The Knicks won two championships in the 1970s, prompting us to try to reconstruct the title-caliber team of that bygone era.
This week at The Knicks Wall, we’re celebrating Decades Week. Using our latest app, the All-Time Team Creator, plus our own knowledge of the past, we’re creating the best, brashest, and most celebrated lineups with players of bygone eras. Play along and read what made the last 50 years of the Knicks tick.
The Knicks Wall is a (super chill, maybe even vital) website about the New York Knicks. Yes, every New York Knick, because no one should feel left out. There have been many, many Knicks iterations since the franchise was founded in 1946, and it can admittedly get tough keeping track of them all. That’s what your heroes at TKW are here for. Remember Chris Duhon? Keith Van Horn? Jim “Bad News” Barnes?! Yeah, we got you, thank us later.
Here’s the thing, though. The Knicks have existed since the founding days of something called the Basketball Association of America. They very much still exist today. But they have only won two championships, with those titles coming in 1970 and ’73. Those Knicks were the best Knicks, that’s all there is to it. So, in a sense, you don’t really have to lend credence to anything that’s gone down since those glory years. We’re still gleefully fighting communism, still cookin’ up moral panics, still bumpin’ Elton John. Everything is as it was, except there’s a three-point line now.
Would the best Knicks squads of the 1970’s beat today’s Lakers or Clippers or Bucks? Yes, by 2,000 points. Would they mop the floor with the Warriors’ Death Lineup? Frickin duh. There’s a special level of cognitive dissonance required to think about the “world champion New York Knickerbockers,” but it’s damn fun. The 1972–73 team yielded six Hall of Famers. They took the Finals over separate Lakers teams starring Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich, and Wilt Chamberlain. They were coached by one man, Red Holzman, for the entire decade. They wore swaggy suits and sported incredible sideburns. It was, as writer Harvey Araton says, a time “when the Garden was Eden.”
Thanks to TKW’s Ryan Gray, we can now harness that big, sweet Boomer Energy and celebrate the best of the Knicks’ 1970’s dominance! The All-Time Team Generator sets a price on each Knicks legend. Using a salary cap of $200, and without any position requirements, we’re able to look at a few different options for the All-Time ’70s gang. Here’s a condensed, five-man lineup version. They all rock.
Team No. 1 (Walt & Willis): Walt Frazier $61 / Dean Meminger $5 / Bill Bradley $38 / Lonnie Shelton $10 / Willis Reed $59
Alternatives…Team No. 2 (Neither): Earl Monroe $53 / Dick Barnett $33 / Dave DeBusschere $40 / Phil Jackson $3 / Jerry Lucas $47
Team No. 3 (Walt): Walt Frazier $61 / Dean Meminger $5 / Bill Bradley $38 / Dave DeBusschere $40 / Spencer Haywood $25
Team No. 4 (Willis): Dick Barnett $33 / Toby Knight $10 / Spencer Haywood $25 / Bob McAdoo $51 / Willis Reed $59
First, before the hand-wringing and the requisite headassery comes for this, it is obvious that none of these permutations “stretch the floor.” There is no outside shooting on the team, because the three-point field goal was introduced in the 1979–80 season, when it was considered an ABA gimmick.
I don’t know how efficient these lineups are. Fight me, because they’d all win the hypothetical basketball game. These teams played fluid, disciplined basketball and took on the big games with panache. They hooked an entire generation of New Yorkers, and even in the later, less glamorous parts of the decade, they still featured likable star big men like Spencer Haywood and Bob McAdoo.
Second, this decade is primarily about two players: Walt Frazier and Willis Reed. Patrick Ewing might be the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, but Frazier is the face of the franchise, still calling games alongside Mike Breen for MSG Network. Clyde averaged 20.7 points, 6.4 assists, 6.3 rebounds, and two steals a game from 1970 through ’77, when he left the team for a brief stint in Cleveland. Seven All-Star appearances, seven All-Defense honors, two championships.
“We were on that level for like five years. We were in three Finals in five years. We beat the [Los Angeles] Lakers twice,” Frazier recalled to The Undefeated. “I couldn’t spend any money in New York. Even now, I can’t spend any money. When the team is playing good, they’re like, ‘no, you can’t spend any money.’ They end up giving you everything.” The spectacular vernacular, the swooping and hooping…Walt Frazier is the OG Knickerbocker, and it’s hard to imagine a ’70s team without him, regardless of the salary.
Reed, meanwhile, was the MVP of the 1969–70 season. He won both Finals MVP awards over Walt and Co., and his hobbled Game 7 Finals performance made him a demigod in Manhattan. Reed spent his entire career with New York. He’s making the cut. Stalwart defenders and proven pick-and-roll partners, Clyde and Willis would serve as our core.
Budget restrictions would then keep off other legends from those championship teams, like Earl Monroe, Dave DeBusschere, and Jerry Lucas. The rest of the decisions are easier to stomach: McAdoo put up downright-silly stats in his three years with the Knicks (26.7/12/3.3/1.4/1.3), but he won his MVP with the Bucks and his rings with the Lakers. Haywood was definitely past his Sonics prime when he arrived with the Knicks, and his time in New York produced just one trip to the playoffs. The budget did afford a “Big Three” third star in either Bill Bradley or Dick Barnett; the edge goes to the 6’5″ Bradley, a Hall of Fame wing defender who also called American politics “broken” after serving three terms in the U.S. Senate representing New Jersey. Dick Barnett didn’t do these things, and was turning 34 when the decade began.
Rounding out the team would be Dean Meminger, who the Knicks drafted 16th overall in 1971, and Lonnie Shelton, who posted a 14.9/7.1/2.4/1.4/1.3 line with New York in just his second pro season.
Defensively, this team would be a nightmare. And even though the All-70s Team lacks outside shooting and reliable scoring options, it would still be strong in the half-court game and effective off the glass. Had I spent the remaining money on contemporary cheap options with a jump shot, we’d be talking about an even more complete team.
We encourage you all to find the coolest ’70s lineup you can. As long as you are held down by a franchise cornerstone of Frazier or Reed, you can’t steer too far off course.
The 1970’s Knicks are the Mecca’s opus, a New York institution. They were the very best basketball champions of all time and this is not open for discussion.