Last Knicks Champions Celebrate 40th Anniversary

Published on: 6th April, 2013

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New York – There are certain nights in the big town, a.k.a. New York City, that remind you very clearly that you’re in THE big town. Daily events like Broadway shows and great restaurants are certainly reminders this is the city people come to for unique entertainment and special times.

But, it’s when this town’s sports teams decide to honor their own out at the arenas or stadiums where their legacy athletes did wonderful things in the past is when you JUST KNOW you’re in the Big Town.  The Old-Timers Days at Yankee Stadium bring standing ovations and tears as great player after great player gets introduced. New York Giants football sometimes offers halftime ceremonies that usually include Hall of Famers and Super Bowl champions.

Bradley's Number Is Retired and Hanging In the Garden Rafters

But, in New York, where the game of basketball is often referred to as The City Game (with thanks to the late author, Pete Axthelm), basketball is a passion for so many New York kids whose memories of throwing the ball into the basket on the playgrounds start at the earliest of ages.

In New York, the reality that OUR basketball heroes, the New York Knicks, have won only two NBA championships in its 67-year history boggles our collective minds. It’s OUR game, the city game. It’s where we think the greatest players are born and raised and taught to play the game the right way. The New York way.

So, when the folks who run Madison Square Garden decided to honor OUR last champions tonight, the 1973 New York Knicks, it was going to be special, no matter now long the franchise had exhibited utter futility since then. The core of this team, from 1969 to 1973, played in three NBA Finals, winning in 1970, as well as in 1973. Exactly 10 of the men associated with this team are in either the NBA or the college basketball Halls of Fame. The closeness these guys played with on the floor would surely manifest itself 40-years later when they all gathered in New York City this week.

No one was disappointed.

All of the living players came from far and wide to celebrate themselves, their legacy in the sport, and most important, their place in New York City’s culture. The Captain, Willis Reed, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Bill Bradley, Dick Barnett, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Jerry Lucas, Dean Meminger, John Gianelli, the sons of Dave DeBusshere, the widows of the coach, Red Holzman and Danny Whalen, the trainer. And, even Phil Jackson, a key reserve on that ’73 team, showed up to be with his guys, again.

“There’s a bond that was between the players,” Jackson said. “And I think we don’t have a whole lot of reunions left, to tell you the truth.”

With most of these teammates in their late 60s or early 70s, Jackson wasn’t sure they’d all be around for a 50th anniversary at the “World’s Most Famous Arena.” But Jackson’s reminiscences of this building were vivid. Especially when he coached the hated Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan, winning six championships and denying the Knicks a chance for one.

“The first time I was booed here I was surprised,” Jackson said earlier. “But I should have known that would have happened regardless when I was coaching the Bulls.”

It was during one of those storied showdowns that Jackson said he felt the Garden floor actually bouncing up and down.

“I realized how special a place this is, and what a magnificent arena and how much magic we thought we had,” he said.

Bradley, who epitomized team play and the submerging of one’s own talents for the good of the team, doesn’t love the style of basketball being played today, compared to those early 1970s.

“Thank god we didn’t have the three-point line because I think it messes up the flow of the game,” he said. “When we played, the game was about finesse and we played with our feet, with good footwork. Now, it’s about strength and playing with your upper body.”

Bradley respects the talents of today’s players but he longs to see the game of basketball played again with the rhythms of the teamwork he and his mates were steeped in.

“It was our unselfishness and our willingness to maximize our team skills for the betterment of everyone,” he said. “We had wonderful comraderie among us. I have very fond memories of those years with my fists in the air, knowing we were the best in the world and three years later, jumping into Willis’ arms in Los Angeles when we clinched our second championship, forgetting there were still three seconds left on the clock.”

This group of players didn’t forget how to win back in those days, that’s for sure.

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