Long Island Basketball.com recently asked readers who was the greatest New York Knick ever from Long Island.
There have been a bunch—but only one NBA champion. A Great Neck player was set to play in the old Long Island Press League, the top league at the time, filled with former college and pro players, when a phone call gave him his chance.
Forty years ago, with great anticipation, former Princeton All-American and college player of the year Bill Bradley joined the New York Knickerbockers after completing his post-graduate studies in Oxford. Bradley signed a huge contract for the time, earning him the nickname "Dollar Bill".
The Knicks were a close-knit organization, coached by legendary Red Holtzman. The decision was made to showcase Bradley to New York with sessions at Madison Square Garden. Local former college players were brought in as "extras" for scrimmages.
One was Great Neck's Mike Riordan.
Riordan starred at Holy Cross High School in Bayside, and then at Providence College, where he earned an academic scholarship. At 6'5", the Great Necker had a stellar college career, often burying left-handed jumpers from the corner.
Overshadowed by his teammate Jimmy Walker, also a college player of the year, Riordan was a mid-level draft choice by the Knicks. Playing in the toughest parks and playgrounds in New York City and Long Island, Riordan was well known for his strength and fearless style of play.
After getting the call from the Knicks, Mike played in the Bradley showcase—and according to many in attendance, "ate up" Bradley.
Holtzman liked Riordan, and under NBA rules at that time figured out a perfect use for the Long Islander. Mike's job was to come in and give a semi-intentional foul, allowing opponents only one free throw. He quickly became a crowd favorite.
By the following year, Riordan was an integral part of Holtzman's lineup, a perfect fit for perhaps basketball's most intellectual team ever. A great driver, he was one of the first to challenge Bill Russell, often using the rim as a shield on reverse lay-ups.
That team won the NBA Championship in the famous seventh-game victory over the Lakers at the Garden. Riordan played more than a hundred minutes in that series—more than any other Knick player other than the starters.
Riordan was eventually traded, along with Dave Stallworth, to the Bullets for Earl Monroe. He had an eleven-year NBA career and averaged just under 19 points a game in his best season. In 1973 he was voted onto the all-NBA defensive second team. Some fans may even remember him beating Hall of Famer Dave Cowens in the made-for-TV one-on-one games.
The player Willis Reed called "the kid from Long Island" may have been the greatest Knick ever from Long Island. Was there more to this saga? Perhaps.
Did Holtzman got a tip from his best friend, former Knick coach Fuzzy Levane? Levane also lived in Great Neck at the time, and his son Neil was the top public-school player on Long Island, leading Great Neck South to the county championship his senior year. Levane watched Riordan play many times in summer league games back in the mid sixties.
The "best" is always subjective, but Riordan was a fine player on one of pro basketball's greatest teams and an NBA champion.