By Ben Horney, Knicks fan since '94
Last night's 26-point shellacking of the Pacers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals demands celebration. It's perfect timing, because this exact day 43 years ago is widely considered the best day in Knicks history; when the Knicks became NBA Champions for the first time, defeating the Los Angles Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA finals in Madison Square Garden by a margin of 113-99.
A little after 7 p.m., Knicks captain (and that year's league MVP) Willis Reed was in the training room, receiving several painkilling injections in his right leg as a result of a torn muscle he suffered in Game 5, just four days earlier. No one -- not the fans, coaches or players -- knew whether Reed would be able to play through the pain. But just before tip-off, The Captain performed his most iconic moment, as Reed limped out of the tunnel and onto the court to take the tip against Wilt Chamberlain.
Reed proceeded to score the Knicks first two baskets while somehow adequately defending Chamberlain on the other end. Reed played 27 minutes that night and made an impact that could not be measured by a stat line that read four points on 2-of-5 shooting.
But heartwarming tales don't win championships alone. Luckily for the Knicks, 25-year-old Walt Clyde Frazier understood this. Frazier swooped, duped and hooped his way to 36 points, 19 assists and 7 rebounds. Dick Barnett had 21 points, Dave DeBusschere tallied 18 and Bill Bradley added 17.
Frazier, now 68, calls today’s Knicks games for MSG, and taught me every vocabulary word I know. Barnett, now 76, went on to teach Sports Management at St. John’s University until his retirement in 2007. DeBusschere, who unfortunately died in 2003, was an assistant coach and the director of basketball operations for the Knicks in the 1980s. He is the man responsible for drafting Patrick Ewing. Finally, Bradley, now 69, became a three-term United States senator.
Jerry West led the Lakers that night with 28 points, followed by Chamberlain's 21 and Elgin Baylor's 19 in the losing effort.
Five players from that Knicks squad have their numbers hanging in the MSG rafters to this day: Frazier, Barnett, Reed, DeBusschere and Bradley. Red Holzman, the coach of that magical squad, also has a banner, with the number 613 on it (the amount of regular season victories he had as the Knicks coach).
Today's Knicks coach, Mike Woodson, was 12-years old when Reed limped onto the floor for that fateful Game 7. Future Knicks superstar Patrick Ewing was just eight. Jason Kidd, the current Knicks' eldest player, wouldn't be born for another three years.
The Knicks next suit up on Saturday, in Indiana, for Game 3 of the 2013 semifinals. Hopefully they can channel some of that Willis Reed spirit (he’s now 70, by the way) as they continue their playoff run.