Friday, May 10, 2013

How Long It's Been: The Knicks Won an NBA Championship

May 10, 1973, 40 years ago tonight: The New York Knickerbockers beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 102-93, at the Forum in Inglewood, California, winning Game 5 of the NBA Finals, and taking the NBA Championship.

For the Knicks, this capped their greatest period ever: 1970 to 1973, 4 seasons, 3 trips to the Finals (all against the Lakers), 2 titles.

Their only 2 titles.

Hail the champions:

Red Holzman, head coach
Eddie Donovan, general manager
6 Tom Riker, center
7 Dean "the Dream" Meminger, guard
10 Walt "Clyde" Frazier, guard
12 Dick Barnett, guard
15 Earl "the Pearl" Monroe, guard
17 Henry Bibby, guard
18 Phil Jackson, forward
19 Willis Reed, center, Captain
22 Dave "Double D" DeBusschere, forward
23 Luther Rackley, center
24 Bill Bradley, forward
32 Jerry Lucas, forward
40 John Gianelli, center
43 Harthorne Wingo, forward

Frazier, Barnett, Reed, DeBusschere and Bradley also played for the Knicks on their 1969-70 title; Jackson was in the organization, but missed the entire season due to injury.  '70 Knicks who were not also '73 Knicks were center Nate Bowman (Number 17), forwards Don May (5), Dave Stallworth (9), Bill Hosket (20) and Jazzy Cazzie Russell (33); and guards Mike Riordan (6) and John Warren (16).

Frazier, Barnett, Reed, DeBusschere and Bradley would have their uniform numbers retired by the Knicks.  Holzman would be honored with a banner with the number 613 on it, for the number of games he won as Knicks coach.  Frazier, Jackson, Reed, DeBusschere, Bradley, Lucas and Holzman would be elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame.  Frazier, Reed, DeBusschere and Lucas would be elected to the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players -- though it should be noted that Lucas was elected for what he did with the Cincinnati Royals; he was a stabilizing veteran presence for the '73 Knicks.

Bibby was the father of later NBA All-Star Mike Bibby.  Bradley was elected to 3 terms in the U.S. Senate, representing New Jersey, and ran for President in 2000.  And, yes, kids, that Phil Jackson, the one who would coach the Chicago Bulls to 6 titles and the Lakers to 5.  He was a decent player, not a great one.  As was Pat Riley, who played for the Lakers against the Knicks in those Finals, and would later coach the Lakers to 4 titles, the Knicks into a Finals, and the Miami Heat to a title.

After one more year, Reed, DeBusschere and Lucas all retired, and the Knicks began to fall apart.  Pearl, obtained from the Baltimore Bullets (forerunner of the Washington Wizards) after the Bullets beat the Knicks in the '71 Eastern Conference Finals, was the last to remain, in 1980.

The Knicks would have a mini-revival in the early 1980s with Bernard King, be stellar through most of the 1990s, reaching the Finals in 1994 and 1999, but be stymied, first by Larry Bird's Boston Celtics, then by Isiah Thomas' Detroit Pistons, then by Michael Jordan's Jackson-coached Bulls.  Finally, the Knicks would collapse, because owner Charles Dolan and his son, team operator James Dolan, trusted Isiah to be general manager, and even coach.  Now, the Knicks are back, having won their first Playoff series since 2000, and in the NBA's final 8.

Forty years since the Knicks were World Champions.  How long has it been?

*

The teams now named the Utah Jazz, the Dallas Mavericks, the Miami Heat, the New Orleans Pelicans, the Orlando Magic, the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Toronto Raptors, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Charlotte Bobcats did not yet exist.  The teams now named the Brooklyn Nets, the Indiana Pacers, the Denver Nuggets and the San Antonio Spurs did, in the American Basketball Association.

The Bullets were about to leave Baltimore.  There was an NFL team in Baltimore, but it was the Colts, not the Ravens.  There was one in Houston, but it was the Oilers, not the Texans.  There was one in St. Louis, but it was the Cardinals, not the Rams.  And there was one in Los Angeles.

The home of the Knicks and the NHL's Rangers was still being called "the New Madison Square Garden Center." The Islanders had just completed their first season, and the building they shared with the New York Nets of the ABA, the Nassau Coliseum, was a year and a half old.  The Yankees, recently purchased by George Steinbrenner, and the Giants were terrible, and were still playing in Yankee Stadium, but only for a few more months, as the renovation would start in October.  The Mets and the Jets were playing at Shea Stadium, and while the Jets were falling apart as Joe Namath's knees did, the Mets would have a lousy first 5 months -- and then a torrid September that would lead to a Pennant and very nearly a 2nd World Championship in 5 years.

The Devils' franchise had been created, but at this point it only existed on paper, as the Kansas City Scouts, to begin play in the fall of 1974.  And there was the World Hockey Association's New York Raiders, playing at The Garden, but they were a mess and moved to South Jersey, fooling no one into thinking they were a Philadelphia team.

The biggest thing that would happen in New York Tri-State Area sports in 1973 was the Belmont Stakes, as Secretariat moved "like a tremendous machine" in winning by 31 lengths to clinch the Triple Crown.

1973 was the last season for NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain.  Jerry West and Oscar Robertson, like Reed, DeBusschere and Lucas, would hang on for one more year.  Lew Alcindor had just recently changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  Julius "Doctor J" Erving would soon move from the ABA's Virginia Squires to the Nets.  Bill Walton was still at UCLA, winning the recent National Championship, the 7th straight for coach John Wooden, in the middle of an 88-game winning streak.  Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were in junior high school.  Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley were in grade school.  Shaquille O'Neal was a rather large baby.  Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and LeBron James weren't born yet.

The same day the Knicks won the title, the Montreal Canadiens won their 18th Stanley Cup, beating the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of the Finals.  It was their 6th Cup in the last 9 seasons.  The New England Whalers, then based in Boston, had just won the first WHA title, the AVCO Cup, beating ex-Blackhawk star Bobby Hull and his Winnipeg Jets.  The Indiana Pacers were about to win their 3rd ABA title in the last 5 years, beating the Louisville-based Kentucky Colonels.

The defending World Champions in the other sports were the Oakland Athletics, with future Yankee legends Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter beating the Cincinnati Reds of Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan; and the Miami Dolphins, who had won Super Bowl VII over the Washington Redskins to complete the only perfect NFL season in the playoff era (1932 to the present).  The Heavyweight Champion of the World was George Foreman, and Muhammad Ali had recently been dealt a loss and a broken jaw by Ken Norton, so it looked like Ali was finished.  Looks were deceiving.

The designated hitter had just debuted, Willie Mays' career was coming to a strange close, Hank Aaron began his approach to Babe Ruth's all-time record of 714 home runs, and Nolan Ryan had just pitched his first no-hitter and his first 19-strikeout game, on his way to a single-season record of 383 strikeouts.

The President of the United States was Richard Nixon, but the Senate was about to convene a special committee to investigate what was then being called "the Watergate matter." Nixon was now the only living President, as Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson had both died within the last 5 months.  Their widows, and  those of Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, were still alive.  Spiro Agnew as Vice President, but, in probably the most amazing thing about Watergate, Nixon's Vice President would have to resign his office, and it would have absolutely nothing to do with Watergate.

Gerald Ford was House Minority Leader.  Jimmy Carter was Governor of Georgia.  Ronald Reagan was Governor of California.  George H.W. Bush was out of elective office, but had recently been appointed Chairman of the Republican National Committee, replacing a young Senator named Bob Dole.  Bush's son had just been discharged from the Texas Air National Guard -- whether he had shown up for duty in the preceding year remains a mystery.  Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham had just moved in together, renting a house in New Haven, Connecticut, where they were both students at Yale Law School.  Barack Obama was in junior high school in the city where he was born, Honolulu, Hawaii.  His future wife, Michelle Robinson, was in elementary school in Chicago.

The Governor of New York was Nelson Rockefeller, although he would soon resign to run something called the Commission on Critical Choices for Americans.  (It couldn't have been that critical, because until now I'd never heard of it.) Lieutenant Governor Malcolm Wilson would assume the job.  The Mayor of New York was John Lindsay, whose 2nd term was limping to a pathetic close; Abe Beame, who had been City Comptroller when Lindsay beat him for the Mayoralty in 1965, held the job again and was running again, and would defeat John Marchi, a State Senator from Staten Island whose upset victory in the 1969 Republican Primary forced Lindsay to run for re-election as an independent -- and win.  But Beame's Mayoralty would be even more troubled than Lindsay's, and pave the way for that of Ed Koch.

Another weird race was across the Hudson River in New Jersey.  Governor William T. Cahill had proposed the State's first income tax.  Not signed into law, merely proposed it.  Charlie Sandman, a very conservative loudmouth who represented the southernmost portion of the State in Congress, ran against Cahill in the Republican Primary, and won.  But he got slaughtered in the general election by Essex County Prosecutor Brendan Byrne, when it was revealed that a local mob boss was caught on tape saying Byrne was the one politician in the area who couldn't be bought.  Byrne won 66 percent of the vote.  Then, the next year, he got the State income tax passed, and dropped to an approval rating of 17 percent.  People began calling him "One-Term Byrne." Unlike Jim Florio nearly 20 years later, he shook off the stupid tax protests, and got re-elected in 1977 with 56 percent of the vote.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Pierre Trudeau.  The monarch of Great Britain was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- and the Prime Minister was Edward Heath, who, like Senator Edward Kennedy and the Queen's great-grandfather, King Edward VII, was nicknamed "Ted."

England's Football League was won by Liverpool in a close race over London's Arsenal.  The FA Cup was won by second-division North-East club Sunderland in a shock over Yorkshire's mighty Leeds United.  The European Cup, for the 3rd season in a row, was won by Johan Cruyff's powerful but beautiful Amsterdam club Ajax.  Soon, Cruyff would move on to Spain's Barcelona, and build that club's system and legend.

The New York Cosmos -- not yet with Pele and Franz Beckenbauer -- were playing at Hofstra University's football stadium, across from the Jets' training complex and the Nassau Coliseum, and were dethroned as North American Soccer League Champions by the Philadelphia Atoms.  Hardly anybody in North America cared.

Major novels of 1973 included Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Demon Seed by Dean Koontz (which would be made into a 1977 film in which Julie Christie gets impregnated by a computer), Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown, and Postern of Fate, the last novel written by Agatha Christie.  Robert Ludlum published The Matlock Caper, but it wasn't about a lawyer in Atlanta who looked like Andy Griffith.  In non-fiction, Hunter S. Thompson published Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, Peter Maas Serpico (the film verison with Al Pacino as the real-life New York cop would premiere in December), and Flora Rheta Schreiber Sybil.

Major movies released in the spring of 1973 included the film version of Godspell, an updated version of Raymond Chandler's story The Long Goodbye with Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe and ex-Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton as the killer, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid with James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson in the title roles and Bob Dylan with a cameo, the Anthony Hopkins & Claire Bloom version of Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House, the blaxploitation/feminist films Cleopatra Jones and Coffy, and, released the day before the Knicks won the title, Paper Moon, with real-life father and daugther Ryan and Tatum O'Neal as Depression-era con artists.  (I wonder if he still owes her $200.)

Bonanza finally went off the air, while Gunsmoke hung on a little longer.  Johnny Carson moved The Tonight Show from New York to Los Angeles.  M*A*S*H wrapped up its first season, All in the Family its third.  Paul McCartney's first solo TV special had recently aired on ABC, to coincide with his Wings album Red Rose Speedway.

Paul's fellow ex-Beatle George Harrison released Living in the Material World.  Led Zeppelin were on tour in the U.S., including the Garden concert that would be filmed for The Song Remains the Same.  David Bowie released Aladdin Sane, Bob Marley Catch a Fire, the Eagles Desperado, Paul Simon There Goes Rhymin' Simon, the Carpenters Now & Then, Earth Wind & Fire Head to the Sky, Chicago Chicago VI, Aretha Franklin Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky), Carole King Fantasy, and John Denver Farewell Andromeda.

The portable telephone had just been introduced by Motorola.  Cordless home phones and the desktop computer were still a ways off.  Steve Jobs, Bill Gates  and Tim Berners-Lee were turning 18.  Skylab was launched, and became the biggest lemon in the history of space travel -- so far.

In the spring of 1973, the World Trade Center opened in New York, becoming the tallest building(s) in the world -- only to be topped just a month later by the Sears Tower in New York.  The American Indian Movement ended their 10-week standoff at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.  LexisNexis and Federal Express (FedEx) began operations.  A military coup ended democracy in Greece.  Mark Felt retires from the FBI -- at this point, only he, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, and Post editor Ben Bradlee know his is Woodward's Watergate source, nicknamed "Deep Throat."

Noel Coward, and Pablo Picasso, and Jeannette Rankin died.  She was the first woman elected to Congress, the Montana Representative who voted against America's entry into World War I, and then became the only member of either house of Congress to vote against America's entry into World War II.  She lost her seat because of both votes, but was only able to come back the first time.  Also dying in the spring of 1973 were Robert Armstrong and Merian C. Cooper, the male lead and director of King Kong.  Sasha Alexander, and Heidi Klum, and Neil Patrick Harris were born.  So were sports stars Derek Lowe, Tedy Bruschi, Roberto Carlos and Haile Gebreselassie.

May 10, 1973, 40 years ago today.  The New York Knicks were World Champions.  They haven't done it since.

Is this the year? Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Robert E. Armidon said...

Nitpick: Carson moved the Tonight Show to Los Angeles in 1972, not 1973.