By Ben Horney, Knicks fan since '94
Earlier this season, the Knicks held a ceremony at Madison Square Garden to honor their 1973 championship-winning squad. 11 of the 12 living members were in attendance, including legends like Walt Clyde Frazier, Willis Reed and Earl "The Pearl" Monroe.
Exactly 40 years ago today is when the Knicks captured that championship -- their second in four years -- defeating the Los Angles Lakers in Game 5 of the finals in Los Angeles, 102-93.
Despite being down 3-1 in the series, the Lakers refused to surrender without a fight. The game was still close when the Knicks lost Dave DeBusschere to a sprained ankle in the fourth quarter. But instead of collapsing, the Knicks rallied behind their wounded teammate, pulling away late, behind eight points in the final two minutes from Monroe's team-leading 23 points.
Unlike their dramatic Game 7 victory against the Lakers two years prior, the Knicks didn't need Willis Reed to miraculously limp out of the tunnel, nor did they need another mammoth performance from Frazier. Monroe was just one of the five Knicks who scored in double figures that night. Bill Bradley had 20, with Reed and Frazier scoring 18 apiece. Jerry Lucas added 10.
The Lakers roster, while also filled with legendary talent, may have simply been on its last legs. Gail Goodrich led the Lakers with 28 points, while Wilt Chamberlain, as his last hurrah before retirement, dropped 23. Jim McMillian had 19, and Jerry West added 12.
Both the Knicks and Lakers had players who, while not being major factors in this specific game, would go on to be major players in Knicks history later in their careers. Phil Jackson scored six points for the Knicks in Game 5 and Pat Riley was a bench player for the Lakers. More than 20 years later, Jackson's Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls of the 90s were the juggernaut that always stood in the way of the Riley-coached Knicks.
Seven members of the 1973 Knicks have banners hanging from the rafters of the Garden today, including head coach Red Holzman. Current Knicks head coach, Mike Woodson, was seven years away from being drafted (12th overall) by the Knicks in the 1980 NBA draft. Jason Kidd, the Knicks oldest current player, was about a month and a half old. Amar'e Stoudemire, who is getting ready for another comeback on Saturday, wouldn't be born for another nine years.
It's not easy to win an NBA championship -- just ask Patrick Ewing, Bernard King or Allan Houston. There's no easy recipe for a championship roster, which needs to be delicately constructed, with a well-blended collection of stars, veterans and role players. In 1973, 40 years ago today, the Knicks captured all the right ingredients, winning their second title in three years. This year's Knicks head to Indiana tomorrow night for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, and are hoping that the roster they've assembled for this year's campaign will one day have their own championship-honoring ceremony at the Garden.