New York Knicks: Patrick Ewing and the 50 Greatest Players in Franchise History
New York Knicks history is littered with...mediocrity. Lots and lots of mediocrity. Outside of a glorious four-season period between 1969-1973, the New York Knicks have won zero NBA championships and made just five Finals series in 61 years.
Thus, making a list of the best 50 players in New York Knicks history presents a challenge no man can meet.
Well, scratch that. I just made that list, but I was crying for help after 15. In a 50-man slideshow, Trent Tucker, Stephon Marbury, Charlie Ward and Vince Boryla found themselves aboard.
However, the cream rises to the top, and a surprise awaits in the top five. I also await the inevitable fights with the Anthony Mason Fan Club.
Let's get to it, starting with the man who has the best nickname in New York Knicks history.
Note: I am abiding by the Bernard King Rule here. A player has to have participated in at least parts of three seasons with the Knicks to be on this list. So no Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony yet. It would be very difficult to place them anyway.
Simply for the Nickname: Marvin Webster (50)
The 7'1" Human Eraser played six seasons for the Knicks and was renowned for his defensive prowess. Webster found moderate success in New York but only reached the postseason three times and never truly developed into the star some thought he may become following his 14-point, 13-rebound, three-block averages with the 1977-78 Seattle SuperSonics.
I felt compelled to put Othella "The Little O" Harrington here because he was my favorite non-star, but I can't disrespect a man named Human Eraser.
Picture: Via the Seattle Times, Webster in his heyday during the 1978 NBA Finals, which the Sonics lost in seven.
Simply for the Rule: Trent Tucker (49)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Knicks-Bulls. Madison Square Garden. January 1990. Tied at 106. Knicks ball at the 28-foot line. One tenth of a second left, just one more tick until Michael Jordan kills the Knicks in overtime.
Trent Tucker made a turnaround three-pointer to win the game. How was it possible? Anything is possible with a home timekeeper. Two seasons later, the Trent Tucker Rule was established, whereas teams need at least three-tenths of a second for a catch-and-shoot situation.
Tucker deserves more credit though: He ranks second in three-point percentage (40.9) in Knicks history and seventh in career games played. Tucker also converted a four-point play in Game 6 of the 1989 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Chicago Bulls that tied the game at 111 before Michael Jordan finished the Knicks with two free throws in the closing seconds.
Knicks' First Leading Scorer: Bud Palmer (48)
The New York Knicks' first leading scorer, Bud Palmer led the 1946-47 team with 9.5 points per game, guiding them to a 33-27 record and a postseason appearance.
The Princeton graduate played with the Knicks for three seasons, averaging 11.7 points per game in the dead-ball era. Also known as a strong defender, Palmer went onto broadcasting and PR careers.
Ecstasy and Agony: Hubert Davis (47) and Charles Smith (46)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Here's to you, Hubert Davis, for making two free throws at the end of Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals to give the Knicks an 87-86 win. Referee Hue Hollins made a terrible call, as Scottie Pippen brushed you well after the shot in the closing seconds, but you took advantage and helped the Knicks get to the NBA Finals. Cheers for topping the Knicks' all-time list in three-point percentage at 44.9.
Here's to you, Charles Smith. You are part of one of the worst moments in Knicks history, getting blocked three times and stripped twice in the waning moments of Game 5 of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals, but you were part of four successful Knicks franchises from 1992-1996. You're not so bad.
What Could Have Been?: Spencer Haywood (45)
Spencer Haywood could not breathe more life into the dying Knicks dynasty. With Dave DeBusschere, Dick Barnett and Willis Reed retiring and Walt Frazier having lost a step, the Knicks needed a spark. The Sonics traded him to the Knicks, even though he averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds in five Seattle seasons, but in three New York years, he never found his groove.
Haywood averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds in 1975-76, but spent most of the next season injured. In 1977-78, it was Bob McAdoo's team at this point, as Haywood put up 13 points per game in his last New York season.
Haywood's New York years are just a blip on his radar screen though: He is best known for being the NBA's first early-entry player.
Too Soon: Toby Knight (44) and Vince Boryla (43)
Toby Knight, a 6'8" forward, became the first of many New York Knicks in the 1980s who succumbed to injuries. He tore his ACL and PCL chasing a rebound in a 1980-81 preseason game, played 40 games in the 1981-82 season and never suited up in the NBA again.
If Knight never injures himself though, Bernard King probably never signs as a free agent with the Knicks following the 1981-82 season, as both were small forwards.
Meanwhile, Vince Boryla, a man with only five followers on Facebook, played for all three of the Eastern Division champion Knicks teams from 1951-1953. He averaged 11.2 career PPG and coached from ages 28 to 30.
Toby Knight photo via draftreview.com.
Small Forwards, Small Tenures: Johnny Newman (42) and Wilson Chandler (41)
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Johnny Newman, a full-time starter on two Knicks teams, who went a combined 97-67 in the regular season and went to the second round twice, averaged 13 points per game in three New York seasons. He played at the Garden from 1988-1990.
Wilson Chandler, please come back. Chandler could score from inside and outside, defend multiple positions, rebound and handle. He was averaging 16 points and six rebounds per game before being traded in the Carmelo Anthony deal, but his great asset was being able to defend power forwards.
The Knicks were never able to find a player (aside from Amar'e Stoudemire) who could defend opposing power forwards and score as well, killing their postseason chances alongside the injuries to STAT and Chauncey Billups.
Woebegone Era: Jamal Crawford (40), David Lee (39) and Stephon Marbury (38)
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Every New York Knicks tape from 2001-2010 should be thrown into an industrial-sized dumpster and burned, but we have to make some exceptions in a 50-person list.
Jamal Crawford, an excellent sixth man for the Atlanta Hawks, was given too much responsibility for the New York Knicks. Well, his predisposition was to shoot every time he touched the ball, and he played alongside shoot-first point guards Stephon Marbury and Nate Robinson, who played alongside a frontcourt black hole of Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry...HOW THE HELL WAS THIS EVER SUPPOSED TO WORK, ISIAH????
Still, Crawford averaged 20.6 points and five assists per game in 2007-08 and scored 52 in 39 minutes against Miami in February 2007.
David Lee, a poor soul stuck in this mess, somehow made an All-Star team with the Knicks after putting up 20.2 points and 11.7 rebounds last season. He averaged double doubles in three of his five Knicks seasons.
In the nine-season period between 2001-2010, New York sparingly cared about basketball, but one of those times was in the 2003-04 season, when Isiah Thomas concocted what turned out to be an abomination of a trade for Stephon Marbury. It worked at the time though, as Starbury led the Knicks to the playoffs with a 39-43 record, averaging 20 points and nine assists.
He steadily declined before essentially being told to take his ball and go home during the 2007-08 season, in part because he had sex with a team intern (link to Daily News report, not any visual evidence of the encounter, I swear), hogged the ball even more and generally went crazy.
Hard-Working Glue Guys: Charlie Ward (37) and Phil Jackson (36)
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My favorite Knicks-related statistic: Charlie Ward played 10 seasons in blue and orange, more than any player who was drafted by New York since Patrick Ewing.
The most athletic Knick to ever play in Madison Square Garden, Ward won the Heisman Trophy and national championship for Florida State in 1993. He was the Knicks' full-time starter at point guard between 1997-2000, a very successful period when New York went to the 1999 Finals, 2000 Eastern Conference Finals and 1998 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
(In the interest of full disclosure, Charlie Ward became one of my all-time favorite Knicks when he stood up to that punk P.J. Brown in the 1997 playoffs.)
Phil Jackson was a gangly, slow hustle guy for 10 Knick teams, but he missed the entire 1969-70 season due to injury (though he put together a photo book chronicling the season). Like Bill Bradley, he was a cerebral assassin who used wit and guile to help the Knicks to the 1973 title. People seem to forget that he is a member of 12 championship teams (and a 13th technically as he was on the 1970 roster). Jackson led the NBA in personal fouls in 1974-75.
Midseason Star, Space Jam Cameo: Derek Harper (35)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
One of my personal favorites, because he was the starting point guard on the 1994 New York Knicks following a midseason trade and made a cameo in Space Jam, one of my all-time favorite movies.
The 1993-94 Knicks were 36-19 and on a four-game losing streak (4-8 in their last 12) on the West Coast when coach Pat Riley decided on two things: New York was going to gamble in Reno the day prior to the Sacramento Kings game, and Derek Harper was going to replace Greg Anthony in the starting lineup.
It worked well. The Knicks finished 21-6 and tied for first in the Eastern Conference at 57-25, going to the 1994 NBA Finals. Harper started for the Knicks through 1996 and continued his success, but could never match his clutch 1994 performances at the end of the year.
Can We Take That Trade Back?: Marcus Camby (34)
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What are the worst three trades since the end of the Patrick Ewing era? My three:
3. The Patrick Ewing trade (duh)
2. The Stevie Francis trade
1. The Marcus Camby trade
Didn't get it then, don't get it now. Antonio McDyess was a better scorer and had a better injury history than Marcus Camby, but centers are a penny a dozen. Of course, McDyess got hurt in the 2002 preseason and never played meaningful minutes for the Knicks.
Thanks for the memories though, Marcus. He helped lead the Knicks to the 1999 Finals and 2000 Conference Finals. Of note, when Patrick Ewing went down with in Game 2 of the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals, Camby stepped up and led the Knicks to the Finals. He had 21 points and 11 rebounds in Game 3, 18 and 14 in a Game 4 loss, 21 and 13 in a Game 5 win and 15 and nine in a Game 6 clincher. Oh, and he came off the bench for Chris Dudley.
If he didn't go down with an injury against the Pacers in 2002, I don't think he gets traded that summer. What could have been?
33rd-Best Knick; Best Custom Hair Cuts: Anthony Mason
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I admit that I was never the biggest Anthony Mason fan. There was a little more bark than bite to his game, and he was only a full-time starter for one season for the Knicks, the mediocre 1995-96 campaign.
Still, for all of his antics and attention calling, he was a blue-collar worker who you wanted on your side in a fight. Mason's greatest honor was winning the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award in 1994-95.
Younger Wilkins Still a Good Wilkins: Gerald Wilkins (32)
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I remember playing as Gerald Wilkins in my Bulls vs. Blazers and Bulls vs. Lakers Sega Genesis video games back in the 1990s, and he was pretty good, with some high-flying maneuvers and decent outside jumpers (even though it was damn near impossible to make shots in those games).
Wilkins played an instrumental part in dragging the Knicks from the post-King doldrums of the 1980s to the mid-1990s success, though he did not enjoy the part of it, as he was released before the 1992-93 season. He averaged roughly 14 PPG in seven Knicks seasons, with a career high of 19.1 in 1986-87.
Quiet Texan: Kurt Thomas (31)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Jack of all trades, master of none. I want this guy in my fox hole though.
On offense, Kurt Thomas had a nice outside jumper. On defense, he pulled the chair tons of times Rick Mahorn style and was a thorn in many players' sides.
A model of consistency for seven Knicks seasons, Thomas averaged a double double in 2004-05 and 14 PPG between 2001-2003.
Starks Before Starks: Cazzie Russell (30)
The first pick of the 1966 NBA draft never lived up to the hype, but Cazzie Russell was the sixth man of the best Knicks team in franchise history, so he did OK. Russell played five of his 12 NBA seasons in New York, with a high of 18.3 points in 1968-69. Off the bench the next season, his minutes were cut from 33 to 20 per game, but he still averaged 11.5 points on 49.8 percent shooting.
Photo courtesy of Forum Blue & Gold
Anonymous Double-Doubles: Ray Felix (29), Kenny Sears (28) and Johnny Green (27)
Hard to decipher between three double-double machines who have since been forgotten in Knicks lore, but it's worth a try.
Ray Felix played five seasons for the Knicks between 1954-1959. The 6'11" center averaged double doubles twice, with 14.4 points and 11.4 rebounds in 1954-55 as his high. Unfortunately, while the Knicks made the postseason four times in his tenure, they never won a series.
Kenny "The Big Cat" Sears played six full seasons for the Knicks between 1955-1961. I find it odd that his nickname was "The Big Cat," since Ray Felix's name was Felix and he's bigger than Kenny. Anyway, Sears was a pure scorer, pouring between 18.5 and 21.0 PPG between 1957-1960. He also led the NBA in field-goal percentage two consecutive seasons and averaged 10.9 rebounds in 1957-58 and 13.7 rebounds in 1959-60. He made two All-Star teams.
Jumpin' Johnny Green, by virtue of making three All-Star games with the Knicks, takes the crown. He posted four double-double seasons with the Knicks, albeit in their dormant 21-to-25 win season days in the early 1960s. He led the NBA in field-goal percentage twice, albeit with the Cincinnati Royals between 1969-1971.
Ray Felix Photo Courtesy of Los Angeles Times
The Ship Sunk: Ray Williams (26) and Michael Ray Richardson (25)
What could the early 1980s Knicks have done with a clean Michael Ray Richardson, Ray Williams, Bernard King (assuming he still signs that free-agent contract) and Bill Cartwright? OK, they still wouldn't be the second-best team in the Atlantic Division, but they'd be the most entertaining.
Shooting guard Ray Williams played five seasons (1977-81, 1983-84) for the Knicks, with highs of 20.9 points and 6.2 assists in 1979-80. He had a successful NBA career but found himself homeless last year. Today he has a job with the Mount Vernon city of recreation department.
Michael Ray Richardson, somehow, tells a sadder story. In 1979-80, Richardson led the NBA in assists (10.1) and steals (3.2) while scoring 15.3 per game. Taken two selections before Larry Bird in the 1978 draft, after that 1980 season, it did not seem crazy for the Knicks to make such a move.
However, Richardson became addicted to cocaine and found himself kicked out of the league in 1986 for failing the league's drug test three times. He is most well-known for saying "the ship be sinking" during the end of his time with the Knicks. Today, he is a motivational speaker and minor league basketball coach after a long stint playing in Europe until he was 46.
What could have been is an all-too-common question in Knicks history. Nowhere is the question mark sadder here.
Thanks for Dave DeBusschere: Walt Bellamy (24)
Yes, Walt Bellamy, he of the 20 points and 13 rebounds per game, is the 24th-best Knick of all time. He only played for the Knicks for three-and-a-half seasons, and his best accomplishment was being the trade piece that brought Dave DeBusschere on board, which let Willis Reed slide to center.
This center was phenomenal though. He holds the NBA record for most regular-season games played in a season (88), thanks to the aforementioned midseason trade. He also averaged 31.6 points and 19.0 rebounds in his rookie year for the defunct Chicago Packers in 1961-62. Bellamy never replicated those numbers, but he made four All-Star teams.
For the Knicks, Bellamy's best effort was a 23-point, 16-rebound performance in 1965-66. His numbers slowly regressed until the 1968 trade, but Bellamy—like the aforementioned Gerald Wilkins—was a key piece who helped the Knicks go from a doldrums period to an era of great success. It's a shame the Hall of Famer could not take part.
Thanks for the 4-Point Play: Larry Johnson (23)
Grandmama was a star in Charlotte, but four-point play aside, Larry Johnson was just another guy in New York. He lost that fire and intensity when he went to the Knicks, but he authored this four-point play that turned the tide of the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals, so here's to you, LJ.
Largely a jump shooter instead of a ferocious basket attacker with the Knicks, LJ's production declined from 1996-2001, and he retired with two years left on his contract. Still, he was part of the end of the Knicks' defensive "dynasty" and deserves credit.
Sweet Name, Sweet Game: Sweetwater Clifton (22)
The first African-American player to sign a contract with an NBA team, Sweetwater Clifton also played for the New York Rens, Harlem Globetrotters and spent some time as a first baseman in the Negro Leagues.
The supremely athletic Clifton averaged 10 points and eight rebounds for his eight-year career, which started at the age of 28. Upon his arrival in 1950, the Knicks embarked on three straight trips to the NBA Finals. Clifton's best seasons were 1951-52 (10.6 PPG and 11.8 RPG) and 1952-53 (10.6 PPG and 10.9 RPG), finishing top eight in rebounding both seasons.
Photo courtesy of fansnthestands.com
What Could Have Been? Mark Jackson (21)
Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images
And now, the Knicks career of Mark Jackson.
1987-88: 13.6 PPG, 10.6 APG, Rookie of the Year.
1988-89: 16.9 PPG, 8.6 APG, All-Star Game.
1989-90: 9.9 PPG, 7.4 APG, Lost starting job.
1990-92: Regains starting job, has resurgent 1991-92 season but gets traded to L.A. Clippers.
1996: Wins Oscar but gets snubbed for Golden Globe for supporting actor performance in Eddie, starring Whoopi Goldberg and John Salley.
2001-02: Joins the Knicks at the end of the 2000-01 season, but they do not win playoff series for first time since 1991. They still have not won since 2000. After a poor 2001-02 showing, he is packaged in the Marcus Camby-Antonio McDyess deal.
I don't get it. Do you? Jackson is one of those players who I feel should have had a much better career than he did, but hey, a Rookie of the Year and six postseason appearances with the Knicks isn't so bad.
Three-Time Eastern Champion: Max Zaslofsky (20)
Max Zaslofsky came to the New York Knicks after the Chicago Stags folded, played for three seasons—all Eastern Division title winners—and was then mysteriously traded.
Zaslofsky was third on the team in scoring in 1951 and first in 1952, but was hurt for much of 1953 before being traded. Still, bonus points for team efficiency.
Photo courtesy of jewishsports.net
Rent-a-Player: Bob McAdoo (19)
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images
The Knicks tried to build around a frontcourt of Bob McAdoo and Spencer Haywood, two All-Stars who found great success in Buffalo and Seattle respectively, but that experiment failed. Not on the Eddy Curry-Zach Randolph scale of failure, but it was still spectacular nonetheless.
McAdoo, who won the 1974-75 MVP trophy by scoring over 34 points per game, found great personal success with the Knicks, averaging 26.5 points and 12.8 rebounds in his only full season with the team in 1977-78, leading them to the Eastern Semifinals. He was a 6'9" center who found ease scoring from the outside but was not known for his defensive skills.
Still, he did not mix with Haywood (the two did not get along) and was traded to the Boston Celtics for three first-round draft picks and Tom Barker. The move was orchestrated not by Red Auerbach, but by team owner John Brown. McAdoo is still the Knicks' all-time leader in scoring average (26.7 PPG).
The Forgotten Superstar: Willie Naulls (18)
Ranked fifth in Knicks history with 19.3 points per game in blue and orange, Willie Naulls is best known as the guy whose scoring record Amar'e Stoudemire broke in December. Stoudemire scored 30-plus points per game nine straight times, twice more than Naulls did in 1962.
For his Knicks career, Naulls averaged five double-double seasons between 1957-1962. Notably, he posted 25.0 points and 11.6 rebounds per game in 1961-62, and made four All-Star teams.
Ewing's Knicks Get Second Lease on Life: Latrell Sprewell (17)
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No Latrell Sprewell, no Knicks mini-resurgence at the end of the 20th century. He brought much-needed energy and speed to Manhattan, which was sorely desired after the aging and slow Knicks limped out of the 1998 NBA playoffs to the Indiana Pacers. Within one calendar year, Sprewell went from a literal choke artist to every Knicks fan's second-favorite player behind Patrick Ewing.
With Sprewell, the Knicks made the 1999 Finals and the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals. Some bad personnel moves and Jeff Van Gundy's semi-retirement led to the end of the 1990s Knicks as we know it, but Spree still poured in great efforts, making the 2001 All-Star Game and pouring in over 19 points per game in 2001-02.
The King's Knight: Bill Cartwright (16)
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Top 10 amongst all Knicks in points and second in blocks, Bill Cartwright played seven full seasons for the Knicks. He missed virtually all of two mid-1980s seasons due to injury, but to his credit, he came back and resurrected his career, eventually landing with the Chicago Bulls as their starting center for their first three-peat.
With the Knicks, he was best known as the starting center for two exciting teams: The Michael Ray Richardson-era Knicks which flamed out because of the ship captain's cocaine use, and the Bernard King Knicks, which flamed out because pretty much everyone on the roster got injured.
Like Mark Jackson, Cartwright mysteriously tailed off after an excellent two-season start to his career. He averaged over 20 points and eight rebounds between 1979-1981. Though he saw fewer shots with Bernard King in town, his rebounding numbers still took a hit.
Still, back when the Knicks' secondary symbol was a orange ripoff of the Yankees' insignia, Cartwright was a steady performer who led the Knicks to multiple playoff appearances.
The Debate for 14: John Starks vs. Allan Houston
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OK, so maybe the "debate for 14" isn't a very catchy slide title, but work with me here. Who's the better Knick?
Allan Houston's Runner vs. John Starks' Dunk
The $100 Million Contract vs. 2-for-18
Houston: 17.3 PPG, 44.4 FG%, 40.2 3FG%
Starks: 12.5 PPG, 41.2 FG%, 34.0 3FG%
Houston: Not So Good
Starks: Drew Jordan in the Playoffs
If I put Starks on the 1999-00 Knicks, they aren't winning 50 games and coming two games shy of the NBA Finals, because Houston was the No. 1 option, while Starks could never carry that burden as a streak shooter.
But if I put Allan Houston on the early-to-mid 1990s Knicks, you lose defensive intensity on the perimeter and any chance in hell of holding Jordan to under 40 in the playoffs.
Still, as much as everyone loved Starks' bulldog intensity and spirit, Allan Houston was the better Knick. Plus, Houston is fourth on the Knicks' list in career points. I was also surprised to see Starks made just over one of every three trifectas, wow.
Lucky 13: Richie Guerin
For having the second-highest scoring season in Knicks history, this monster year where he averaged 29.5 points per game on 44.2 percent shooting in 1961-62, Richie Guerin makes it to the top 13. He played seven full seasons in New York and averaged at least 21.5 points in four of them, making six All-Star games.
Guerin also accrued other incredible feats: seventh in PER twice, top nine in assists nine times (5.5 per game for career), All-NBA second team three times.
For all his personal accomplishments, the Knicks never won with him. In fact New York suffered through a very poor stretch, going through a three-season stretch where they did not win more than 30 games.
Still, the past-day Monta Ellis was a beast and makes the top 10 with ease.
Photo Courtesy of Hoopedia.com
John Shaft: Charles Oakley (12)
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Look at this man. He is 44 years old in this 2007 picture but looks like he can step into John Shaft's (or Liam Neeson's in Taken, or Bruce Willis' in Die Hard) shoes and kill anyone who steps in his path. Such was the case for the oak tree for 10 seasons with the Knicks from 1988-1998 as Patrick Ewing's right-hand man and sworn protector.
One of my personal heroes, Oakley averaged a tidy 11.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game in 1993-94, the NBA Finals berth season. He had three more double-double seasons—keep in mind that his Knicks teams were not the free wheelers of the 1960s—and was two-tenths of a rebound away from getting a fifth. He is sixth all time in career games for the Knicks, third in minutes, third in rebounds, second in steals and—my personal favorite—second in fouls.
I still want him back on the Knicks. He would be better than Jared Jeffries.
Old-Time Basketball: Carl Braun (11) and Dick McGuire (10)
Carl Braun was the shooting guard in the Knicks' backcourt for 11 seasons and teamed with point guard Dick McGuire for six of them, reaching the NBA Finals in 1953.
Braun is fourth in games played and fifth in points on the Knicks' lists even though he played most of his career prior to the shot clock and took two seasons off to serve in the Army during the Korean War.
The five-time All-Star also made the All-NBA second team twice. He was top 10 in points per game four times and top six in assists per game three times. From the New York Times, he is also the author of this great quote: “In the winter, for the people of Syracuse, basketball was their life,” Braun told George Kalinsky for his book 'The New York Knicks: The Official 50th Anniversary Celebration.' “Those folks were merciless. I can remember running down the court and having cigarette butts flipped at me as I went by. Live ash that got me in the legs and smarted.”
Braun and McGuire's careers were somewhat parallel, and oddly enough, so were their lives. They died just a week apart in February 2010. Unfortunately, Braun's number was never retired, but McGuire's 15 has been. McGuire is third in team history in assists and ranked top six in the NBA in assists 10 times. Remarkably, he scored eight points per game even though he took just seven shots per game.
Known as one of the most unselfish players in professional basketball history, McGuire is a relic who probably won't be replicated. He was on those three Eastern Division title teams of the early 1950s and led the Knicks out of the cellar with some deft coaching in the mid 1960s before giving way to Red Holzman.
Photo Courtesy of New York Times
Title-Winning MSG Legends: Bill Bradley (9) and Dick Barnett (8)
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Rhodes Scholar, Senator, Presidential candidate, two-time NBA champion and all-around swell guy, Bill Bradley played 10 seasons for the Knicks and averaged over 12 points, three rebounds and three assists per game. He could do a little of everything from the small forward position, with his deft passing, shooting, rebounding and defending.
A consummate team player, Bradley, who is third all time in Knicks history in games played, bought into the Red Holzman system and fit in perfectly. His No. 24 hangs in the Madison Square Garden rafters.
Hard to separate Bill Bradley from another brilliant teammate who has his number in the MSG rafters, Dr. Dick Barnett. The St. John's sports management professor was Walt Frazier's backcourt mate during the 1969-70 season and averaged 15 points per game. He played eight seasons in New York and five games in a ninth season, posting 16 points on 45.6 percent shooting for his career. Also a two-time champion, Barnett's No. 15 has not been unretired for Carmelo Anthony...yet.
Jaw-Dropping Greatness: Bernard King (7) and Earl Monroe (6)
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One man was so great that he was given the nickname "Black Jesus." The other man is so great that I ranked him as the seventh-best Knick in team history even though he played only 224 games for them, which isn't even the equivalent of three full regular seasons.
Bernard King was a god in New York. Known as a demon on the fast break and nearly unstoppable with the ball down low in the half-court sets, he scored points in droves from 1982-1985.
His most notable achievements:
1. Scoring 40 of his 60 points prior to halftime on Christmas Day 1984 against the New Jersey Nets.
3. 44 points and 12 rebounds vs. the Detroit Pistons in Game 5 of the 1984 first-round playoff series, sending the Knicks to the semifinals vs. the Boston Celtics. King averaged 42.6 points per game for the series and played Game 5 with the flu and splints on both middle fingers. He shot 60 percent for the series.
4. 43-point and 44-point games vs. the Celtics in the 1984 playoff semifinals, though the Knicks lost in seven.
5. Averaged 32.9 PPG in 1984-85 before a knee injury chasing ball out of bounds forced him out for two seasons.
What happens if a healthy King and Ewing team up? We'll never know.
Monroe and Walt Frazier made the 1972 NBA Finals in their first season together but lost to the 69-13 Lakers in five games. The next season, they beat the 68-14 Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, partially thanks to a John Havilcek injury that slowed him down significantly. Beating the Lakers in the Finals in five was then a formality, but the Celtics were out for revenge the next year and took the Eastern Conference Finals from the Knicks in the last run of the Red Holzman dynasty.
Monroe made two All-Star teams, averaged over 17 points per game four times, shot and distributed well, and meshed with Walt Frazier. Sure, his best years were in Baltimore with the Bullets, but Monroe contributed steady basketball for the entire 1970s.
Here's the Bill Simmons-esque question: Would you rather have two legendary years of Bernard King and one great one, or nine good years of Earl Monroe? I'm going with the Pearl.
Horse of a Black and White Color: Harry Gallatin (5)
Why in the blue hell does Harry "The Horse" Gallatin not have his number retired in the MSG rafters? Here's a bullet-point resume.
Gallatin, Harry. 6'6", 210 Pounds. 1948-1958
13.0 PPG, 11.9 RPG
1954 All-NBA First Team: The only first team a Knick ever made until 1969-70.
1955 All-NBA Second Team
Top-Five PER: Four Times
Top-10 PER: Six Times
Three-Time NBA Finalist
First in NBA, Rebounds Per Game: 1953-54
I'm not saying to put the Horse in the Hall, but a seven-time All-Star, who was a 6'6" center and led the league in rebounding, deserves much more recognition than he gets.
The Last Piece: Dave DeBusschere (4)
When I was in college, I was at an introductory class dinner, and everyone had to go around the table and say one interesting fact about him or herself to break the ice. Hooray.
Well, one of the students said, "I have a distant cousin in the NBA Hall of Fame, but you probably don't know who he is." Of course, that turned out to be Dave DeBusschere. Damn right I know who he is.
DeBusschere was the missing piece to the Knicks' championship puzzle because he slid into the power forward role, letting Willis Reed slide into Walt Bellamy's deserted center spot. DeBusschere and Reed formed an excellent partnership down low, and the Knicks became the NBA's most formidable defense for the next five seasons. From 1969-1974, DeBusschere was All-NBA First Team six times and a five-time All-Star. Ten of his 12 NBA seasons were double-double stat campaigns.
It's a shame that he did not start his career with New York, but he started it with the Chicago White Sox as a relief pitcher in 1962. He eventually transitioned to basketball full time with the Detroit Pistons and was even a player-coach. Eventually, the big Bellamy deal went down, turning the fortunes of the Knicks around.
That trade occurred on December 19, 1968, when the Knicks were 18-17. It was the day before their game against, ironically, the Detroit Pistons.
(Funny enough, the Knicks played the Baltimore Bullets the day after the Earl Monroe trade in 1971.)
The Knicks had beaten the Piston 120-108 in November. This result? Knicks 135, Pistons 108.
The Knicks finished 36-11 with DeBusschere and Reed down low, swept Baltimore in the first round but lost to the Boston Celtics in six in the Eastern Finals.
Of course, the rest is history. The Knicks won two titles, made a third and earned two other Eastern Conference Finals berths in DeBusschere's five full New York seasons.
No Knick has ever experienced as much team success as Dave DeBusschere.
The Debate for 2: Patrick Ewing vs. Willis Reed
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A closer call than the 1998 Belmont Stakes or the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election. We'll have to go to the video tape here.
Ewing: 7'0", 240. Reed: 6'9", 235.
Overall Stats/Accolades (Ewing)
Ewing: 21.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 50.4 FG%, 11-time All-Star, One-Time NBA First Team, Six-Time NBA Second Team
Reed: 18.7 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 47.6 FG%, Seven-time All-Star, One-Time NBA First Team, Four-Time NBA Second Team
Best Season (Reed)
Ewing (1989-90): 28.6 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 55.1 FG%, 4.0 BPG
Reed (1969-70): 21.7 PPG, 13.9 RPG, 50.7 FG%, Regular Season, All-Star and Finals MVP's.
Reed: Eight Full Seasons, 30 Games in Parts of Two Other Seasons.
Ewing: 10 Full Seasons from 1987-1997, and 239 games spread over five seasons otherwise.
Patrick Ewing was a victim of unfortunate circumstance. He was knocked out of the playoffs by the best basketball player of all time on five different occasions. He went toe to toe with Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994 and was one John Starks three-pointer away from winning the Finals.
Meanwhile, the best and most consistent player on his team throughout his tenure on the Knicks was Charles Oakley. I have nothing against Oakley. He is the real-life John Shaft. But he made only one All-Star game.
Meanwhile, Willis Reed had Hall of Famers Dave DeBusschere, Earl Monroe and Walt Frazier to go along with cerebral assassins Bill Bradley and Phil Jackson. Don't forget the professor, Dick Barnett.
Yes, I admit that the competitive nature of the league was far greater in Reed's time, as fewer teams in the league meant a great collection of talent. He certainly had more help, but he needed it facing the John Havilcek/Dave Cowens Celtics and the Jerry West/Wilt Chamberlain Lakers.
But think of it this way: If you put Patrick Ewing on those 1960s and 1970s Knicks teams, are they still winning two titles? Yes. If you put Willis Reed on the 1990s Knicks, are they winning a title? No, because the team loses even more of an offensive punch.
Plus, do you want eight great years of Willis Reed or 10 great years of Ewing? I'm going with Ewing, the New York Knicks' all-time leader in points, rebounds, games, minutes, field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, rebounds, steals and blocks.
Reed is 2B to Ewing's 2A.
Clyde Stands Alone: Walt Frazier
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Five indisputable facts:
1. Walt Frazier's 36-point, 19-assist, five-steal performance in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals is one of the top 20 playoff performances in the history of the NBA. I have it at No. 10.
2. Walt Frazier is one of the top three defensive point guards in NBA history, alongside Gary Payton and John Stockton.
3. Walt Frazier, conservatively, is the eighth-best point guard in NBA history. At best, he can be top five.
4. Walt Frazier found a way to co-exist with another hot-shot point guard in Earl Monroe, put his ego aside and went to two NBA Finals, winning one.
5. Walt Frazier is the only man who can wear zebra, leopard and cow-skin suits...and get away with it.
I don't even point to either of the Knicks' two championship seasons with Frazier at the point as to why he is the best Knick of all time though.
In the 1971-72 season, the Knicks underwent an unreasonable amount of turmoil. Willis Reed only played 11 regular-season games. Dick Barnett was slowing down, and Earl Monroe came in to take his place. Frazier knew he needed to take control of the team, and he did so by averaging 23.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists that season, making the All-NBA first team for one of his four career times.
The Knicks beat the Baltimore Bullets in six games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and the Boston Celtics, who won 56 games in the regular season, in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
They eventually lost to the 69-13 Lakers in five in the Finals, but that series loss was inevitable.
In the query of whether Walt Frazier, Willis Reed or Patrick Ewing is the best Knick, it really is no contest. Patrick Ewing may be freshest in Knicks fans' minds, and Willis Reed may be the owner of the most iconic moment, but Clyde is the best in team history.