Ranking the Greatest Franchise Players in NY Knicks History
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After feeling the tremors of an earthquake’s aftershock and being swarmed by Hurricane Irene less than a week later, New Yorkers have entered uncharted territory.
Mother Nature even may have given some of us reason to believe we are witnessing the beginning of the end.
With no apparent resolution to the NBA lockout on the horizon, the threat of elimination of the entire season is very serious and represents the apocalypse to many devoted fans.
Just when New York had gotten back on track behind the superb play of two of the league’s finest, it appears as though Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire might have to put their Knicks legacies on hold.
While the youngsters may be unaware, the Knicks remain one of the NBA’s most storied franchises despite recent years in decline. Successful squads of yesteryear were led by the who’s who of legendary players, some of whom have been honored as members of the 50 greatest anniversary team selected in 1996.
From Walt to Bernard and Willis to Patrick, it’s debatable who is regarded as the best to ever represent the franchise.
So, why don’t we escape reality for a bit, take a journey back to the Knicks’ glory days when championships were always in the realm of possibility and settle this debate once and for all?
*This list only includes true Knicks, so unless a player was drafted by New York or spent numerous productive years with the team, he will be omitted. Sorry, Zach Randolph.
Honorable Mention – Allan Houston (1996-2005)
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After five full seasons in New York, the front office was feeling generous since the departure of Ewing freed up an abundance of cap space. Houston, who had more or less inherited the role as face of the franchise by default, was at the right place at the right time.
Anybody who follows basketball will tell you the guaranteed six-year, $100 million contract Houston signed in 2001 was a travesty; surely, he wasn’t worthy of being the second-highest paid player in the game.
To make matters worse, Houston was consumed by knee problems, and four years into his deal, he hobbled into retirement.
Those final seasons may cast a dark cloud on his career, but Houston left a lasting positive impression for close to a decade with the Knicks.
A pure scorer, Houston will be remembered for having one of the sweetest shots of a generation. He also was a key component on Knicks squads that reached the postseason in six of nine seasons, as well as the last group to make a finals appearance in 1999.
Perhaps above all, Houston solidified his place in Knicks—and NBA—folklore with his improbable one-legged floater in the waning seconds of Game 5 of the first round of the 1999 playoffs against hated rival, the Miami Heat.
A front-rim shooter’s touch bounce and a ricochet high off the backboard felt like an eternity, but when the ball dropped through the cylinder and time expired, New York had become just the second eighth-seeded team to knock off a one-seed.
This dagger provided the momentum that would propel the Knicks into the championship series, where they ultimately lost to the San Antonio Spurs.
7. Bernard King (1982-87)
Long before Carmelo Anthony came home, fellow Brooklynite Bernard King returned to New York City after five very productive seasons with three different teams.
However, the Knicks took a gamble on King, given his off-court drinking issues, when they traded former first-round pick Michael Ray Richardson and a draft pick to the Golden State Warriors in 1982.
It was during King’s stint in the Big Apple, albeit a brief one, that he found himself and got his personal life on par with the professional side.
Upon his arrival in New York, King immediately became the main attraction, exhibiting a scoring explosiveness unlike any Knick to precede him.
King had perfected the mid-range post and nailed turnaround jumpers with surgical precision. Standing at 6'7", King had the length and athleticism to play above the rim as well, and seeing him finish with a two-hand slam was a common theme.
Although King hauled in over five boards per game during his tenure in New York, it was his scoring ability that really took center stage. After averaging 21.9 points per contest during the 1983-84 campaign, King set a career best with 26.3 the following year.
During the 1984-85 season, King completely obliterated his previous mark, pouring in an astounding 32.9 points and leading the NBA in scoring for the first and only time.
On Christmas Day 1984, King delivered a present to fans in the form of a 60-point outburst versus his former team, the New Jersey Nets. That performance still claims the top spot in the Knicks’ record books for single-game scoring.
King’s best season as a pro came to a crashing halt in late-March 1985 when he brutally tore the ACL in his right knee.
While it looked as though King might never play again, he rehabilitated vigorously until he’d regained the strength to come back for the last six games of 1986-87.
King put up 22.7 points in those contests, but New York had already moved on, as it was a classic example of out of sight, out of mind.
After battling their way to the Eastern Conference semifinals during King’s two past seasons, the Knicks finished the 1984-85 season 24-58, positioning themselves in the draft lottery as King could do nothing but stare at the television.
New York would eventually take Patrick Ewing with the first overall selection of the 1985 NBA draft, and the rest is history.
King missed out on Ewing’s rookie year, and Ewing was hurt when King finally returned for a handful of games in 1987. Technically, both players were on the roster throughout the two seasons, but they never once shared the floor.
Prior to the 1987-88 season, the Knicks dealt King to the Washington Bullets, where he was rejuvenated and went on to have four more standout years.
King appeared in a mere 206 games in five seasons for New York, but he was an All-Star twice and clearly made the most of it when he was healthy.
Since he had such a short stay, some may say he’s undeserving of the “franchise player” designation. However, King made the Knicks relevant and watchable during a period of transition, and he’s a fixture on Knicks highlight reels.
We can only imagine if a tandem of King and Ewing could’ve evolved into a dynasty, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
6. Dick McGuire (1949-1957)
Dick McGuire was a New York Knick until the end, spending in excess of five decades in some capacity with the organization leading up to his death in 2010.
“Tricky Dick” was a moniker McGuire had earned honing his skills on the playgrounds of New York City. The quintessential point guard, he was truly a facilitator who believed in involving his teammates in the offense before settling for his own shot.
He wasn’t gratuitously flashy, but McGuire was extremely creative in terms of methods he used to distribute the ball. If feeding the open man and simultaneously deceiving the opposing defender called for a two-handed shovel pass, McGuire wasn’t afraid to utilize it.
The NBA was in its infancy in the 1950s, and the style was a world apart from what we’re accustomed to seeing now. During that era, it was all about managing the tempo. And, if you could monopolize possession of the ball, you could control the flow of the game.
As a result, scoring was at a minimum, and statistics were not as inflated as they are now. But, McGuire still stockpiled the assists.
When McGuire played, the regular season was also 72 games, 10 shorter than what it is currently. Despite the differences, he ranks third on the club’s all-time assists list with 2,950. As a rookie in 1949-50, McGuire tallied 386 dimes—a regular season record that would later be broken.
Even more impressive, McGuire guided New York to three straight finals appearances from 1951 through 1953. Although they were winless in each attempt, it is the only period in franchise history in which the feat was accomplished.
In eight seasons as a Knick, McGuire was chosen as an All-Star on five occasions and led the team in assists seven years in a row.
The Knicks retired McGuire’s jersey in 1992, and he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame the following year.
5. Earl Monroe (1971-1981)
In a shocking twist of fate, the Baltimore Bullets sent Earl Monroe to New York, where the budding star guard would be paired with Walt Frazier in the backcourt.
Many questioned whether the duo could coexist considering their similar styles. Nevertheless, Monroe instantly fit in despite not always being the primary scoring option like he had been in Baltimore, where he’d never averaged below 21 points per game upon entering the league.
Part of why the Knicks were so successful in the early 70s was due to the unselfish nature among contributing players, and whether Monroe assumed scoring duties one trip down the floor and passing the next never posed a conflict.
Monroe received numerous nicknames as a street ball legend growing up in Philadelphia, and one in particular stuck. To this day, Earl “The Pearl” is an epithet that follows him everywhere.
And, rightfully so because Monroe is responsible for ushering in a new era in which flair and flamboyancy typically found in the park is now an acceptable statement in professional basketball. The Pearl perfectly embodies this flashy attitude.
A two-time All-Star over the course of nine seasons in New York, Monroe was a major factor on the 1973 Knicks championship squad, helping them secure their second title in four years. He shined with a team-high 23 points in the series-clinching Game 5 matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Nagging knee injuries forced Monroe to retire after a subpar 1979-80 campaign that saw substantial drop-offs in scoring and minutes played.
With 9,679 points, Monroe sits at seventh on the Knicks career scoring list, and his number was hoisted to the Madison Square Garden rafters in 1986. In 1990, he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Monroe was also voted as one of the 50 greatest NBA players.
4. Dave DeBusschere (1968-74)
He may have only played five-and-a-half seasons in New York before calling it quits, but the years Dave DeBusschere dedicated to the Knicks were arguably more valuable to the franchise than those of any other player.
DeBusschere could do it all.
He was a lockdown defender who made it a nightmarish experience for any opponent to face him. His 6'6", 220 lb. frame granted him the versatility to terrorize guards and forwards.
More often than not, he was the one who’d squeeze out that extra ounce of hustle to beat the next man to a loose ball. He crashed the boards with the best of them—meaning not only guards, but power forwards and centers.
And, although he wasn’t leaned on heavily for his scoring, he came up with countless timely buckets and could put the ball through the hole like a No. 1 option when the opportunity arose.
In other words, DeBusschere was the glue that held the Knicks’ two champion teams together.
DeBusschere approached the game in a way that made New Yorkers proud; he was as blue collar as they come and ready and willing to get his hands dirty. Aggressive and physical, there wasn’t a challenge DeBusschere would shy away from.
He was Sir Charles before Charles Barkley took the training wheels off his first bike.
For his efforts, DeBusschere was rewarded with All-Defensive First Team honors each of the six seasons with the Knicks. Additionally, he was an All-Star during his five full seasons in New York.
Averaging a double-double for the duration of his Knicks career, DeBusschere never posted a season worse than 14.6 points and 10 rebounds per game. He checks in at seventh on New York’s all-time rebounding list.
A ceremony was held to commemorate DeBusschere’s uniform in 1981. Two years later, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame and was named to the anniversary team recognizing the NBA’s 50 greatest players.
A couple fun facts about DeBusschere:
He pitched professionally for the Chicago White Sox before making the switch to basketball. Between 1962 and 1963, he compiled a record of 3-4 and an ERA of 2.90 to go along with 61 strikeouts in 102.1 innings. Not too shabby.
While serving as president of basketball operations for the Knicks, DeBusschere made the decision to draft Patrick Ewing.
3. Willis Reed (1964-1974)
If nothing else, it’s an everlasting iconic image in sports history that vacated an opening for Willis Reed on this list.
When “The Captain” exited the tunnel—dragging his gimpy right leg behind him—to a deafening standing ovation, it was all the confidence a deflated Knicks team needed to battle back from a devastating Game 6 loss and overcome the favored Lakers in the rubber match of the 1970 NBA Finals.
He’s never mentioned in the same breath as Russell, Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar, but in the minds of many old-timers, Willis Reed is the greatest Knickerbocker ever.
Reed made up for, with heart, what he lacked in size. His height of 6'9" would’ve positioned him at power forward by today’s standards.
It’s hard to fathom the toll that banging in the paint with a 7'1", 275 lb. Wilt Chamberlain would’ve taken on Reed. But, he not only endured it, he embraced it—even winning two NBA Finals MVP awards while going toe-to-toe with Chamberlain, the first of which was achieved during that famous Game 7 with a torn hip and thigh muscle.
New York fans will forever appreciate an athlete who plays through pain, a fighter who puts it all on the line for the betterment of the team.
However, it wasn’t just his mentality that was so inspiring. Reed backed it up with some extraordinary numbers until injuries derailed him.
In 10 seasons, Reed averaged 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds. Although the league didn’t keep track of defensive statistics until Reed’s last year, he still managed to block 1.1 shots per outing while literally on his last leg.
Reed ranks in the Knicks’ to -10 of just about every major offensive category and is second in total rebounds (8,414) to Patrick Ewing. Reed posted the five most productive rebounding seasons in team history.
A seven-time All-Star, Reed was the first player ever to receive all three MVP awards (regular season, All-Star Game and NBA Finals) in the same year.
New York retired Reed’s number in 1976, and he was the first Knicks player to receive such a distinction. Reed entered the Hall of Fame in 1982 and was chosen as a representative of the 50 greatest NBA players the next decade.
2. Walt Frazier (1967-1977)
Notorious for his custom-tailored suits, alligator wingtips and penchant for Rolls Royces, Walt “Clyde” Frazier was the epitome of cool long before NBA stars like LeBron James and Amar’e Stoudemire began hiring stylists to dress them.
Also known for his matching top hats, Frazier’s colleagues anointed him with the “Clyde” moniker due to the similarities he shared with Warren Beatty in the film Bonnie and Clyde. Frazier was a modern-day gangster…in a good way.
Frazier was just as smooth on the hardwood with a silky shot and lightning-quick reflexes. He was a scoring point guard with offensive instincts like Deron Williams and defensive tenacity comparable to Chris Paul.
Running the show during both NBA titles, it’s a tossup whether Frazier or Willis Reed was more meaningful to the Knicks.
In the shadow of Reeds gutty Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, Frazier quietly shredded the Los Angeles Lakers’ defense with one of the more marvelous postseason displays. Amassing 36 points (12-12 FT), 19 assists and seven rebounds, Frazier practically single-handedly decimated the Lakers’ championship aspirations.
Frazier was an All-Star seven times during his 10-year stretch with the Knicks, and he took home the 1975 All-Star Game MVP trophy. He also made the All-Defensive First Team on seven occasions.
He can be found in the top 10 of virtually every team statistical category, but Frazier is first in assists (4,791), second in points (14,617) eighth in rebounds (4,598) and 10th in steals (589). Since steals went unrecorded during Frazier’s first six seasons, he undoubtedly should be the franchise leader in that department as well.
New York raised Frazier’s jersey to the Garden ceiling in 1979, and he received his Hall of Fame nod in 1987. Frazier is also a member of the NBA’s 50 greatest players conglomerate.
Today, Frazier is easily identifiable behind the scorer’s table with a headset adorning his signature pork chop sideburns, donning one of his patented sport coats—including one featuring cow print.
Game after game, Clyde entertains viewers of the MSG Network with unforgettable quotes such as “spinning and winning” and “dishing and swishing.”
1. Patrick Ewing (1985-2000)
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Patrick Ewing excreted enough sweat to fill an Olympic-size pool and certainly put his share of ice makers out of commission, but you never could question his perseverance and will to win.
The man did it all over the course of his Knicks career spanning 15 seasons, but the one achievement which eluded him was an NBA title.
Consequently, there has always been bad blood between Ewing and some diehard fans, and this love/hate relationship has resulted in wounds that have never gotten a chance to heal.
As a No. 1 draft pick, the weight of the world was on Ewing’s shoulders from the second commissioner David Stern announced his name, and he always welcomed the responsibility that the job demanded.
Ewing won, and he was a winner in New York for 13 straight seasons—five more seasons than anyone else on this list can claim.
Year in and year out, he spoiled Knicks fans with postseason delight, to such an extent that they took it for granted.
He didn’t have his Scottie Pippen, his Reggie Miller or even a young Tim Duncan, but he still took his mediocre teammates and us along for the ride on his relentless quest to end the championship drought in the basketball Mecca.
The numbers are irrelevant. It goes without question whose name is at or near the top of every team statistical leader board.
Yes, Ewing is a top 50 player, an 11-time All-Star and was voted to numerous All-NBA teams, but it’s more about what Ewing did for the franchise and the people of New York.
He unearthed a team from the depths of obscurity and turned them into an Eastern Conference powerhouse by himself. He went down to the wire with Michael Jordan—the greatest player we’ve ever seen and possible will ever see.
Don’t blame Ewing for coming up short. He did everything one human being is capable of, and then some.
So, sit back and reminisce about the myriad of springtime thrills the spectacle that was Ewing’s Knicks provided. And, while he never delivered the biggest prize of all, witnessing the exploits of the greatest in franchise history is certainly an adequate consolation.