When the Knicks Were Legend


Now it’s the Knicks’ and New York’s flip.

Friday marks 50 years since the Knicks received their first championship, and it’s a reminiscence to savor and have a good time.

It is an anniversary worthy of urgent pause on the typical disappointment-filled, James L. Dolan-dominated Knicks discourse of the previous twenty years.

Spike Lee, the Oscar-winning filmmaker synonymous with Knicks fandom, referred to as the first championship “one of the great moments of my life.” Lee was at Madison Square Garden that night time as a 13-year-old, having snubbed one in all his father Bill’s jazz live shows to attend what turned a Game 7 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers — with a ticket provided by his father’s lawyer.

“You have a decision to make,” Lee’s mom, Jacquelyn, informed him.

“OK, Mom, I’m going to the game,” he replied.

“The first counts extra, you know?” Lee mentioned in a cellphone interview on Saturday.

Marv Albert was there, too. In simply his third season as the Knicks’ full-time radio voice on WHN, Albert labored video games in these nascent days with no coloration analyst and from a perch excessive above the Madison Square Garden flooring.

“They used to call it a gondola,” Albert mentioned. As for his “crew,” which consisted of only a statistician and an engineer, Albert mentioned: “When there would be a lull, I would be having conversations with myself.”

On the unforgettable night of May eight, 1970, Albert did achieve snagging a pregame interview with Willis Reed throughout which the Knicks’ gimpy heart vowed to play on the proper thigh muscle that he tore in Game 5, inflicting him to overlook Game 6. Albert relayed the information to his WHN listeners earlier than tipoff.

ABC’s Howard Cosell obtained the identical data from Knicks Coach Red Holzman, and Albert suspects that Reed shared the identical vow with different reporters in the constructing. Because they’d nothing resembling the instruments of the social media age to dispense such coveted information, Albert remembered zero fuss being made about which viewers discovered first.

“You can’t even compare it to now,” Albert mentioned. “There was not much you could do with an early story.”

Better than anybody, Albert can think about how hysterically the second — and the pregame buildup surrounding Reed’s availability — may need performed out right now. At 78, Albert remains to be doing marquee video games on TV for Turner Sports.

Yet he insisted that the advances of contemporary journalism couldn’t have made the expertise any extra momentous. Albert wasn’t too far faraway from his highschool years, when he labored as a Knicks ball boy and Philadelphia’s Wilt Chamberlain as soon as despatched him off to “get him four hot dogs from the concession stand at halftime.” He might scarcely imagine that he was working a deciding sport in the N.B.A. finals earlier than his 30th birthday, not to mention having the privilege of ushering Reed out of the tunnel with the indelible name of “Here comes Willis.”

The Knicks’ title in 1970 will all the time carry a magic for Albert that even a subsequent championship in 1973 couldn’t method. Because the Knicks clinched that 1973 crown on the highway, Albert described it as “like anticlimactic.”

“There were maybe two writers and me in the locker room after the game,” he mentioned.

In 1970, thoughts you, Albert didn’t even get to name the highway video games. His assignments had been at residence solely — and Game 7 took on significantly extra significance than common due to the broadcast restrictions.

ABC’s nationwide broadcast of Game 7 was blacked out in New York till 11:30 p.m. Unless you had been amongst the lucky 19,500 at M.S.G., like Lee, there have been primarily solely two different choices: discovering a bar that provided a closed-circuit broadcast or listening to Albert on the radio.

When Reed ambled onto the flooring a couple of minutes earlier than tipoff, Albert started doing play-by-play of his warm-up jumpers. Bill Bradley’s first sport as a Knick in 1967, in keeping with Albert, was the solely different one in his profession to benefit such extravagance.

Basketball has sadly by no means succeeded in transmitting the depths of its wealthy historical past in addition to baseball has, so I hesitate to take the liberty of assuming that youthful followers know most of what occurred subsequent. Reed hit his first two jumpers, Walt Frazier assembled one in all the most spectacular (and neglected) Game 7s ever, and the Knicks rolled up a 69-42 halftime lead over the shellshocked Lakers on the strategy to a snug 113-99 victory.

“Clyde had run into the safe haven of the locker room with four seconds left,” Albert mentioned of Frazier, who totaled 36 factors, 19 assists and seven rebounds. “He anticipated that the crowd would swarm the court at the final buzzer.”

A celebration had been deliberate for March 21 this 12 months to honor the 1969-70 squad along side a Knicks sport towards Golden State, however the ceremony was canceled earlier than the N.B.A.’s season was abruptly suspended March 11 in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“I expected it,” Albert told me. “Dolan and I disagreed, let’s say, on the philosophy of broadcasting.”

Lee delighted instead in recounting a recent encounter with Jerry West, who starred on that losing 1969-70 Lakers team, alongside Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor.

“When Willis Reed came out on the court, I thought my ears were going to explode,” Lee said, echoing Albert’s view that the crowd was the loudest in Garden history — to that point and since. “Both teams were on the court doing their layup lines, and when Willis came out, the entire Los Angeles Laker team stopped and turned around.”

West, according to Lee, disputed that he was among the gawking Lakers. “I love Jerry,” Lee said, “but I trust my 13-year-old eyes. The whole Laker team stopped.”

Lee was laughing throughout our 20-minute chat on Saturday, and it was good to hear. Dismayed as he was with his “orange and blue” when we last heard from him in March, shortly before his 63rd birthday and after months of the team’s usual dysfunction, the onset of such a fond Knicks remembrance has him dreaming anew.

“I just hope I’m able to see another banner raised to the world’s most famous arena’s roof,” Lee said. “If it’s not me, it better happen with my son, who’s 25.”

Q: Why did Michael Jordan not push to help get Scottie Pippen more money or to force Jerry Reinsdorf to renegotiate Pippen’s contract? And why did Reinsdorf allow Jerry Krause to alienate everyone in the organization? — Barry Flax (Potomac, Md.)

Stein: Two excellent questions that, just by being asked, make strong points on behalf of the very small lobby of support Krause has received through the first six episodes of “The Last Dance.”

Make no mistake: Krause undermined much of his own brilliance as a team-builder with his constant quest for credit, his inexplicable infatuation with Tim Floyd and how quickly he was prone to turn on his own uncovered gems, such as Pippen, Doug Collins and especially Phil Jackson.

I’m not sure which was more egregious: Krause’s very public pronouncement before the 1997-98 season that Jackson would be out at season’s end no matter what, or the fact that Krause felt the need to reiterate his stance on the record in February 1998, after the Bulls had finally begun to recover from a tumultuous start to the season.

But, yes, Reinsdorf is hugely culpable for not doing more to hold this team together after Jordan said on numerous occasions that he felt the Bulls deserved to keep defending their titles until they were dethroned. Ditto for Jordan himself, albeit not to the same degree as the owner.

The Bulls had a window after the 1994-95 season to give Pippen a contract extension. They knew how unhappy he was by then — and how vital Jordan considered him to the team’s success — and yet they let Pippen’s unhappiness fester instead of trying to get in front of it the way a smart organization would. Given the historic nature of the Bulls’ first three-peat team and knowing how married Jordan was to Pippen by that point, it’s still hard to believe — even 25 years later — that Reinsdorf didn’t address the incongruity of their contracts in the off-season right after M.J. returned from his baseball experiment.

Players didn’t wield the personnel power that they have now, but M.J. gets no pass here, either. He surely could have influenced matters in Pippen’s favor had he gotten more involved.

I know plenty of Bulls fans who have been deeply disillusioned with Reinsdorf, especially given the limited success that Chicago has managed since the breakup of its Last Dance team. But he has clearly been insulated from a good measure of the constant criticism and unrelenting attention Krause attracted as the franchise’s No. 1 villain.

Few will feel sorry for Krause after his portrayal in the documentary series, since the beloved Jordan himself still can’t let go of contempt for the general manager. But Krause made countless shrewd moves to build and rebuild the roster around His Airness and died, sadly, just days before he was announced as a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame’s class of 2017.

Q: Why are you calling it Fullerton State? It’s Cal State Fullerton, my man! — @paydawg2 from Twitter

Ceballos and I were both enrolled at Cal State Fullerton in the late 1980s. My reference to “Fullerton State” was a playful nod to the way the school was often referred to, even in The Associated Press stylebook, when Ceballos was making his rise from community college transfer to the first (and only) N.B.A. All-Star in school history.

Some Fullerton alumni of more recent vintage have been brainwashed into thinking “Fullerton State” is some sort of evil term. It most certainly is not. Fresno State, San Diego State, San Jose State and (my forever nemesis) Long Beach State have all flourished with that sort of construction.

There are many Fullerton alumni from my age bracket and older who prefer the “Fullerton State” reference and are envious of the various California schools that never had to apologize for going that simple-but-elegant route.

You can disagree, but trust me: As my pal Adam Rank of the NFL Network recently tweeted, “Fullerton State” or just plain “Cal State” appeals to a lot of us old-timers. (A beautiful orange hat with Cal State in navy lettering, for the record, is always near the desk in my home office.)

I am also prone to call my school Titan Tech in tribute to the first person I ever heard use that term: Mark Warkentien of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Warkentien is a Thunder consultant, a Fullerton graduate and former assistant coach and the N.B.A.’s Executive of the Year Award winner from 2008-09 with the Denver Nuggets.

It’s an honor of peak surreal-ness that has left the word guy pretty much speechless.

If N.B.A. practice facilities indeed open Friday in states where shelter-in-place restrictions have eased, teams will be asked to clean and disinfect basketballs by following these specific instructions from Spalding and the league office: Mix a ¼-teaspoon of dish detergent with each gallon of water, use that liquid and a clean cloth or towel to wipe down each ball, then rinse the balls with water. Once a ball air dries, teams are to spray it with a disinfectant approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Hard to believe, especially given the mounting praise for his talents throughout “The Last Dance” documentary series, but Pippen never won the N.B.A.’s Defensive Player of the Year Award. Jordan won it once (1987-88) and Dennis Rodman won it in consecutive seasons (1989-90 and 1990-91) with the Detroit Pistons before teaming up with Jordan and Pippen for three seasons in Chicago.

Another surprise from that era: the absence of an N.B.A. Coach of the Year Award in Rudy Tomjanovich’s trophy case, all the more so considering his recent selection to the Basketball Hall of Fame. The 1994-95 Houston Rockets, under Tomjanovich, remain the lowest seed (No. 6) to win the championship since the N.B.A. adopted a 16-team playoff format in 1983-84.

One more zero: I’m still trying to process the fact that Jordan didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer in his 63-point playoff game at Boston Garden in 1986, as noted during the opening weekend of “The Last Dance.” Jordan shot 22-for-41 from the field and 19-for-21 from the line over 53 minutes in Chicago’s overtime loss to the Celtics.

Three N.B.A. coaches are at least 65 years old: New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry (65), Houston’s Mike D’Antoni (who turns 69 on Friday) and San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich (71). This is one of the many variables for the league to weigh as it explores the possibility of resuming the 2019-20 season, given that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said adults over 65 are at an elevated risk of severe illness or death from coronavirus.



Source link Nytimes.com

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