Furlow: “He wanted the ball. He wanted it all. And when Terry “The Trigger” Furlow was right, there was nobody better.”