The 1973 Knicks….and Spike Lee….were reunited recently at Madison Square Garden.
Through the years, New York sports fans have been spoiled by success. The Yankees have won more championships than any other professional team in North America. The Giants have won a pair of Super Bowls since 2008, both stirring wins over the favored new England Patriots. The Mets and the Jets have experienced miracle moments. Even the Rangers ended a 54-year drought to win the 1994 Stanley Cup.
And then there are the New York Knicks, Gotham’s answer to the Chicago Cubs, who for all their failures throughout the years might as well be stationed in Cleveland.
The Knicks enter the playoffs as second seed in the East, a team with high expectations but also a team with the weight of the world on its shoulders.
It’s been 40 years since the Knicks, one of the NBA’s two remaining charter franchises (the Boston Celtics are the other), last won a title. Back in 1973. Watergate was percolating, gasoline cost 40 centers a gallon, and George Steinbrenner was buying the Yankees from CBS for $12 million.
Things were different on the court too. For the most part, the game was played below the rim. The players wore tight shorts and funny sneakers and had long hair. And there was no three-point line.
Some refer to the 1973 Knicks as the forgotten champions. New York had won its first NBA title three years earlier, a championship ingrained in basketball lore when injured center Willis Reed walked on the Madison Square Garden court to spark his teammates to a Game 7 victory.
After losing the Lakers in five games in the NBA Finals in 1972, the Knicks realized their window of opportunity was closing fast. But with a Hall of Fame starting five — Reed was joined by forwards Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley and guards Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe — the Knicks beat Boston in seven games in the Eastern finals, then took Los Angeles in five games for the championship.
Every Knick team since then has been unfavorably compared to those two championship squads of the early 70s.
Until recently, no known footage of that 1973 championship clincher existed. Proving that perhaps you can go back, the MSG Network recently unearthed a copy of that Game 5 win.
The New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994, but the Knicks couldn’t complete the double as they fell to the Houston Rockets in seven games.
With the NHL and NBA playoffs just getting started, five cities have the opportunity to accomplish something that’s never been done before — win hockey and basketball championships in the same year.
Only Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and Phoenix remain in the race to win the elusive double rings.
Since the NBA was founded in 1946, eight cities have had teams in both the NBA and NHL finals in the same year. But none of those cities was able to win both a Stanley Cup and an NBA championship.
In both 1957 and 1958, the Celtics and Bruins played for championships for the city of Boston. In 1957, the Celtics won their NBA championship when they beat the St. Louis Hawks in seven games.The following year the Celtics lost to St. Louis in six games.
The Bruins meanwhile, lost both Stanley Cup finals to the Montreal Canadiens, in five games in 1957 and six games in 1958. The Canadiens were in the midst of a five-year championship run.
In 1972, both the Knicks and Rangers made their respective finals. That year the Lakers defeated in the Knicks in five games for the NBA crown, and Boston defeated New York in six games for the Stanley Cup.
Two years later, in 1974, the Celtics, led by center Dave Cowens, left, beat the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games, but the Philadelphia Flyers surprised the Bruins in six games to win their first Stanley Cup.
The City of Brotherly Love was a two-time loser in 1980 — the 76ers lost to rookie point guard Magic Johnson and the Lakers in six games while the New York Islanders took the Flyers in six games for the first of four straight Stanley Cups.
In 1992, Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls beat Portland in six games, but the Blackhawks were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup finals.
New York came closest to the double rings in 1994. That year the Rangers beat Vancouver in seven games to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. But the Knicks fell to the Houston Rockets in another seven-game series.
Finally, in 2003, the New Jersey Devils beat the Anaheim Ducks in seven games to win the Stanley Cup, while the Nets lost to the San Antonio Spurs in six games.
It would have been a tight squeeze, but with a little ingenuity fans could have seen the Knicks, Giants and Rangers on the same day.
The enterprising New York could have caught three originals franchises in action today – the Knicks, Giants and Rangers.
- The Knicks in a noon matinee against the Nets at the Garden
- The Giants in a 4:15 kick against the Cowboys in the Meadowlands
- And the Rangers in a 7 pm face against the Red Wings at MSG
Sure, it’s probably happened before. And it would have taken some hop-scotch back and forth across or under the Hudson to make it happen again.
But if anyone out there did it, send me a post card.
You are my hero.
The SportsLifer couldn’t get through the year without one more top 10 list.
So here they are, the top 10 moments in New York sports, 2008.
1. Catch XLII: Sparked by the unbelievable Eli Manning to David Tyree pass play, the Giants rally to defeat the previously unbeaten Patriots in the Super Bowl.
2. Yankee Money: Failing to make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, Yankees sign free agents C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Texiera.
3. House Cleaning: The Knicks finally manage to get rid of Isiah Thomas, and new coach Mike D’Antoni puts Stephon Marbury out to pasture.
4. Collapse: For the second year in a row, the Mets fall apart in a September swoon and allow the Phillies to steal the NL East championship.
5. Collapse Redux: Brett Favre and the Jets lose four of their final five games and miss the playoffs, forcing the removal of coach Eric Mangini.
6. Final Farewell: Many of the greats return as the Yankees play the final game in the House that Ruth Built and the Mets close Shea Stadium.
7. Giants Among Men: Despite the distraction of the Plaxico Burress shooting, the Giants earn top seed in the NFC heading into the playoffs.
8. He Said, He Said: Disgraced Roger Clemens tries to clear his name of steroid allegations by trainer Brian McNamee.
9. Domination on Ice: The Rangers continue their sudden mastery of the cross-river rival Devils, taking round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs 4 games to 1.
10. Smart Sign: The Mets pull a huge off-season deal, acquiring left-handed pitcher Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins to fortify their pitching staff.
My friend Matty and I have known one another since the ’60s. We’ve gone to some great sports events together, including the Super Bowl, World Series and the Olympics.
For the most part , we cheer for the same New York teams. We’ve seen a few wins, but more often than not, we’ve seen the ugly side of New York sports.
We came to call it simply The Jinx. When Matt and I go to games together, bad things happen to our teams.
Take for instance December 27, 1997. We went to the Garden for a matinee game, which the Knicks lost, 97-94, to the Toronto Raptors on a buzzer-beater by Doug Christie.
Meanwhile, at the same time, on the TV in the suite at MSG, the Giants are frittering away a 19-3 halftime lead and losing to the Minnesota Vikings, 23-22, in a playoff game at Giants Stadium.
That day clearly demonstrated the power of The Jinx.
The Jinx Top 10
- Super Bowl XXV, Tampa, Ravens crush Giants, 34-7, 2001
- Red Sox shut out Yankees 1-0, 6-0 at Shea Stadium, 1975
- Red Sox beat Yankees 2-1, 1-0, Fourth of July, 1973
- Knicks lose to Raptors on buzzer-beater at MSG while…
- Giants blow 19-3 lead, lose playoff game to Vikings, 1997
- Giants lose to Cowboys, 30-29, on missed extra point, 1985
- Mets lose playoff game to Houston, 3-1, Shea Stadium, 1986
- A’s blow out Yankees early, 13-5, Yankee Stadium, 1987
- Red Sox beat Yankees, 8-3, on 50th birthday party, 2001
- Iona Prep loses, 60-6, to St. Francis, 1966
So far Donnie Walsh, Knick fans are not impressed.
After denying reports for two days, Walsh has decided Mike D’Antoni is the coach best suited to bring the Knicks back to respectability. D’Antoni may have a “D” leading off his last name, but that doesn’t mean his teams practice the fine art of defense. At least that was his reputation in Phoenix, where the Suns run-and-shoot style was a regular season hit but a post-season flop. D’Antoni is regarded as an innovative offensive coach who doesn’t stress defense.
D’Antoni has a 267-172 career coaching record with the Suns and Denver Nuggets. The Suns won at least 54 games in four of his five seasons and reached the Western Conference finals twice. He has a 26-25 record in the playoffs.
“I think it is a terrible match,” said one rival head coach. “I don’t get it. At four years and $24 million, it’s a tough get.”
First, Walsh decides it’s prudent to keep Isiah Thomas around. Understand there are money and contract considerations here, but there’s also perception. The guy who set the franchise back five years, the guy who was fingered in a sexual harassment lawsuit, is still on the payroll, collecting his millions from the team he destroyed. Appearances are important.
Now he banks the future on D’Antoni. Makes you wonder.
Mark Jackson had been considered the favorite for the Knicks coaching job. The Queens native and former point guard may not have head coaching experience, but he knows the New York drill, having played for both St. John’s and the Knicks..
D’Antoni…and Walsh…are on the hot seat now. They’ll soon discover how tough it is to rebuild in New York.
New York sports fans, don’t despair. With the Mets and Yankees both struggling to live up to expectations, the Rangers facing a long summer after being ousted by the Penguins, and the Knicks (well, let’s not even go there), times have been tough lately in Gotham.
Let’s forget, for purposes of this exercise, the Giants improbable Super Bowl victory over the previously unbeaten New England Patriots. Since February, it’s been nothing but doom and gloom on the New York sports scene.
But it could be worse, much worse. It could be 1966, the worst year ever for professional sports in New York.
1966. Lyndon B. Johnson was President, the first Star Trek episode aired, Truman Capote wrote “In Cold Blood”, and a gallon of regular gasoline cost 32 cents. The first Super Bowl, Woodstock and Richard M. Nixon were just over the horizon.
The Yankees, Giants, Rangers and Knicks all finished in last place. Only the Jets, third in the AFL East, and the Mets, ninth in the National League after four successive last-place finishes. avoided the basement. It was bad. It was worse then bad, it was terrible, embarrassing, pathetic.
The Yankees were the biggest disappointment. Just two years from a fifth straight World Series appearance — and after dominating baseball for more than 40 years — the Bronx Bombers finished 10th and last in the America League for the first time since 1912 with a 70-89 record, 26 1/2 games behind the Baltimore Orioles.
Led the by the likes of Horace Clarke, Steve Whitaker and Dooley Womack, the Yankees hit rock bottom on September 22, 1966. That day, paid attendance of 413 was announced at the 65,000-seat Yankee Stadium. Legendary broadcaster Red Barber asked TV cameras to pan the empty stands as he commented on the low attendance. Although denied the camera shots on orders from the Yankees’ head of media relations, Red said, “I don’t know what the paid attendance is today, but whatever it is, it is the smallest crowd in the history of Yankee Stadium, and this crowd is the story, not the game.” The Yankees lost to the White Sox that day 4-1.
The Mets actually wound up with a worse record than the Yankees, 66-95, but showed signs of progress, finishing out of the National League cellar and avoiding 100 losses for the first time in their history. Led by the likes of Ed Kranepool and Ron Swoboda, the Mets would draw nearly two million fans to Shea Stadium.
No Defense for Giants
That fall, the football Giants finished with the worst record in their illustrious history, 1-12-1 and last in the NFL East. There was no defense. The Giants surrendered 501 points that year, a record for a 14-game schedule. They lost 52-7 to Dallas, 55-14 to Los Angeles and 72-41 to Washington. Gary Wood and Earl Morrall shared quarterback duties, and Chuck Mercein led the team in rushing with a paltry 327 yards.
The Jets were starting to show promise under young quarterback Joe Namath, but wound up with a mediocre 6-6-2 record. On November 27, 1966, the same day the Giants gave up the NFL regular-season record 72 points to the Redskins, the Jets were beaten 32-24 by Kansas City, marking one of the darkest days in New York pro football history.
Things weren’t a heckuva lot better at the old Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue and 49th Street. The Knicks would finish 30-50, last in the NBA’s Eastern Division for the seventh straight season. And the Rangers would finish last, out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year in the six-team NHL, midway though a 54-year Stanley Cup drought.
Even during these darkest hours, (it’s always darkest just before the dawn), the Jets, Mets and Knicks were all within four years of winning championships. It would take a bit longer for the Yankees, who returned to baseball prominence with a refurbished Yankee Stadium and an American League pennant in 1976, and World Championships the following two years.
For the Giants, the climb was steep, the team finally returning to the playoffs in 1981 after an 18-year drought, and winning the Super Bowl five seasons later. And in 1994, the Rangers won the Stanley Cup.
Finally, the Knicks make Isiah pay
This doubting Thomas is out of play
Isiah is fired, at last it’s final
Even though he’s still in denial
He buried the Knicks, they were a disaster
At questionable moves, Zeke was the master
Jerome and Eddy, Stephon and Zack
He set the Knicks five years back
Now he’s nowhere, yes it’s true
Still has a job, but not a clue
He matched the franchise record for losses
And he’s no longer one of the bosses
Sexual harassment was part of his play
Now Isiah’s out of the picture to stay
At last, Knick fans can see the light
Without Isiah, the future is bright.
Eddy Curry sure went from franchise player to benchwarmer pretty darn quick.
Nice to know the Knicks gave away two lottery picks for a guy who’s not even getting playing time. And paying him $56 million to boot.
So let me get this straight. Isiah has Curry, yet deals for Zach Randolph, then 20 games into the season, determines they can’t play together. Do you think maybe he could have figured that out before the trade?
Just another day at the Garden.
Just a hunch, but it appears the Shaq act may have run its course. Trading away speed and athletic ability for size and muscle is not always a good thing.
Elsewhere in the West, Jason Kidd may finally give the Mavs enough to get over the hump and win the title they should have won two years ago.
Jack Nicklaus not only won 18 majors, he finished second 19 times. If he had won a few of those, his record might be out of reach, even for Tiger. Thirteen of those seconds were by two strokes or fewer. Seven of them occurred at the British Open.
Tiger has 13 wins in the majors — but only four second place finishes.
The Mets acquisition of Johan Santana has turned the talk of the town from el foldo to el ace.
Mark it down, if he stays healthy Santana is a lock to win 20 games throwing against watered-down National League lineups in a pitchers park..