The New York Knicks, poised to capture their first division title since 1994, are working toward the bigger milestone of the club’s first National Basketball Association championship in 40 years.
The 1972-73 Knicks will be honored tomorrow night in a halftime ceremony at Madison Square Garden. Every living member of the team is scheduled to return for the Knicks’ game against the Milwaukee Bucks, including Earl Monroe, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley and Dick Barnett, whose numbers hang in the rafters at the arena alongside their championship banner.
Past and present Knicks say that while the structure of NBA teams has changed in four decades, there is an important legacy from the ’73 squad, which balanced the egos and personalities of seven future Hall of Famers.
“If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that everyone has to sacrifice to win,” Monroe, 68, said in an interview. “But times have changed. This current team is built around the star system.”
Led by All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, New York has a five-game lead in the Atlantic Division with eight games remaining, after a 95-82 win last night over the Atlanta Hawks gave it a 10th straight win, its longest winning streak since 1994.
The Knicks have been overshadowed by Eastern Conference teams like Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Kevin Garnett’s Boston Celtics and now LeBron James’s Miami Heat since 1994, and haven’t won a playoff series since 2000.
Henry Bibby, a rookie guard on the 1972-73 Knicks, said he never saw selfishness among his teammates. Now an assistant with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, Bibby said the championship team was unique because “everyone threw their egos out the window.”
“Who were the stars?” Bibby, 63, said in a telephone interview. “They say Walt Frazier was the star, well so was Willis Reed. So was Earl Monroe. So was Phil Jackson coming off the bench. This group was just a different group who played together to win.”
Anthony is the unquestioned star of the current Knicks. He scored 50 points two days ago against the Heat, 40 last night against the Hawks and is the only Eastern Conference player averaging over 27 points per game this season.
Marv Albert, who called Knicks games on radio and television from 1967 to 2004, said Anthony could learn from the 1973 team, specifically the backcourt of Monroe and Frazier.
“I think he could adapt and cut back on his offense,” Albert said. “He’d fit right in as a weapon if he took the same approach to it as Earl and Clyde.”
The Knicks’ success this year couldn’t have come at a better time for its owner, Madison Square Garden Co. (MSG:US), which is in the middle of a $1 billion, privately financed arena renovation and has local competition from the Brooklyn Nets. Shares of MSG, which has sports, entertainment and media divisions, closed yesterday at $56.15, up 63 percent from the $34.43 price a year ago.
Richard Tullo, director of research at Albert Fried & Co., said most of that gain was from increased revenue in the sports division, and that the Knicks’ success this year has significant long-term value for the company.
“Getting into the playoffs for the third year in a row, and maybe getting into the second or third round, that would be great for future ticket prices,” Tullo, who doesn’t own MSG shares, said in a telephone interview. “They’d be able to raise ticket prices between 5 and 10 percent and still sell out.”
The average Knicks ticket is listed at a league-high $428.01 on the secondary market, according to aggregator TiqIQ, a 48 percent increase from the start of the season.
Kurt Thomas, one of two current Knicks who was alive when the 1972-73 team won its title, said he’s seen video of that team and knows what they sacrificed individually to win a championship. A member of the most recent Knicks team to make the NBA Finals in 1999, Thomas said there’s inherent pressure in New York to live up to that legacy.
“New York fans, all they want is a championship, nothing short of it,” Thomas, a 40-year-old forward, said in an interview.
The window for satisfying that demand is closing for the Knicks, according to Monroe. New York, which added Thomas, 40- year-old Jason Kidd, 39-year-old Marcus Camby and 35-year-old Kenyon Martin in the past year, is the oldest team in the NBA at an average age of more than 31.
“They didn’t get these veteran players for two years from now, they got them for this year,” Monroe said. “They’re not necessarily built for our approach, but going into the playoffs, if they can get themselves healthy, they’ll be a dangerous team.”
-- With assistance from Anna Edgerton in Miami. Editors: Larry Siddons, Dex McLuskey.
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