As a team, the complete history of the New York Knicks begins in 1946 with Ned Irish. When he was three years old, his widowed mother moved what was left of the family to Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1928, he began his career as a sports journalist for New York World. In 1930, he supplemented his income by working as a public relations representative for the New York Giants. This soon led him to a new full-time career with the National Football League’s public relations department.
Although Irish’s career in sports focused on football at first, the popularity of college basketball was gaining interest as a profitable investment. At the same time, ice hockey was also considerably popular. It was also raking in decent profits but at a part-time level only. Often, the arenas that hosted the hockey games would be left empty, especially when it was between seasons. This meant, as a venue, these sports arenas were not reaching their full potential. Sure, there were occasional boxing matches that somewhat filled the void but this wasn’t enough. These arenas needed more.
While Irish was representing the NFL, Max Kase was a New York sportswriter that was hired by the Boston American publication to become its editor. This would lead him to Walter A. Brown, owner of Boston Garden. It was a meeting that looked into the potential of turning college basketball into a gateway for top athletes to compete in a professionally graded league.
For Brown, the idea of using his arena as a venue that did more than cater to hockey teams was appealing. He, along with Kase, took it upon themselves to contact other arena owners. It was their hope they could convince them to come on board with the idea of using professional basketball as a means to fill up the arenas while their hockey teams were either playing away games or were off-season.
When Kase and Brown met with a group of interested arena owners at the Commodore Hotel in New York City, it marked the beginning of a new era for basketball. On June 6, 1946, the Basketball Association of America was born. In the process, a collection of major cities across the United States opted in to franchise a professional basketball team.
The Irish Influence
As it turned out, Ned Irish was president of Madison Square Garden while he was at this historical meeting. Now a retired sportswriter who also promoted college basketball saw the potential of the BAA. When Kase approached him with a proposal to lease the Garden to host a New York team, he was informed about the rules involved with the Arena Managers Association of America.
Venues like Madison Square Garden were required to own any professional teams that would play their home games in the arena. Irish’s influence was considerably more favorable than Kase’s in the eyes of interested parties. Instead of Kase having his own basketball team to play in the Garden, this honor was bestowed upon Irish.
As soon as Irish was awarded a franchise team to represent New York City, he wanted to go with a name that would do it justice. Among the staff who worked for him at the time, a series of names were suggested before it came down to a vote.
The Dutch Influence
After revealing all the votes that were cast into a hat, Knickerbocker was the name favored by Irish’s staff roster. The name was inspired by Washington Irving’s book A History of New York. It was an 1809 parody that peered into the history of the city. When the book was first published, Irving used the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker. Later editions of the book would use Irving’s real name instead but were printed as Knickerbocker’s History of New York. It was also Irving’s book that played an instrumental role in Christmas traditions that became a cultural staple across North America.
Now with an official team name to start things off, the Knickerbockers were in search of its first head coach. In May 1946, Joe Lapchick eagerly took the job after Irish offered him a lucrative deal as the highest-paid coach in the league. However, he did put in a request to remain at St. John’s University as he wanted to lead its college basketball team to one final championship before moving on.
Irish agreed to the request and hired Neil Cohalan from Manhattan College to serve as interim coach for the Knickerbockers’ first basketball season. At the time, there were no college drafts in place yet as this was a brand-new league. The first season had teams recruit top college players from their respective cities as a means to promote the BAA.
Held at the Nevele Country Club in the Catskill Mountains, the Knicks experienced their first training camp. This was a three-week-long process that had twenty-five invited players work out twice a day. During this timeframe, the team members developed a surprisingly strong bond between them.
When training was over and the team roster was developed, the Knicks made their professional basketball debut against the Toronto Huskies. This game was held in the Canadian city’s Maple Leaf Gardens on November 1, 1946. It was also the first game of the Basketball Association of America as a league.
There were over seven thousand spectators in attendance that watched the Knicks narrowly defeat the Huskies with a score of 68 to 66. That game witnessed Leo Gottlieb lead the team from New York with fourteen points.
For the first few seasons, many home games played by the Knicks didn’t take place inside Madison Square Garden. Instead, those were hosted at the 68th Regiment Armory. At the time, the Garden had too many other scheduled events going on that could properly squeeze in the team.
The inaugural season of the Knicks had them finish with thirty-three wins and twenty-seven losses. It was enough to earn a playoff spot with Coach Cohalan at the helm. There were concerns about how well the team would perform as they had one of the worst shooting percentages in the league. It was only at twenty-eight percent. Although the Knicks were able to eliminate the Cleveland Rebels in the quarterfinals, they weren’t strong enough to overcome the Philadelphia Warriors.
When the 1947 basketball season began, Lapchick made good on his promise to coach the Knicks. Also joining the team that year were six new players. Two of them were guards, namely Carl Braun and Wataru Misaka. Misaka made history as the BAA’s first basketball player that wasn’t strictly Caucasian. His ancestry included a Japanese background.
As for Braun, he was one of the team’s shining stars who averaged over fourteen points per game. He was often paired with Dick Holub and Bud Palmer, together serving as a defense. Their strengths, combined with the rest of the team, witnessed a twenty-six-win record, along with twenty-two losses. Although this wasn’t a year to brag about it was enough to earn a playoff berth. Unfortunately, they were eliminated in the first round by the Baltimore Bullets.
The 1948 season witnessed Lapchick’s Knicks bring in Harry Gallatin and Dolph Schayes. Skeptical of Schayes as an ideal center, he moved on to play for the Syracuse Nationals of the National Basketball League. The NBL was struggling as a league at the time.
At first, the 1948 season showed promise for the Knicks as they enjoyed a strong start with seventeen wins in twenty-five games. However, by the time the season was over they barely squeaked into the playoffs with a record of thirty-two wins and twenty-eight losses. And again, the Knicks were unable to earn its first championship as the Washington Capitols eliminated them in the best out of three-game series.
When the 1948 basketball seasons concluded for the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League, the two leagues merged to become the National Basketball Association. For the Knicks, they were able to stay in the Eastern Division despite the necessary realignments among the teams in order to make the merger work. Also, put into that division was the Syracuse Nationals.
The 1949-50 regular season of the Knicks witnessed a dominant force as a basketball team as Lapchick continued as head coach. However, as impressive as they were, they failed to overcome the Nationals in order to advance to the league’s championship final.
Hoping to redeem themselves going into the 1950-51 season, the Knicks made history again after signing Sweetwater Clifton to the team. He became the first African American to play for the NBA. Although he played a key role in the Knicks playing in the NBA finals for three consecutive years, it still wasn’t enough for the team to take home the championship.
1951’s NBA finals witnessed the Knicks losing to the Rochester Royals in what was now a best-of-seven-game series. In 1952 and 1953, it was the Minnesota Lakers who came out on top as NBA champions.
While the New York Knicks were good enough to finish the regular basketball season to qualify for the playoffs, they always fell short when it came to winning the league’s championship. After coaching the team for nine seasons, Lapchick tendered his resignation in January 1956 as he began to contend with health issues.
Taking Lapchick’s place as head coach was Vince Boryla. Unfortunately, after three unsuccessful seasons, he resigned in April 1958. Even though the team did make it to the playoffs when he first took over, the next two seasons saw the Knicks at their worst for the first time as a team. Their failure to enter the playoffs in 1957 was a first. When it happened again in 1958, this was too much.
After Boryla left, Andrew Levane took his place. Although the Knicks were back in playoff form, the NBA championship still eluded them. When they started the 1959-60 season, the poor performance on the court led to Levane also resigning as the team’s head coach. When former Knicks star Carl Braun took the helm as head coach, it was hoped the fortunes of the team would change for the better. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. The 1960-61 season met with bitter disappointment, resulting in Braun’s departure as the team’s coach.
After Braun was Eddie Donovan. It was hoped he would bring the magic the Knicks needed to bounce back from the abyss as a quality basketball team. However, he wasn’t able to achieve this either. 1961-62 was a season that was disappointing to say the least. Not only did the Knicks fail to enter the NBA playoffs again but suffered a humiliating loss to the Philadelphia Warriors in a game that witnessed Wilt Chamberlain make history. On March 2, 1962, he scored one hundred points against New York’s basketball team to earn his team a 168-147 victory.
Going into the 1964-65 season, the New York Knicks finally showed some promise after drafting Willis Reed to the roster. As if the missing piece to a puzzle, the star player played a key role in the Knicks bouncing back to its former glory as a professional basketball team.
First off, he was recognized as the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. However, this wasn’t enough for the Knicks to completely get itself back into championship form as the leaders of the team were still too unstable at the time. This influx included assigning Eddie Donovan as the team’s general manager while former star player, Harry Gallatin, became the new head coach.
Upon going into the 1965-66 season, things didn’t look good for the Knicks again. As a result, former teammate Dick McGuire replaced Gallatin before it was over. Although the Knicks still failed to make it into the playoffs, at least through McGuire they were able to do so the next year. However, they once again fell short to call themselves NBA champions.
1967-68 once again saw a mid-season head coach change as McGuire was replaced by Red Holzman. The curse of instability still plagued the team but not enough to be completely dismal. On November 1, 1967, not only did the Knicks end a losing streak but witnessed Willis Reed score a career-high of fifty-three points.
As head coach, Red Holzman managed to bring the team to what seemed like a miraculous playoff spot. Even though the team didn’t make it to the championship final, what Holdman was putting together signaled the beginning of a new era for the New York Knicks. Rookies Walt Frazier and Phil Jackson were both named to the NBA All-Rookie Team while Dick Barnett and Willis Reed both took part in the 1968 NBA All-Star Game.
Going into the 1968-69 season, Dave DeBusschere of the Detroit Pistons joined the Knicks. That season witnessed a fifty-four-win finish with twenty-eight losses. Under Holdman’s coaching expertise, the Knicks finally made it to the Eastern Division finals for the first time since 1953. Unfortunately, the road to the NBA finals was cut short by the Boston Celtics.
Even though Holzman’s team hadn’t become NBA championships, the Knicks were well on their way to changing this reality. Upon the start of the 1969-70 season, the team set a new record of eighteen consecutive victories before ending with sixty wins and twenty-two losses. It was the best regular season the team enjoyed to date.
Although the regular season finished with a bang, the main goal was for the Knicks to finally realize its first championship title as a team. The first step was to win the Eastern Division, which they did against the Milwaukee Bucks. It was then a matter of besting the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA final.
With the championship final tied at two games per team, the Knicks and the Lakers entered the fifth game with the determination to win it. For the Knicks, the odds were not in their favor as Willis Reed sustained an injury in the second quarter. It also didn’t help matters that the Knicks were sixteen points behind the Lakers.
However, the Knicks were able to bounce back and win the game. Unfortunately for the Knicks, they were unable to beat the Lakers in the sixth game. The captain and main star of their team were still too injured to play and it seemed as if perhaps the championship was destined to once again end in a devastating loss that would send the Knicks back home empty-handed.
One of the most historical moments in NBA history witnessed a still injured Reed limp his way to the court as the Knicks took on the Lakers in the final game that would decide each team’s fate. His presence was awe-inspiring, especially after scoring the team’s first two baskets. Although he didn’t score any more points after that, it was enough to spark the rest of the team to give it their all.
By the time the seventh game was over, the Knicks scored 113 points. The Los Angeles Lakers fell short at 99 points. For the first time in franchise history, the New York Knicks officially became NBA champions. As for Reed, he became the first player in NBA history to be named the All-Star MVP, NBA MVP, and NBA Playoff MVP, all in one season.
Knicking the Competition
What started off as the first NBA championship victory for the New York Knicks in 1970 was duplicated in 1973. Although there was a two-year gap between victories, the Knicks performed as a championship-quality team that turned heads.
Upon the start of the 1971-72 season, the Knicks brought Jerry Lucas and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe on board. In the NBA finals held in 1972, the Los Angeles Lakers were able to beat the Knicks. However, in 1973, the Knicks earned their revenge against the Lakers in what became the final NBA final victory for the team so far.
It was hoped after an impressive 1973-74 season that the Knicks would earn its third NBA title but fell short to the Boston Celtics during the Eastern Conference finals. This also marked the final season of Willis Reed as he officially retired from the sport.
For the Knicks, Reed’s departure struck a blow in what felt like the beginning of a curse. The 1974-75 season ended in disappointment with more losses than wins. Whatever championship form the team had once upon a time now seemed lost. Even though the Knicks were able to qualify for the playoffs, they were quickly sent packing by the Houston Rockets in the first round. After two more disappointing seasons, Reed replaced Holzman as head coach.
At first, it seemed Reed’s presence as head coach would be a breath of fresh air for the Knicks. The team finished with a better record of forty-three wins and thirty-nine losses at the end of the 1977-78 season. This was enough to enter the playoffs but was quickly taken out by the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Holzman Effect
As popular as Reed was among New Yorkers and the fans of NBA basketball, this wasn’t the case with Sonny Werblin. At the time, Werblin was the president of Madison Square Garden. After an incident that angered Werblin, Reed was kicked out as head coach and replaced by Holzman. The 1978-79 season for the Knicks was the most embarrassing yet as the management of Holzman had this team experience thirty-one wins and fifty-one losses. This was followed by another disappointing season in 1979-80 as it once again had more losses than wins.
When the Knicks faired better in the 1980-81’s season with more wins and losses, qualifying the team to enter the playoffs, it still wasn’t enough. The Chicago Bulls sent them packing in a two-game sweep. 1982 marked the year Holzman retired as one of the NBA’s winningest coaches in history. Oddly enough, the Knicks finished the 1981-82 season with a horrific thirty-three-win, forty-nine-loss record.
As head coach, Holzman made quite a name for himself. While coaching the Knicks, he had Phil Jackson as one of his bench players. This is the same Jackson whose coaching techniques enabled the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers to earn eleven NBA championships. When asked about his own legacy as a coach, Jackson credited Holzman.
After Holzman’s retirement, Hubie Brown became the new head coach of the New York Knicks. The 1982-83 season ended with forty-four wins and thirty-eight losses. It was enough to jump into the playoffs. However, they were booted out by the Philadelphia 76ers. When Bernard King joined the team the next season, the successful regular season pattern met with the same disappointing finish in the playoffs. Brown’s third year as head coach wasn’t nearly as impressive as the Knicks once again fell into a regular season slump. It didn’t help when King sustained an injury that would sideline him for two years.
The Ewing Era
The NBA Draft Lottery made its debut during the summer of 1985 and the New York Knicks were fortunate enough to win the first draft pick for that year. In comes Patrick Ewing from Georgetown University. The 1985-86 season witnessed Ewing leading all the rookies in scoring and rebounds per game. He averaged twenty points per game, along with nine rebounds. It was enough to earn him the NBA Rookie of the Year Award.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to pull the New York Knicks back up as a championship-quality team. Once again, it finished with a horrific twenty-three wins and fifty-nine losses. When the 1986-87 season began, the Knicks looked like a team that forgot how to play basketball. With three times as many losses as wins upon its start, it was clear changes needed to be made. That began with ousting Hubie Brown in favor of Bob Hill.
Before starting the 1987-88 season, Rick Pitino was hired to take Hill’s place. The first move he did was to bring in point guard Mark Jackson. Like Ewing before him, he won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. He, along with Ewing, played an instrumental role to edge the Knicks into the NBA playoffs. However, it wasn’t enough to overcome the Boston Celtics in the first round.
As head coach, Pitino continued with the Knicks. He brought in Charles Oakley from the Chicago Bulls as he traded away Bill Cartwright. As a lineup, the Knicks finally earned its Eastern Division title after an impressive fifty-two win 1988-89 season that included a win over the Philadelphia 76ers. However, the division winners didn’t become conference winners as the Chicago Bulls were able to defeat them. It was Pitino’s final season as he chose to serve as head coach at the University of Kentucky. Stepping up to take his place was Stu Jackson. The 1989-90 season ended with more wins than losses, as well as a playoff spot that would have the Knicks take out the Boston Celtics only to lose to the Detroit Pistons.
Upon going into the 1990-91 season, Jackson was removed as team head coach and replaced by John MacLeod. Once again, the Knicks had more losses than wins by the time the regular season was over. They were also eliminated in the first playoff round by the Chicago Bulls. When this season was over, MacLeod did the same as Pitino. He left the team as head coach in favor of college basketball. For him, it was the University of Notre Dame.
The next to coach the Knicks was former LA Lakers head coach Pat Riley. While under his control, the Knicks had Ewing and John Starks lead the team to a fifty-one-win record in the Atlantic Division. Although the playoffs didn’t result in a championship win for the team, it was clear New York’s basketball team became a better version than what the fans had to endure in the 80s.
Upon the end of the 1992-93 season, the Knicks dominated the Atlantic Division with sixty wins. There were a few key trades that said goodbye to Mark Jackson and hello to Rolando Blackman, Bo Kimble, Doc Rivers, and Charles Smith. Even though the Knicks didn’t win the NBA championship, their performance during the regular and post-season games was impressive, to say the least.
When the 1993-94 season began, it was hoped the Knicks would finally step out of the shadow of the Chicago Bulls now that its star player, Michael Jordan, retired. Up until now, being able to move beyond the Eastern Conference finals since 1973 eluded the team like a curse.
Although the Knicks played its first NBA final in what felt like forever, they were unable to take home the championship. However, 1994 marked an unforgettable year for Madison Square Garden as it hosted the NBA finals, as well as the NHL finals, at the same time. It was also a year the inspired Knicks gave it their all after witnessing Mark Messier and his New York Rangers perform well enough to take home the Stanley Cup. Even though the Knicks weren’t able to do the same in the NBA final, it was still an epic moment for New Yorkers to have two championship-quality teams compete in their respective sports with such tenacity.
The 1994-95 season would be Riley’s final as head coach of the Knicks. The team finished second in the Atlantic Division with a fifty-five-win record and was successful enough to move beyond the first round of the playoffs by defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers. Unfortunately, that’s as far as they went as the Indiana Pacers put an end to the team’s playoff hopes for what was the second year in a row. The final game of the series that ended in disappointment witnessed Patrick Ewing’s last-second attempt to score for the team failing.
The next day of the game saw Riley quit as head coach. Taking his place was Don Nelson. His coaching style was very different from Riley’s. Riley built a defensive team while Nelson’s vision relied heavier on offense. This proved to be a mistake on Nelson’s part as he was fired mid-season. Taking his place was Jeff Van Gundy, which came as a surprise as he had no previous coaching experience. However, to his advantage, he had been an assistant for the team for some time. It was enough to see the Knicks finish the season with forty-seven wins and breeze past the Cavaliers in the playoffs. However, the Chicago Bulls blocked the team from advancing beyond the second round.
Going into the 1996-97 season, the Knicks brought Allan Houston and Larry Johnson to the team and finished the season with a fifty-seven-win record. Upon going into the first round of the playoffs, the team defeated the Charlotte Hornets with an easy sweep before coming face to face with the Miami Heat. This was the same playoff series that looked like the Knicks were sure to beat the Heat and advance to the next round. However, this was also the team that was coached by none other than Pat Riley.
The Knicks led the series with three games opposed to Heat’s one game. All the Knicks needed was one more victory. However, the fifth game of the series became so intense between the two teams that the majority of the players ended up in a brawl. This led to the suspension of several players, mainly the Knicks. They weren’t suspended because they took part in the brawl. According to NBA’s ruling, players such as Ewing and Houston were in violation for leaving the bench as the brawl erupted. Those two were prevented from playing the sixth game of the series. The same was the case for Johnson and John Starks in the seventh game. Suspended for two games was Charlie Ward. Because of these suspensions, the compromised Knicks lost the playoffs and were eliminated by Riley’s new team.
On December 22, 1997, Patrick Ewing sustained a wrist injury that would cause him to miss the rest of the games until near the end of the playoffs in 1998. Despite this, the team was able to finish well enough to earn a playoff spot. They were also able to exact revenge against the Heat by eliminating them in the first round. Interestingly enough, whatever grudges still remained between the two teams since the 1997 playoffs erupted in yet another brawl. Johnson duked it out with Alonzo Mourning in perhaps unsettled issues from an era when the two used to be teammates for the Charlotte Hornets.
After the Knicks advanced to the second round of the playoffs, Ewing was able to return in the second game of a series that had the team from New York once again face the Indiana Pacers. This was a series that saw history repeat itself as star player Reggie Miller once again played an instrumental role in the Knicks’ inability to get past a team that became an arch-nemesis.
With hopes to fair out better in the NBA playoffs, the Knicks made an exchange with the Toronto Raptors, as well as the Golden State Warriors. Charles Oakley and John Starks were sent to their respective teams while Marcus Camby and Latrell Sprewell came to New York. This is the same Sprewell who lost his contract with the Warriors after getting into a violent dispute with P.J. Carlesimo.
The 1998-99 season had the Knicks barely make it into the playoffs with a twenty-seven-win record. This was a shortened season due to a lockout that took place from July 1, 1998, until January 20, 1999. What prompted the argument was the team owners looking to change the league’s salary cap system. The NBA opposed this as it wanted to raise the minimum salary amount for the men who were playing in the league.
When it appeared there was no sign of resolution between the two sides, the NBA canceled the games until this labor dispute was settled. This included the annual Christmas games that had been an NBA trademark since 1947. The All-Star game was also canceled. It wasn’t until an agreement was finally reached on January 18, 1999. From there, the regular season was slated for each team to play fifty games instead of what was eighty-two at that time.
An agreement between the owners and players was eventually reached on January 18, 1999. When play resumed, the regular season was shortened to 50 games per team, as opposed to the normal 82. To preserve games between teams in the same conference, much of the time missed was made up for by skipping well over half of the games played between teams in the opposite conference. As a result, some teams did not meet each other at all during the course of the shortened season.
Beating the Heat
For the New York Knicks, the strike seemed to work in the team’s favor, even though the team’s regular season was shaky. However, the team managed to douse the top-seeded Miami Heat in five games before moving on to the Atlanta Hawks in the second round. After sending the Hawks home in a clean sweep, they took on the Indiana Pacers. This time, the Pacers were not able to best the underdog Knicks and the team from New York finally won the Eastern Conference Finals.
These playoff wins came with a price, however. Patrick Ewing once again sustained an injury serious enough to keep him on the sidelines. Despite this, the Knicks were still able to pull off the seemingly impossible. As the first eight-seeded playoff team in history to enter the NBA finals, all the Knicks needed to do was beat the San Antonio Spurs.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, the Spurs had superstar players Tim Duncan and David Robinson demonstrate why they earned roles as basketball heroes. In five games, the Spurs crushed the Knicks to become NBA’s championship team in 1999. It was this fifth game that featured Tim Duncan and Latrell Sprewell engaging in their own version of Texas Shoot ‘Em Up. In the end, the Spurs netted the winning basket with forty-seven seconds left in the game, scored by Avery Johnson.
As the twentieth century gave way to the twenty-first century, it witnessed the Knicks enjoy a fifty-game win record, as well as a playoff run that took out the Toronto Raptors and the Miami Heat. Unfortunately, Reggie Miller and his Indiana Pacers once again prevented the Knicks from earning another Eastern Conference victory.
The end of the season marked the end of Ewing as a New York Knicks team member. He was traded just prior to the 2000-01 season to the Seattle SuperSonics. For the fans of the Knicks, losing Ewing felt like losing a brother. Even though the Knicks enjoyed a decent season that led them to the playoffs in 2001, it was short-lived when the Toronto Raptors sent them home after the first round.
Going into the next season, Van Gundy made a surprise move by stepping down as head coach on December 8, 2001. He commented he no longer had the focus needed to properly lead the team. He was replaced by Don Chaney but this move wasn’t enough for the Knicks to bounce back from such a dismal season. For the first time since 1987, they didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
Knocking the Knicks
Instead of firing Chaney, the Knicks kept him on board as head coach going into the 2002-03 season. For Chaney, he wanted the roster to be loaded up with veteran players, including Antonio McDyess. At the time, the team was heavily criticized for having a roster that apparently wasn’t worth their keep as championship-quality players. It didn’t help matters when McDyess once again became sidelined due to knee issues that would lead to surgery. It also didn’t help when the Knicks missed the playoffs for the second season in a row.
When Donnie Walsh took over as the president of the New York Knicks, he didn’t last for long. He was replaced by Scott Layden, then promptly replaced by Isaiah Thomas on December 22, 2003. For Thomas, he knew he needed to clean up the house. This started with the firing of Chaney, replacing him with Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens. Thomas also engineered a series of trades, a move that enabled the Knicks to avoid missing the playoffs for the third straight season.
However, the New Jersey Nets wiped out the Knicks in the first round in what was a highly publicized series. Tim Thomas from the Knicks and Kenyon Martin from the Nets looked like they were about to take their verbal dispute to a more violent level before it was diffused as quickly as the Knicks’ attempt to capture the elusive NBA championship.
The 2003-04 season served as another time of trouble for the Knicks that saw Wilkens resign as head coach midseason. He was replaced by Herb Williams but there wasn’t enough magic to pull the Knicks out of its slump. As a result, the team missed the NBA playoffs once again.
Seeing Brown Again
Longtime New York Knicks fan, Larry Brown, was hired to become the team’s new head coach. He was so inspired by the team as a youth that he jumped into the sport of basketball himself. As head coach, he hoped to build another Patrick Ewing era. The first move he did was to draft Channing Frye. He was accompanied by two more centers, Eddy Curry and Jerome James. Curry was the infamous player who refused to take a DNA test while he was still a player for the Chicago Bulls. He, along with Antonio Davis, was sent to the Knicks.
What should have been a positive for the New York Knicks as of 2004 turned out to be negative. Instead of looking like one of the best teams money could buy it looked like a costly ripoff. Whatever dreams Brown had for the team went up in smoke as the head coach was fired after only coaching his favorite team for one season.
Oddly enough, when Isaiah Thomas opted to serve as team president and head coach, the desire to keep expensive players on the roster continued. As the Knicks continued to struggle as a team, it was clear frustration was setting in. On December 16, 2006, the Knicks engaged in a brawl against the Denver Nuggets as they played their game in Madison Square Garden. This resulted in the suspension of several players. Fortunately for David Lee, the man was able to shine as a genuine New York Knicks star, thanks to the suspension.
On December 20, 2006, the Knicks met with the Charlotte Bobcats in a game that witnessed Lee put an end to a double-overtime win by tipping the basketball off the backboard and into the hoop. The score was 111-109, thanks to an NBA-legalized move known as the Trent Trucker Rule. This was a move Lee used to his advantage as his personal niche as a player.
However, the Knicks still weren’t able to turn the 2006-07 season into a winning one. The 2007-08 season wasn’t really any better as November 29, 2007, marked one of the most embarrassing losses in franchise history. This was the game the Boston Celtics defeated the team by scoring 104 points as opposed to the Knicks’ 59 points. Already, the Knicks were deeply stressed as a team as its name was dragged through the mud over a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Isiah Thomas and Madison Square Garden.
Anucha Browne Sanders stated her position as an executive was met with inappropriate behavior from a franchise and venue that failed to exercise better judgment. In the end, she was awarded $11.5 million while the team and the Garden had to deal with the backlash that came after them from every direction. This was really made evident when the frustration of the fans targeted Thomas when the 2007-08 season opened with the Knicks seemingly forgetting how to play as a professional basketball team.
Shake It Up
In response to the fans’ demands, Madison Square Garden hired Donnie Walsh in April 2008 to replace Isiah Thomas as the new president of the New York Knicks. The former president of the Indiana Pacers knew he needed to turn the team’s fortunes around. As president, the first move he made was to fire the extremely unpopular Thomas. Already, this was met with fan approval. Replacing Thomas as head coach was Mike D’Antoni.
The second move made was using the 2008 NBA draft to sign Danilo Gallinari to the team. Later in the year, as well as going into 2010, there were several player trades made. Walsh’s goal was to build the team from the ground up, a move Walsh and D’Antoni knew was necessary. Even though the Knicks had a rather interesting roster, the younger blood was an improvement from the aging veterans when it came to overall team performance. Although it wasn’t great at first, it was better than what they had.
In the meantime, David Lee’s star was shining brighter than ever as a New York Knicks hero. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for the Knicks to come across as a top-quality basketball team. They still experienced humiliation on the court. On January 24, 2010, the team experienced an even worse loss as a team than they did to the Celtics in 2007. The sold-out crowd packed inside Madison Square Garden watched in horror as the Dallas Mavericks shot down the Knicks, 128-78.
This prompted the management team of the Knicks to do something about the roster. Despite the changes, the Knicks weren’t strong enough to finish the season on a positive note. The dismal twenty-nine wins caused the team to fall short as a playoff qualifier. During the summer of 2010, a deal was made to bring Amar’e Stoudemire from the Phoenix Suns to the Knicks in a five-year multi-million dollar deal. He, along with a series of other star players, was in while David Lee was sent to the Golden State Warriors.
Again, the New York Knicks had a roster filled with players that once again had them recognized as the most valuable team in the NBA. Despite the star quality of D’Antoni, Stoudemire, and the rest of the young roster, it wasn’t enough to secure another NBA championship. It did, however, put the Knicks back into playoff form.
When Walsh decided he had enough at the end of the 2010-11 NBA season, Glen Grunwald took his place as interim president and general manager. After the 2011 NBA lockout ran its course, additional trades were made with the hope to finish what Walsh had started. Unfortunately, the team’s performance level suffered as a result. As the 2011-12 season began, the Knicks once again looked like a team that forgot how to play basketball.
Looking to improve upon such a dismal start, head coach D’Antoni installed Jeremy Lin as a rotational player. This began in February 2012 when the Knicks met against the New Jersey Nets. Lin’s ability as an offensive team player soon turned him into a starting player. It was during this time he played a key role in a seven-game winning streak for the Knicks. Five of those games were played without Stoudemire as he was sidelined due to injury.
Sparking a popular story known as “Linsanity,” Jeremy Lin continued to make a name for himself as a New York Knicks hero. That story eventually became overshadowed by a losing streak that once again plagued the Knicks in 2012. A fed-up Mike D’Antoni resigned in March and was replaced by Mike Woodson.
With Woodson as head coach, the Knicks experienced a decent enough regular season to qualify for the playoffs. Although they were eliminated in the first round by the Miami Heat, there was hope perhaps Woodson’s Knicks would fair out better for the 2012-13 season.
At the start, the Knicks earned eighteen winds, which was the best they had since 1993. The promise of a fantastic regular season for the Knicks seemed to be a sure bet. It was good enough for the team to win the Atlantic Division title but not good enough to beat the Chicago Bulls in the quest to at least capture the Eastern Conference title.
The start of the 2013-14 regular season had Glen Grunwald as the team’s general manager before he was replaced by former Madison Square Garden president Steve Mills. At the same time, the Knicks acquired a D-League team belonging to the NBA. It was during this time a president would be chosen in charge of basketball operations. That role was given to Phil Jackson. He, along with general manager Mills, worked directly with their boss, James Dolan.
This management team took it upon themselves to eliminate Mike Woodson. They replaced him, as well as his entire staff, with Derek Fisher and a new crew. This was a move that would bite the Knicks as it finished the season with only thirty-seven wins out of eighty-two games.
With Jackson at the helm, the Knicks experienced one of the worst regular seasons in franchise history. The 2014-15 season met with thirteen consecutive losses, which was a new record for the team. This was broadened to sixteen lost games. When the nightmare was finally over, the Knicks only had seventeen wins to show for the team’s efforts. A record sixty-five losses was a record the franchise had to contend with as a reality.
As to be expected, Fisher was removed as the team’s head coach before going into the 2015-16 season. Kurt Rambis took his place but the Knicks still finished the season with more losses than wins. Rambis was replaced by Jeff Hornacek.
While Hornacek was head coach, Phil Jackson once again made an unpopular decision as president of basketball operations. After three losing seasons in a row with him at the helm, enough was enough. Replacing Jackson was Scott Perry as the team’s general manager and Steve Mills as the new president of basketball operations. At the same time, Jackson’s no-trade clause regarding Carmelo Anthony posed a problem when the unhappy player no longer wanted to be on the roster of the New York Knicks. The matter was eventually resolved as Anthony was out and Kristaps Porzingis was in. Porzingis was poised to become the team’s next star player.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to put the Knicks back into championship form. Once again, the team experienced dismal win-loss records for two seasons, and once again there was a search for a new head coach. Replacing Hornacek was David Fizdale. Fizdale’s role at this time was to focus on player development and boost the morale of the team. Along the way, Steve Mills was fired from his position and replaced by Scott Perry in what was originally supposed to be an interim.
Roses and Thorns
In need of better management, Leon Rose was selected as the next president of the New York Knicks as of March 2, 2020. Tom Thibodeau then became the new head coach. They, along with Mills, and a certain player named Julius Randle, managed to do for the Knicks something that hadn’t been done since 2013.
For the first time in eight seasons, the Knicks were in the NBA playoffs. The 2020-21 season also witnessed Randle become the NBA’s Most Improved Player while Thibodeau was named NBA Coach of the Year. Only Pat Riley had this honor when he was coaching the Knicks during the 1992-93 season.
Even though the Knicks once again failed to make it to the NBA finals after losing to the Atlantic Hawks in the first round, this was enough to venture into the 2021-22 season with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the team struggled once again and it was doubtful if Thibodeau really was fit to coach the Knicks as a winning team. Part of the criticism came from some of the questionable trades that’s been blamed for the team’s return to losing team status.
The bottom line as far as the New York Knicks go is the yo-yo experience the fans and the team have experienced as a franchise. After they started out as a team in 1946, it took twenty-four years before it won its first NBA championship. This would be repeated three years later. Since then, the furthest they’ve gone have been Eastern Conference champions in 1994 and 1999. Not since 2013 has the team made it beyond the Atlantic Division as victors.
It seems each time things get rosy for the Knicks it doesn’t take long for the thorns to spread out and put a choke hold on this team. Because of this, people lose patience. New York City thrives as a city of champions as it continues to defy the odds in sports and other challenges. Even though the Knicks continue to experience drought as NBA champions, it’s only a matter of time before the drought comes to an end. As a team, nobody seems to define the “New York Minute” statement quite as well as the Knickerbockers.
Complete History Of The New York Knicks article published on ClassicNewYorkHistory.com ©2022
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