New York Knicks: Patrick Ewing and the 11 Toughest Players in Team History

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorMarch 2, 2011

New York Knicks: Patrick Ewing and the 11 Toughest Players in Team History

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    Tough was once an adjective that was synonymous with the New York Knicks' play, but those days left around the time the Clinton Administration departed the White House.

    Last Sunday's 91-86 win over the Miami Heat showed a glimpse of the long gone, but never forgotten, lunch-pail Knicks of the 1990s, when New York won games with its tenacious defensive effort.

    While the "Melomare" Knicks will try and erase the soft and overpaid reputation of the blue and orange units that preceded them, here are 11 New York Knicks who were tougher than nails on and off the court.

11. Amar'e Stoudemire

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Amar'e Stoudemire grew up under rough circumstances. He lost his father at 12 and watched his mother resort to prostitution and other crime to feed her children. Stoudemire went to six high schools before joining the NBA in 2003 with the Phoenix Suns. His older brother went to jail, and his younger brother is currently there as well.

    During his career, Stoudemire overcame microfracture surgery and suffered a partially detached retina in the first quarter of a game against the Clippers in 2009. Stoudemire ended up with 42 points and 11 rebounds before missing the rest of the regular season with that injury. The first stage of his recovery required him to lie face down 22 hours a day for 10 days.

    On the court, Stoudemire sometimes faced triple teams in the paint and was hacked repeatedly, but this will be less of an issue with Anthony on the team now.

10. Charlie Ward

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Ward is the only professional basketball player to win a Heisman Trophy and college football national championship as well.

    In the NBA, he was a tough-nosed backup point guard who was picked on by Miami Heat henchman P.J. Brown in the 1997 NBA playoffs. Brown bodyslammed Ward when Ward tried to box out the much bigger Brown in the paint.

9. Marcus Camby

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    Robert Laberge/Getty Images

    Camby receives negative points for trying to throw a haymaker punch against Danny Ferry and instead cold-cocking coach Jeff Van Gundy in 2001, but he still makes this list for succeeding Ewing successfully for parts of four seasons before being traded in 2002.

    Camby has never played a full 82-game season in the NBA due to injury—his hip injury against Indiana on February 1, 2002 was perhaps the most painful—but that makes him all the tougher for sticking around.

8. Bernard King

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    King is tough for overcoming personal obstacles (drugs and alcohol) and personal injury (torn knee) to have a very successful NBA career.

    Like any other alpha dog, King also was tough enough to be every opponent's bullseye when the Knicks had King's services in the early and mid 1980's.

7. Walt Frazier

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Frazier made seven All-Defensive First Teams and was robbed of more statistical acclaim since the NBA never kept track of steals until 1973-74, when Clyde began the twilight of his career.

    For exuding as much effort on defense as he did on offense, Frazier was the toughest point guard in team history, hands down.

6. Harry Gallatin

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    Harry "The Horse" Gallatin led the NBA in rebounding with 15.3 boards per game in 1953-54 despite being an undersized center at 6'6" and 215 pounds.

    "But Paul," I hear you say. "Everyone was undersized back then, so Gallatin being 6'6" makes no difference."

    Not so fast, my friend. Gallatin was the shortest starting center in the nine-team NBA during the 1953-54 season. Throughout his career, Gallatin averaged 11.9 rebounds per game, but that discounts his first two seasons, when rebounds were not an official statistic. Being the shortest starting center while leading the NBA in rebounds makes Gallatin pretty tough in my book.

    Note: In lieu of Getty Images and YouTube not having any media of the Horse, hop in the DeLorean and go back to the 1990's instead.

5. Charles Oakley

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    There isn't a more natural name befitting any other NBA player in league history. Oakley was a human oak tree, averaging 9.5 rebounds per game over 19 seasons. In 10 of those seasons, Oakley was Patrick Ewing's Secret Service leader, taking pressure off the big man as he did work inside and outside the paint.

    Oakley played with a warrior's mentality and wasn't afraid to throw down with anyone on the court.

4. Patrick Ewing

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    Ewing made the paint his personal domain for 15 seasons and led a gritty, tenacious and admittedly sometimes dirty Knicks team in the 1990's that looked to the Bad Boy Pistons as their inspiration. New York ranked first in defense for three seasons between 1992-1995.

    Forgotten in lore, Ewing badly sprained his ankle in the 1992 Eastern Conference Semifinals against Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls yet still managed to lead New York to a 100-86 Game 6 victory with 26 points.

3. Dave DeBusschere

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    DeBusschere made first-team All NBA Defense six times and averaged 11 rebounds per game for his career even though he was 6'6". In his six seasons in blue and orange, the Knicks were first in the NBA in defense five times and a disappointing third once. With Willis Reed, the Knicks formed the most intimidating frontcourt duo in the NBA at the turn of the decade from the 1960's to 1970's.

    DeBusschere is also the youngest coach in NBA history, as he was a player-coach for the Pistons in 1964-65 at the age of 24. He also was a reliever for the Chicago White Sox before changing career paths.

2. John Starks

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    Starks moved over 10 times growing up in a single-parent household with six other siblings. His mother was abused by husbands and boyfriends and Starks turned to stealing and robbing, even landing in jail for five days. His older brother got involved in dealing drugs and landed in jail, too. Starks attended four community colleges before attending Oklahoma State.

    After his stint with the Cowboys, Starks played in the CBA and WBL before becoming a benchwarmer on the Golden State Warriors. He then tried out for the Knicks and famously attempted to dunk on Ewing, who knocked Starks to the ground.

    He eventually made the Knicks, and became a pugnacious and beloved guard who was known for his hard-nosed play.

1. Willis Reed

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    Willis Reed averaged a double-double in his first seven seasons before injuries ravaged his final three. By now every NBA fan is familiar with Reed overcoming mountainous odds to take the court in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, but most don't know the co-captain needed mepivacaine and cortisone shots in his torn right thigh muscle, an injury suffered in Game 5 of the same series.

    In other words, Reed was dragging a near lifeless body part with him up and down the court in the series clincher.

    For that alone, Willis is number one.